Renault Zoe review: What we loved about the stylish electric supermini

Renault Zoe review: What we loved about the stylish electric supermini

Meet Zoe (she's electric)

Text: Daryl Lee

So here we have the Renault Zoe electric car. You might have noticed we've gone on a bit of an electric car bender this month. With our rundown on autonomous electric cars and the brand-new Audi e-tron, the carmaker's first mass-production electric car.

And why not, really? 2018 has seen the launch of three electric cars in Singapore, from the BMW i3S, Hyundai Ioniq and this, the Renault Zoe, with the Audi e-tron to follow at some point next year. Then you also have electric Grabs running around and BlueSG carsharing vehicles.

Anyway, if you are looking to buy one; there's never been a better time to. Since they are now at a stage where pesky electric car bugbears like range anxiety are now a thing of the past.

Range anxiety, begone

Renault Zoe driving

Up until very recently, range anxiety was a thing with electric cars. What is range anxiety, you might be asking? Good question. You know that sense of impending doom you feel when your phone is running low on juice and you forgot to bring your power bank out? Yeah, take that and multiply that by a factor of 100 or so. Because while a flat phone just means you're uncontactable, a flat car means you could be calling for a very embarrassing tow back home.

But anyway, the Zoe Renault claims it has a 367km range, and while in the real world, that could go down to below 300km, it's still phenomenally good. In the three days I had it, the Zoe got stuck in traffic, ferried around a full complement of five passengers with the air conditioning going great guns, and after 100km or so of driving I still had around 200km in the 'tank'.

Now, this is significant. Because instead of charging it every other day, you could reliably go a full week without 'gassing up'. Heck, we know we charge our phones way more often than that.

All charged up

Renault Zoe charging

As for when you'll have to charge up the Zoe, there are 12 public charging stations islandwide. Now, this may not sound like a lot (and it isn't), but they're located in major shopping malls around the city centre, which is handy. In addition to the above charging stations, there are also another 21 located in condominiums islandwide.

A full charge at one of those stations takes a little under three hours, though you can recharge it using a conventional wall socket as well. But if you're using the latter, we hope you have a lot of time on your hands, because it can take anywhere between six and nine hours. Which sounds crazy (and is), but it shouldn't pose too much of a problem if you're doing it overnight while you sleep.

Here's the best part: a full tank of electrons costs just $10 (well, actually $9.89 if you want to count pennies with us), which is considerably less than the $80-$100 you'd normally spend for a tank of fuel.

It looks refreshingly ordinary

Renault Zoe static

It's all well and good if you want to attract attention in your electric car, letting the world know you're driving the future of the automobile (looking at you, BMW i3 and Tesla Model X), but if discretion is your watchword, then the Zoe is a breath of fresh air.

It looks just like any other supermini hatchback, that is to say, vaguely egg-shaped. And aside from some subtle only-apparent-to-car-nerds cues such as blue-tinted accents and a blanked-out front end. Since there's no engine, there's no need for cooling vents.

Oh, and since it's completely electric, there's no tailpipe out back to spew noxious fumes into the atmosphere with.

It's even normal to drive

Renault Zoe driving

Well for a given value of normal, anyway. As with any electric car, thumbing the starter button results in the digital dashboard lighting up, a few bongs... and not much else. No engine coughing to life, no vibrations, nothing. There's nothing to suggest the car is ready to move off, save for a big "ready" icon in the instrument cluster.

And that's the thing about electric cars versus conventionally-powered ones. The tactile and aural cues of a running car engine is so hardwired into our brains that their very absence results in a sort of deafening silence.

Of course, this also means pedestrians won't know there's an oncoming car, though Renault, like every other electric carmaker, has come up with noise generators (said noise sounds like a passing UFO) to warn others that a car is approaching. If sneaking up on unsuspecting, hapless pedestrians and giving them a fright is your idea of fun, you'll be happy to know the Zoe's noise generators can be disabled.

Aside from that, the Zoe drives like any other car. Put the (disproportionately long) gearlever into D, release the parking brake, ease off the brakes and away you go. The steering is light and vague, though this is to be expected of cars in its size class.

But unusually, the Zoe is remarkably perky. Because it has an electric motor, it doesn't build power like a normal engine would. Instead, if you decide to floor the pedal, there's instant acceleration without the spooling up that would normally occur. It's a lot like being in a golf buggy, except this is a far larger one.

Is there a catch?

Renault Zoe badge

Unfortunately, yes. It costs $127,999, which is quite a lot of money for quite a small car. For slightly less money, you could get yourself a Renault Megane GT (a car one size class up) or a Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

But you also have to remember that an electric car has far fewer items to service than a conventional car. Brake pads and tyres will have to be changed, but that generally happens only once every couple of years, depending on how much you drive. Also, Renault warranties the Zoe for five years, and the battery (usually the most expensive component in an electric car) for eight years.

Far lower running costs and far higher purchase price notwithstanding, the Zoe remains a car for the early adopters, good though the car itself may be. Mainly down to how Singapore could stand to have more public charging stations.

Find out more about the Zoe from Renault themselves.