BRUCE GAIN

Good outweighs bad in Renault Zoe EV

Automotive News Europe | March 18, 2013 06:01 CET

Bruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in France.
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The good things about the Renault Zoe electric car – it's quiet, comfortable and affordable – outweigh the bad, especially for people who drive short distances everyday and have a way to charge the battery at work and home. Those positives could be enough to make it the best-selling EV in Europe by the end of this year.

That was what I took away from a recent test-drive of the car in Cascais, Portugal.

Renault is touting the Zoe as an EV for mainstream buyers. It retails in France for 13,700 euros after a 7,000-euro government subsidy. Customers must also pay at least 79 euros a month to rent the battery and will need to invest another 600 euros to 1,000 euros to install a wall-mounted charging system at home.

Pricing aside, the Zoe faces the same issue as all EVs: a limited range. This leaves customers worrying where they will be able to plug into for a recharge. During my test-drive from the Lisbon airport I traveled for 64.2km at an average speed of about 40kph. I also drove 30km on the highway at 120kph. That left the Zoe with a range of 62km, down from its fully charged range of 150km when traveling under what Renault says are ideal driving conditions. The battery would have also drained much more quickly, of course, if I had driven at an average speed of 100kph or faster.

After charging the Zoe for 30 minutes at a 22 kilowatt outlet my car's range rose to 97km from 62km. The average customer, however, might have had had more trouble finding a nearby charging station. Renault says that Europe has more than over 20,000 charging stations but they are hardly as ubiquitous as fuel stations.

Another issue is charging time. In the best-case scenario, it takes 30 minutes for a full charge at a 44 kilowatt station. The process can take up to nine hours using a low-voltage outlet. Renault says that customers might be able to charge while shopping but more than 90 percent of customers will charge the car at home, which creates other issues.

Running a cord from the Zoe to Renault's wall box is not feasible for people living in an apartment, which means the car will remain largely limited to home owners with a garage.

As far as driving the Zoe goes, it is comparable to any other subcompact on the road. You do feel the car's 1468kg curb weight due to the heavy battery while driving. The Zoe also lacks the more advanced driving assistance system found in Renault's new Clio. However, an acceleration of zero to 50kph in just four seconds is fine, and best of all, the car runs nearly without making a sound.

The car probably will not be a blockbuster hit, but it definitely is an enticing option to customers looking to move into an EV for a starting price under 14,000 euros.

The Renault Zoe starts at 13,700 euros in France after a 7,000-euro government subsidy. Customers must also pay at least 79 euros a month to rent the battery.

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