A few weeks ago I wrote about the sales of EV’s in Europe, and one thing stood out like a sore thumb; the success of the Renault Zoe. Now in its second generation, the Zoe is the number one selling EV in Europe with a 14.7% market share. However, when you look at the sales in Renault’s home country, France, the Zoe is simply killing the competition with a 70.1% market share. The little Renault has enjoyed an oversized market share of at least 50% ever since she was first launched in 2013. What makes the Zoe so special and what else can explain its mega success. By coincidence, I happened to be in France last month, so I stopped by a local Renault dealer to get some background on these sales numbers and to have a quick test drive in this number one selling EV.
Like so many other French cars, the Renault Zoe has a very striking design. You might even say a little avant-garde. It is a compact five-door hatchback that easily accommodates four adults for city driving and short trips. The blue headlights, tail lights, and logos are meant to distinguish the electric Zoe from the regular, and in our opinion lesser, Renault ICE vehicles. Similarly to the Nissan Leaf, the Renault hides the charge port behind the logo on the front of the car. Many people prefer this location as it makes it easy to pull up to a charging location and plug it in. Another little design feature is the hidden rear passenger’s door handle. It is a little black flap that you push-in and pull to open the door. Maybe this flush design offers some minor aerodynamic benefit or it could simply be a cost-saving measure.
The interior of the 2nd generation Renault Zoe (2017) is modern and nicely laid out. A digital dashboard provides you with all the important information, and a separate screen is used for GPS navigation, radio, etc. The Zoe also offers dynamic stability control, parking sensors, a rearview camera, and hill stop assist. All the buttons are where you would expect them and are easy to operate. There is plenty of storage space, cup holders and a surprising amount of space in the door pockets. The seats are comfortable and soft, but unfortunately, they are not height adjustable. Particularly for taller people like myself (6’4″), this may be an issue. It makes you feel sitting on top rather than in the car. The back seats offer plenty of space for kids even on longer trips. Adults will be comfortable in the back as well although this would be best for shorter trips. The rear seats fold down in one part and expand an already roomy (almost 12 cu ft.) trunk space. The doors are light, and it makes the car feel a little more flimsy than I’d like, but it does help to lower the weight of the car, which in turn increases the range… I guess you can’t win them all.
The driving experience
Driving the Zoe is straight forward and easy. Simply put the car in drive and take off. There is only one gear, and together with the silent and instant torque, it helps to create the unique driving experience that EV’s are known for. Quiet, responsive and quite fast especially in urban environments. Mind you unlike the always alert BMW i3 and Chevy Bolt, the Renault Zoe actively dissuades you from driving too aggressively. When you press the throttle, the car responds but it is not eager to get going quickly. It is more comparable with the eco pro plus driving experience that you get in the BMW i3. Only when you press the throttle firmly does the Zoe wake up and react with some sense of urgency. If you are looking for a more engaging or sporty ride, you will be better served with either the Bolt or the i3. The Renault is more geared towards a quiet and comfortable drive through town. During my time with the Zoe, I found the brakes somewhat hard to modulate. Coming to a full stop smoothly was not as easy as it should be. Otherwise the Zoe drives fine and does what it needs to do without too much fuss.
Pricing, range and charging
The 2nd gen Zoe has an increased range of 300km (187mi) and can be fully charged in 1-1.5 hours using a fast charger. At home with a regular outlet, the same can be achieved in 8-10 hours. The French government supports EV’s with a 6,000 EUR credit as well as an additional 4,000 EUR “cash-for-clunkers” credit when you trade in an ICE vehicle older than ten years. Public charging for the Renault is free in France with an Z.E. Pass whereas diesel and gasoline are quite expensive. This makes the Zoe an attractive option when compared to other compact ICE cars, like the Renault Clio. The Zoe is available with four different option packages; Life Gamme, Zen Gamme, Intens Gamme and the most luxurious the Edition One. Pricing starts at 23,700 EUR and tops out at 28,100 EUR, excluding the government discounts. What is different with the Zoe is that the battery can be leased from Renault for three years at 69.- EUR per month for 17,500km per year, 79.- EUR for 30,000km per year and 119.- for unlimited kilometers per year. This program was originally introduced to keep the car more competitively priced and to take away any concerns about the longevity and depreciation of the batteries in the Zoe. Renault will maintain the batteries and replace them free of charge when they drop below 75% of their original performance, regardless of the age of the vehicle. In addition to this Renault also offers a four-year, 100,000-mile warranty with European roadside assistance.
- Electric engine: 66 kW, 89 bhp, 162 lb-ft
- Battery: 41 kW-h lithium ion
- Range: 250 miles in test, 187 miles in realistic driving conditions
- Plug-in charging: max 43 kW on IEC Type 2
- Wheelbase: 2,588 mm (101.9 in)
- Length: 4,084 mm (160.8 in)
- Width: 1,730 mm (68.1 in)
- Height: 1,562 mm (61.5 in)
- Kerb weight: 1,468 kg (3,236 lb)
Zoe vs the competition in France
As an EV driver in France, you have a few options to choose from when it comes to picking your electric vehicle. At the higher end of the spectrum, there are the Tesla Model S and X. At the lower end, you find the Bollore Blue Car and the Peugeot iOn, both of which are small city cars with a limited range. Sidenote: a limited range doesn’t mean that you can’t do any serious long-distance driving as Craig and Jan-Bart proved with their Zoe 22 kW. The only cars that compete head on with the Zoe are the BMW i3 (more expensive), the Nissan Leaf and Kia Soul. However the French have a strong preference for cars from their own national brands, and since Peugeot and Citroen don’t have a viable alternative to the Zoe, the little Renault comes out as the clear winner.
The 2017 Renault Zoe is only available in the Europe and not in the US. It offers great value for your money. It is easy to see why it has been so successful and how it has become the number one selling EV in France and Europe. If you are looking for a better handling or more luxurious car than you best look elsewhere, but if it is value for money that you are after than the little Zoe is hard to beat. In fact, she is killing it!
Let us know in the comments below what you think of the Renault Zoe. Do you see a future for this car in the US? Should Renault follow in the footsteps of Fiat and Alfa Romeo and introduce the Zoe here?