renault_zoe_iconToday we are going to discover the brand new Renault ZE ZOE that is now available in Europe. Last week I went to a Renault garage (thanks to the garage that let me test it! ) and after a pretty long speech of the vendor on how cool and how nice electric cars made by Renault were, I had the opportunity to drive the ZOE. Here are my impressions about one of the first real 100% electric car that has a look of a … car!

The first time I drove an electric vehicle it was a Renault Twizy and the impression was really positive especially concerning the acceleration. But that was the only positive point about the Twizy: I’m not talking about the wind blowing, the missing windows, the really tappe-cul (French expressions literally meaning that the suspensions are very hard, hurting your little bottom while driving onto bumpy roads) feeling and of course the fact that you only can drive it to the maximum speed of 80 km/h! But to drive around a campus or impress some friends in the city, the car is really nice and with some skills you can drive it like a kart. But what about the second electric car brought out by Renault, the new Renault ZOE?

 

zoe_outside

The Renault Zoe: The pure sound of silence 😉

First impressions

I’ve tested the ZOE Zen Edition with the white interior (http://www.renault.fr/gamme-renault/vehicules-electriques/zoe/zoe/presentation-generale/). The white interior is really well designed and being quite tall I had enough place for my feet and the seats felt really comfortable. One important detail you will directly observe when you first step into the car: you don’t have cheap sounding plastics. Everything is correctly inserted and assembled, no squeaks and creaks nore floating gaps between the plastics. The big windshield offers you a really good visibility (which is sometimes not the case in newer compact cars like the BMW Series 1).

zoe_interior

The interior of the Zen Model is completely white. Very stylish and well designed.

But one small detail disturbed me directly: there are two ventilation holes at the basis of the windshield: and with the contrast (the dashboard is completely white) you always have the reflection of these parts in the windshield while driving. Not a critical point but the engineers should have painted these parts in white!

The car itself is linked to a public charging station that can be activated over a chip card. After that you can easily and safely disconnect the charging cable. What is a little bit stupid is that the car doesn’t have the cable integrated in the front boot. So for bad guys on the streets it will be easy to disconnect your car from the charging cable.

zoe_cable

Charging the ZOE: you will need to open the Renault Logo – trap and plug an non-standard cable. Note that the cable is not retractible, so you will need to place it in the trunk once finished.

The dashboard has a very prominent display with also animations and gauges.

zoe_display

The display and the range gauge at the left side. While driving the display is animated and gives you updated information about your battery charge.

On the left side you have the battery status (charge) and the display instantaneously updates the range when you are driving. Not completely impressive, you are certainly not in a Ferrari or a McLaren where the dashboard is far more complex, but I found it really nicely designed.

The second screen is located in the middle console and contains a tablet-like touchscreen displaying the R-Link software. The R-Link software allows you to have access to your MP3s, some Renault branded apps, and of course an interactive map that shows you also where the next charging station is located with the corresponding range.

If you like perfumes you can even perfume the interior with one of Renault’s fragrances. I haven’t seen this feature in a car before, even not in big German limousines. And no, you are not lacking any of the newest in-car technologies even an air conditioner and a pretty nice sound system are integrated;-) (I’m kidding a little bit because some people still think you cannot have these features in electric vehicle).

Driving

The sound of silence! Yes, it’s cool ….  perhaps too silent. The suspension is really good, not giving you the feeling of racing on the Paris Roubaix pavement and the comfort when driving is really pleasant.

The suspensions are not too hard and it’s a nice pleasure not to feel any mechanical vibration in your back: you don’t have any vibrations. It’s like sitting in a comfortable sofa while holding a steering wheel in your hands.

This feeling prolonged by the white interior– gives what designers name a  “cocooning”-feeling: you really feel safe and have a strong sensation of security.

The acceleration: yeah! this is what I’m calling linear acceleration: with a simple and soft press on the gas pedal you will quickly be propelled to the maximum of the engine’s power without any annoying gear hops. If you are driving the first time an automatic gear shifting, you will be impressed of this kind of driving style. Gear shifting adieu and at the beginning funny it is really to see how you are looking for the clutch pedal and the gear lever to change the gears!

During the test I really had to be very careful: the acceleration of the car is so impressive and responsive that I almost exceeded the authorized speed limit. The top speed is announced to be over 120 km/h, but unfortunately I couldn’t test it on a highway. Fully charged the vehicle can drive about 150 km.

