The Renault Zoe was almost a completely different car | Top Gear
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Concept

The Renault Zoe was almost a completely different car

The 2005 Zoe concept was a petrol-driven three-seater city car. Just a touch different then...

Renault Zoe concept front end dynamic
  • What is this cute little thing?

    Renault Zoe concept front end dynamic

    This is the 2005 Renault Zoe concept, which was revealed at that year’s Geneva motor show. Renault described the tiny little three-seater as a “diminutive upper-range urban vehicle which places the accent on genuine motoring pleasure”. Actually, the accent was placed on the e – officially Renault called it the Zoé. 

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  • Oh, so it was an early electric concept?

    Renault Zoe concept rear end doors closed

    No. This car had a distinctly smelly motor complete with explody bits – the actual electric production version of the Zoe wouldn’t turn up until 2012, via two further concepts in 2009 and 2010. It seems that the Zoe was originally intended to be a versatile but tiny city car in the same vein as the Toyota iQ.

  • So what was under the bonnet here?

    Renault Zoe concept engine cover

    The Zoe concept got a nifty little 1.2-litre turbo engine pumping out an impressive 100bhp. In fact, this engine was a preview of the upgraded turbocharged version of Renault’s D-Type engine that would go on to see action in the likes of the Twingo, Modus and Clio from 2007. Exciting times. But it wasn’t electric, importantly. It also came with an engine cover that looked like a panel from the spaceship in an Eighties film.

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  • This car doesn’t sound much like a Renault Zoe…

    Renault Zoe concept interior ceiling

    It’s interesting that Zoe hasn’t always stood for the ZE zero emissions moniker that the company marketing department would have had us believe, eh. Rather fascinatingly the name would come into dispute in the Parisian courts in 2010 when the parents of two French girls called Zoe Renault took the company to court because they thought they’d get picked on. Sadly they lost, gaining the sympathy of Cleos and Megans across the land. 

  • What was it like inside?

    Renault Zoe concept rear seat

    The Zoe concept was at its most fun inside – it had a three-seat layout, because four is too much and two just isn’t enough. The curved rear bench looked like something from a freshly refurbished local library, allowing space for a person on one side and a load of extra luggage on the other. It was terribly practical for a 3.5-metre long car. The back left window could even be opened separately to the boot and doors so that you could shove something on the parcel shelf. Why don’t we own a car with that feature? 

  • Any other crazy concept car touches?

    Renault Zoe concept rear end doors and boot open

    Where do we start? The doors opened differently – the driver’s door on the left was hinged normally, while the door on the passenger side had a complex hinged, slidy thing going on to allow as much access as possible to the rear seat without needing too much space. A cool card system for different drivers meant you could slot in your card underneath the wiper stalk and the car would know what music you wanted to listen to as well as your preferred settings for seats, heating, mirrors, etc. Exciting stuff for a city car in 2005. We also liked the panoramic roof that carried on the glass from the frameless doors into the roof, bathing the interior in light. These little panels were designed to hinge upwards when the doors opened to aid access. 

  • Why didn’t this version of the Zoe make it into production?

    Renault Zoe concept interior front seats

    We’ve got a Colombo-style theory on this one, although we couldn’t be sure which way round it happened. Either someone decided that the Zoe badge would be much better for the company’s upcoming electric hatchback, or it was decided that the firm’s new city car could do with an established badge to try and imbue it with some instant credibility.

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  • So what car did the Zoe concept turn into?

    Renault Zoe concept side dynamic

    If you look to one side and just see the Zoe concept in your peripheral vision, imagine it without any of the interesting bits, and suddenly the 2007 Twingo swims into vision. Both the Twingo and the Zoe could have done with being a bit more interesting – a funky modular interior and a crazy panoramic roof thing would have done the trick nicely. What a shame we missed out on both.

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