Paul Horrell 07 March 2012

Geneva 2012: the new Renault Zoe

Renault’s new supermini is a forward thinking and rather pretty electric alternative. Clever, too

Renault ZOE

The Renault Zoe is a pretty enough supermini. But that's not why people will buy it. It's electric, and what's critical is that it's half the price of other habitable e-cars. That's £13,650 in Britain, with sales starting in the autumn. And because it's small and efficient, it makes 130 miles on the official cycle, which is more than any other mainstream EV.

Of course if you want the most rational small car you'll still buy a petrol or diesel supermini. But the Zoe lets people express a green commitment without being too punished, either by the car or the finances.

It really is decent-looking. Inside, the cabin avoids the usual matt-black automotive codes, and brings you to a head-space of zen-like pastel wellbeing. The battery is under the floor, so it will have a low centre of gravity and ought to ride and handle well.

That price does have a catch, mind you. Just like when you unwrapped that longed-for toy in your childhood Christmas, you find it's Batteries Not Included. The battery pack is £70 a month on top. Renault argues that electricity is cheap and you'd probably spend £70 a month on petrol on your normal supermini.

Talking of electricity, the Zoe has a super-trick omnivore charging appetite. Just plug it in and after working out the voltage and current, charges as quickly as possible. That might mean nine hours on a household socket, but half an hour at a lightning-bolt 43kW charger.

The range is longer than say, a Nissan Leaf's, because the Zoe is smaller and lighter. Like the Leaf, it has computerised braking. When you press the pedal, regenerative recharging gets priority, and only when that isn't enough does the system pull in the normal - wasteful - disc brakes. There's also a heat pump climate control for the cabin, the same system as ground-source central heating uses.

Even so, a high proportion of battery power goes into warming the cabin on a cold day, hence the collapse of the range to 60 miles. Wear a thick coat instead. If it's hot, save a/c power by going nude.

EV objectors tend to say that we shouldn't forget the CO2 emissions of power stations. True. For the Zoe on Europe-wide energy generation mix, that equates to a well-to-wheel figure of 62g/km of CO2. That's better than any hybrid or diesel, and the headline figures for those cars are only fuel-station-to-wheel, not well-to-wheel.

And as to the range, well of course, even if you manage 100 miles at a charge, you'd still not call this a car for long journeys. But then most brand-new £14k superminis are bought by two-car households, so when they need a big trip they'd simply take the other car.

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