Concerning this point I want to make it clear, that I haven’t experienced the “Damn! I will run out of power in 5 kilometers” syndrome. This impression – partly stupidly reported and repeated by the press – is also present when you drive a normal fuel-powered car. And with a range of about 150km you can ride around without having any bad feelings or having to be stressed. You will anyway recharge your car each night, so if you are driving about 75 kilometers for a one way trip to your office each day, you won’t get any problems. And if you need to go to a supermarket with your ZOE, you will certainly find a charging station there, perhaps even combined with a normal gas-station!

 

zoe_ev_charging_station

Public EVLink charging station. With a contactless card you will activate the station. Two buttons on the top allows you to select some points in a minimalistic menu.

Batteries and charging

Update May 2013: It seems as if the next part is going to be history as Renault will certainly announce (http://renault-zoe.forumpro.fr/t2020-cable-recharge), that the charging of the ZOE can also be realized over a normal electric plug but with a power not exceeding 3kW, meaning the ZOE can be fully recharged in 12 hours at home, without the Wallbox (manufactured by Schneider).

 

wallbox_schneider

Wallbox for the Renault ZOE / Source: Schneider

Hey Renault this must be a joke: you cannot charge your ZOE by using normal in-house plugs! You must use a so called WallBox provided by Schneider and of course this box will cost you some quids: 499€ only for the box! And after that you have to pay the electrician that will install this magic box into your home (actually you can find instructions on the web on how to install the WallBox by yourself, put please be careful!). This is definitely a no-go. Just imagine you are visiting friends and they don’t have this box…you won’t be able to charge your car! The answer of Renault is that there will be more and more public charging stations for EVs in the future. Certainly not a bad argument, but while the Smart ED and the Toyota Prius are working with a normal plug the ZOE follows the Wall Box way…,but why?

But I bet with you that, Renault will be constrained to release a normal cable to charge the ZOE over the plug. Why? Because the first versions of ZOE that were driving through the Bretagne / Brittany had the possibility to be recharged over the normal plug and not through the Wallbox.

The latest concerns the installation of the Wallbox and all the fundamental questions you will face if you are living in a flat where the Wallbox should be mounted in the general circuit: will you pay the installation for the others, how should the circuit be wired? Can we share the Wallbox between several flat occupants or friends? And what happens when I’m visiting friends?

This is a pretty lame strategy and this is not to make consumers decide to adopt an electric vehicle.

Let’s come to the second negative point: I was never a fan of leasing stuff and after having paid a large amount of money to hear that a part of the car will remain Renault’s property the whole life of the car. But unfortunately this stupid politic is reality: about 80€/month for only renting a battery pack! And of course you must pay; you have signed a contract with Renault. I was even told that when buying the ZOE I’m completely bundled to Renault even if I’m going to resell the car, the next owner will need to go to Renault for signing the battery rental contract.

Conclusion

The ZOE is top and offers good sensations and is really nice to drive. If you have never driven an electric car you will be impressed by the silence and the powerful acceleration.

But as wonderful and technically advanced this car is, the marketing strategy impulsed by Carlos Ghosn is very curious. Several hurdles are placed in front of the new customer: an expensive Wallbox, a modification of the electric installation, a cable that is not pluggable at home and of course a pretty expensive battery rental.

The ZOE will be certainly a hit because it’s one of the first 100% electric really good looking car on the market, but the price of the battery rental and the Wallbox installation increases the bill a little bit too much. But don’t forget that you can get some financial aid from the government (about 7000 Euros in France) for the purchase of the ZOE.

Pleasure of driving

5_stars_rating

 

 

Interior and comfort

3_stars_rating

 

 

Cockpit and visibility

3_stars_rating

 

 

Safety: 5 stars at EuroNCAP test

Price: about 13.700 € (includes the deduction of 7000 Euros)

Renault TV report about the ZOE

If you want a better overview of the car and its design, here is a short video in HD recorded by the guys of Renault TV:

Additional links, sources and contents about the Wallbox and ZOE.

The best forum for Zoe owners:

http://renault-zoe.forumpro.fr/

http://renault-zoe.forumpro.fr/t142-branchement-de-la-borne-ev-link-wall-box

Building your own Open Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment:

http://code.google.com/p/open-evse/

General information about the Renault ZOE incl. the eBrochure:

http://www.renault.fr/e-brochure/ZOEB10/index.html?utm_source=Ebrochure&utm_medium=e-mail&utm_content=Ebrochure-ZOEB10&utm_campaign=Ebrochure-conf-view

http://www.renault.fr/gamme-renault/vehicules-electriques/zoe/zoe/presentation-generale.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renault_Zoe