Renault Zoe Electric Car: First Drive Of Europe's Leaf Alternative


You might think that Europe, with its congested cities and relatively short distances between cities, would be the perfect environment for electric cars.

Whether or not that\’s the case, the choice of electric cars there isn\’t nearly as wide as it is in the U.S. But with the Renault Zoe you see here, it\’s just got wider, and a lot more affordable.

Renault\’s Zoe is the latest in a line of electric vehicles stemming from the Renault-Nissan partnership.

It\’s a subcompact electric car, based loosely on the platform used under a huge range of Renault-Nissan products, from the Renault Clio found in Europe, to Nissan\’s Cube, Versa, Juke and of course, the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

The basics

The Zoe\’s electric drivetrain isn\’t dissimilar to that in the Leaf either, though at 65 kW (87 horsepower) and 162 pounds-feet of torque, it\’s less potent than the Nissan\’s 80 kW (110 hp) and 210 lb-ft statistics.

It\’s also smaller and lighter though, helping to reach its European-rated 130 miles of range (on a 22 kWh lithium-ion pack) to the Leaf\’s European 120 miles from 24 kWh.

Given the 2013 Leaf achieves an EPA-rated 75 miles (84 miles from a full charge), Renault\’s own estimates of 93 miles in temperate conditions and 63 miles in cold weather seem accurate.

2013 Renault Zoe electric car

Look and feel

Styling is a subjective issue, but furnished with neat details, finished in a pearlescent shade and basking under unusually clement British weather, we were quite taken with the Zoe\’s looks.

Its slim headlamps and striking curves would be quite demur in a darker shade, but the light paint and contrasting lights, badging and wheels look sophisticated even so. The lights themselves are as intricate as any we\’ve seen on a production car, particularly at the back where the colors evoke images of the abalone in mollusc shells.

The interior is equally well-judged. A light color scheme dominates, with gloss white and chrome blue details to draw the eye.

Information is handed to the driver via a slim display screen through the wheel and a larger central screen, which also handles the car\’s infotainment features.

Importantly, everything feels nicely made. It\’s comfortable too. The seats have a slightly rustic canvas appearance to them (albeit softer–think summer trousers rather than sacks of potatoes) and would be more than up to the task of cossetting you during 100-mile stints between charges.

2013 Renault Zoe electric car

On the move

You sit conspicuously higher in the Zoe than you would in a Leaf–partly due to a lower side window line, partly as the best use of space in a small car is to go upwards.

For this reason, the Zoe doesn\’t feel as planted as some other electric vehicles, and those squashy seats don\’t hold you very well in quicker cornering–though you might say that this is academic in slow city driving.

Likewise the limited grip from the eco tires is more than sufficient for day-to-day use, but you won\’t be setting any skid-pad g-force records. The steering is pleasant enough though–relatively feedback-free, but smooth and consistent.

The drivetrain itself is as pleasant as any other electric car.

There\’s some creep built into the transmission making low-speed work easy, the accelerator pedal is responsive, and there\’s suitable performance for most driving. A 14-percent gradient taxed the 65 kW motor a little, but push the pedal to the floor (past a small kickdown-style stopper) and it summons extra urge for really tricky climbs.

Retardation from regenerative braking isn\’t overly strong, and we found the brake pedal a little grabby when pulling to a halt. This may partly be the fault of the test car\’s very low mileage.

Other details

While our drive was only brief, it was enough to discover that the Zoe would be a thoroughly pleasant city companion.

Renault has really thought about the small details. It\’s as quiet as most electric cars, but the noises you do hear are somehow soothing, low-pitch tones rather than the whine of a motor at high revolutions.

The Zoe\’s displays are simple and the light interior ambience relaxing. We were also fond of the unique turn signal noise, which had a reverb-style echo to it. And while some electric car drivers now prefer small joystick-style gear selection controls, the regular lever found in the Zoe will ease the transition for drivers moving to their first electric vehicle.

2013 Renault Zoe electric car


As always, Renault\’s absence from the U.S. precludes any useful verdict on where the Zoe sits next to other electric vehicles, but in Europe, where pricing matches that of an equivalent gasoline or diesel car (not including $100/month battery rental, that is), it could really be the vehicle that turns people on to electric driving.

Handily, we\’ve also driven Renault\’s Clio subcompact before for comparison, and we\’d have no hesitation picking the Zoe if city driving was a priority.

All the virtues of electric cars really do shine through in the Zoe–and unlike Nissan\’s ungainly Leaf, Renault has even managed to make it an attractive car, too.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here