How old is it? The Renault Zoe has been on sale in the UK since 2012
How much does it cost?* Prices start from £6,000
What’s good about it? Comfortable, stylish, affordable, easy to drive
What’s not so good? Cramped rear seats, small boot, early versions have low range, some examples incur a monthly battery fee
What’s the Renault Zoe like?
When most people think of an electric car, they think of something like the Renault Zoe; an urban runaround that zips around town silently on electric power, transporting you cheaply and cleanly from home to the shops or to school and back again.
And to be fair, it’s this sort of role for which the Zoe was conceived. No surprise, then, that it’s a role in which it excels. It’s a doddle to drive, with an automatic gearbox and good visibility, and its sprightly acceleration means you can go for those rare gaps in the traffic when you’re trying to pull out onto a busy main road.
Granted, earlier Zoes with less powerful motors feel less at home at higher speeds, but if you only ever venture onto the motorway occasionally, they’ll still hold their own – and later models got more power which made them better able to contend with the cut and thrust of motorway traffic.
You probably aren’t going to choose a Zoe for its entertaining handling, which is just as well, because it’s a bit roly-poly in bends. There’s enough grip that you don’t feel as though you’re about to skid off into a hedge, though, and the Zoe’s responses are at least predictable, so it shouldn’t catch you unawares in an emergency manoeuvre.
What’s more, the soft suspension smooths out bumps pretty well, resulting in a comfortable ride.
Is it big enough for my family?
All Zoes are blessed with a light, airy interior that feels spacious from the front seats; those made from 2018 onwards got an upgraded dashboard with plusher materials, but even the earlier cars feel smart and come with plenty of equipment.
In the back, the story isn’t quite so blissful; the seats are quite cramped, and because the seating position is quite high, taller passengers will find their heads jammed into the roof lining. That said, if it’s only ever the kids who sit back there, you shouldn’t have an issue, and while the boot isn’t the largest, it’s big enough for a few bags of shopping.
How safe is the Renault Zoe?
When the Renault Zoe was tested by the industry’s benchmark crash-testing organisation, EuroNCAP, back in 2013, it gained the full five stars, marking it out as a pretty safe way to travel. That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that EuroNCAP’s testing has grown tougher since then, so a more recently tested small car with a five-star rating is actually a slightly safer bet.
Indeed, looking at the Zoe’s testing results more closely, while its scores of 89 per cent for adult occupants and 80 per cent for child occupants are satisfactory, there are other, newer small cars out there that do better.
All Zoes get driver, passenger, side head and side chest airbags as standard in the front seats, though these don’t extend to the rear seats. On the plus side, Isofix fittings for the front passenger seat mean you can safely install three child seats in the Zoe, as long as you turn off the passenger airbag.
Which is the best version to choose?
The myriad revisions and upgrades make choosing a Zoe rather a complicated business. The original model had a 22kWh battery and a 91bhp motor, making it capable of travelling up to 130 miles on a charge; that range grew with the arrival of the R240, which had the same size battery but a more efficient 87bhp motor, so could go 149 miles on a charge, though unlike the original car, it didn’t offer rapid charging.
In 2016, the Zoe’s battery was upgraded to 41kWh, and the revised version was badged ZE40 to reflect this. The two motor options were renamed to reflect their different offerings: the Q90 still used the original motor, and could rapid (or ‘quick’, hence the Q) charge up to 43kW. Meanwhile, the R90 (its R standing for range) could offer a range of up to 197 miles, to the Q90’s 186.
Then in 2018, the R90 was replaced by a new, more powerful motor, of 106bhp, badged R110. Later that year came a more comprehensive facelift, with styling tweaks, a new 50kWh battery, and a new 132bhp, or R135, motor, which sat alongside the 106bhp model. Range now varied from 238 to 245 miles, depending on the model you chose, and the Q90 was ditched in favour of the option of rapid charging of up to 50kW on both versions.
Of all of these versions, we reckon the Q90, in Dynamique Nav form, is the one to have, offering the best compromise between value, range, power and charging speeds.
Is the Renault Zoe reliable?
Unfortunately, the signs are not good. Not enough Zoe owners responded to the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey for it to make it into the rankings, but in the 2019 running of the survey, the Zoe was the least reliable electric car, with a fairly dismal score of 82.3 per cent, and owners reporting a litany of electrical faults.
That score is backed up by a below-average score for Renault in the 2019 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study.
Until 1 February 2018, all Zoes came with a four-year, 100,000-mile manufacturer warranty, but make sure you buy carefully, because after that date the warranty was reduced to three years and 60,000 miles. From 18 December 2019 onwards, however, Renault pushed its warranty back up to five years and 100,000 miles.
Irrespective of this, every Zoe will have an eight-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty, which guarantees the battery will retain up to 66 per cent of its full capacity. From 1st March 2020, extra guarantees were added, for 80 per cent capacity in years 1-3, and 70 per cent in years 4-5.
Battery leased cars, meanwhile, are guaranteed for the duration of the lease up to 75 per cent capacity – so one useful bonus of a battery lease car is that you should be able to get your battery replaced if it drops below that figure, no matter how old it is.
What do I need to look out for?
Faults with the Renault Zoe centre mainly on the charging system, with several owners reporting issues that cause their cars not to charge, or to charge intermittently. Some owners have also reported battery faults that result in much lower range than normal.
As a result, we strongly recommend you try charging any prospective purchase, paying close attention to the range indicator to double check you’re projected to achieve somewhere in the vicinity of the maximum range when the car is fully charged.
You’ll also need to be aware of the term ‘battery lease’. This was a scheme under which you would buy the Zoe, but pay a monthly fee to lease the battery, thus reducing the outright purchase cost of the car. When buying one of these cars used, though, you’ll still be leasing the battery and, consequently, battery leased Zoes are generally cheaper to buy than ‘battery-owned’ examples.
Beware, however, of sellers trying to pass off a car with a leased battery as one that’s battery-owned.
How much should I pay for a Renault Zoe?*
You can expect to pay as little as £6,000 for a Zoe, though be aware that this figure will get you an early 22kWh car with a leased battery; a battery-owned car will set you back at least £7,500.
Unless you’re planning to keep the car for a year or two, then, it makes more sense to buy a battery-owned car than one with a battery lease, as otherwise you’ll end up paying more in battery lease fees than the difference in the purchase price.
If you’d rather have the bigger battery and longer range of a ZE40, you’ll need to pay at least £10,000 for an R90, or £11,000 for a Q90.
We found: 2017 Zoe ZE40 Q90 Dynamique Nav, 19,000 miles, full service history, £11,995
Why should I buy one?
The Zoe is one of the most affordable ways into electric motoring these days. It’s swift, silent, and comfortable and, if you avoid a battery lease version, it should be cheap to run, too.
There are few better cars for urban motoring at the price.
What alternatives to the Renault Zoe should I consider?
If you’re after an electric car specifically, the only real alternative for the price is the Nissan Leaf – though its larger dimensions mean it’ll be slightly less wieldy around town. Alternatively, if you’re willing to spend a little more, a Volkswagen E-Up is also worth a look, and just as good around town.
Don’t need an electric car? Then try a Ford Fiesta instead – they’re cheap to buy, cheap to run and great to drive.
*Prices correct at time of writing (September 2020)
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