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First drive: Renault confirms sub-$45K Zoe EV for Aus

Best things in Life: The entry level Zoe Life lacks a reversing camera or rear parking sensors, making the small price increase to a much better-equipped Intens worthwhile.

GoAuto hits Paris streets in updated Renault Zoe EV, comes away sans range anxiety

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Renault logo25 Sep 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

THE all-electric Renault Zoe light hatch will go on sale in Australia around November, with a two-variant line-up starting from $44,470 plus on-road costs for the Life and rising to $45,970 plus on-roads for the up-spec Intens that includes vital equipment such as rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

Like the Kangoo ZE electric van also confirmed for Australia, the Zoe will initially be sold directly to business and government customers and not be offered to consumers, which is the model Renault adopted in the early days of its EV rollout in Europe and a strategy it prefers for markets such as Australia that lack any government incentives for electrified vehicles.

However, Renault Australia senior model line manager for electric vehicles, Elena Woods, told GoAuto that ways of supplying the Zoe to keen consumers would be determined on a case-by-case basis. She also confirmed the Zoe would be available to sole traders operating with an ABN.

Unlike the more retail-oriented European sales model under which the Zoe battery pack is leased separately from the vehicle to reduce its up-front cost, Australian buyers will own the vehicle and battery outright.

Also, the Zoe cannot be charged from a standard 240V power outlet, so Renault Australia will partner with local suppliers to sell customers a 7kW wall box charger separately – at a cost yet to be determined – that can fully charge the battery in around seven hours or provide a 30km top-up in an hour.

Third-party EV charging equipment suppliers in Australia charge around $2000 for a basic 7kW wall box EV charger including installation, with quicker 22kW units that reduce Zoe charging times to less than six hours costing in the region of $3000 including installation.

Fitted with the more potent 41kWh battery pack announced at last year’s Paris motor show along with a number of other efficiency-related updates, Australian-delivered Zoes will have a theoretical 400km battery range, translating into around 300km during real-world usage in summer conditions.

Judging from our day of driving a Zoe in and around Paris in mild autumn weather, the upgrade means range anxiety is unlikely to trouble urban and suburban Australians who take the electric car plunge with this Renault, regardless of our country’s lack of widespread public charging infrastructure.

Despite the added expense of a wall-box charger and the fact it costs twice as much as a fully-loaded Clio GT, at launch the Zoe will be the most affordable way for Australians to achieve zero tailpipe emissions motoring.

It will also offer the sub-$100,000 EV market’s longest battery range until the larger Nissan Leaf matches it late next year – although the Leaf is unlikely to match its predecessor’s heavily discounted price of $39,990 driveaway.

For comparison, the least expensive BMW i3 costs $63,900 plus on-roads with a 240km range and the Tesla Model 3 will be priced between $50,000 and $60,000 when it arrives late next year with a 354km range.

The plug-in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV can travel 54km on electricity alone before internal combustion kicks in and costs $50,490 plus on-road costs, while Audi’s A3 e-tron costs $62,490 plus on-roads and can do 50km on battery power before petrol propulsion is required.

Standard equipment on the Zoe Life will include climate control with remote cabin pre-heating or cooling, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio reception and MP3 audio source compatibility, cruise control and a multi-function steering wheel with voice recognition.

Dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers and rear parking sensors can be optioned as part of the City Pack upgrade. The Easy Pack upgrade adds one-touch driver’s window, electric rear windows and keyless entry. Pricing for options is yet to be determined.

The Zoe Intens will come with all the above equipment plus a reversing camera.

Metallic paint is optional on both variants.

Warranty coverage is three years for the vehicle (two years less than Renault’s conventionally powered passenger cars), with five years for the battery. Ms Woods told GoAuto that Renault Australia has “chosen to follow the global warranty position” on its electric vehicles.

Compared with the 22kWh battery pack of the original Zoe launched in 2012, the updated car that will be sold in Australia benefits from vastly improved battery energy density, which has been achieved through chemistry and without increasing the pack’s physical size or adding significant weight.

As a result, the recently upgraded Zoe has become a much more realistic suburban runabout proposition for Australia – and not just on paper, for our varied day of driving revealed the 300km claim to be pretty much on the money.

Our test vehicle indicated 297km of battery range when we collected it from Renault’s depot 10km southwest of central Paris, with 229km remaining and the trip meter showing 82.4km upon our return. The car had bettered its own prediction by more than 14km.

This was achieved across a broad range of driving scenarios over several hours, including typically battery-sapping motorway and country road kilometres as well as the heavy traffic of a capital city that tends to suit electric vehicles.

In addition to being impressed by the Zoe’s battery performance, impressions of the way it drove, its interior space and general practicality were also positive. Styling inside and out has aged well, too.

Chopping through Parisian traffic requires alertness and sharp responses and the Zoe was very much in its element here due to its instantaneous electric throttle response and direct, accurate, well-weighted steering that borrows components from the Clio RS hot hatch.

Excellent visibility from the light and airy cabin also helped us avoid the French capital’s legions of seemingly suicidal scooter riders as they wove their way through dense traffic.

After a brief drive into the grounds of the Palace of Versailles where a fleet of electric Renaults quietly ferry staff around the 800-hectare gardens, we headed further west along the N12 motorway and found the Zoe’s 68kW/220Nm electric motor to effortlessly, smoothly and seamlessly punch us up the on-ramp to achieve a quiet and settled 130km/h cruise.

With no engine noise or vibration, we found road roar to be more than acceptable for this size of car, with wind rustle detectable from unusual sources such as the rear of the roof. Ride comfort was pretty good, if a bit crashier than the equivalent Clio, which we put down to the EV-specific hard-compound Michelin tyres.

Turning off the main road, we headed south into a national park and were able to enjoy both the Zoe’s crisp dynamics as we wound our way down a twisty hillside road and the satisfaction of seeing three kilometres added to our battery range readout as the regenerative braking system converted our kinetic energy back into electrons.

Brake pedal feel did reveal the Zoe’s age somewhat, the slightly mushy sensation and non-linear transition between regenerative and friction braking taking a little getting used to. But unlike many hybrids and EVs – including Renault’s Kangoo ZE – the Zoe’s regenerative braking never caused aggressive deceleration when we lifted off the accelerator, even in Eco mode.

At the lunch stop we were able to pay more attention to the cabin, which like most of the Zoe is largely unchanged from the original version we drove in Portugal four years ago. The steering’s quick 2.71 turns lock-to-lock and tight 10.56m turning circle simplified manoeuvring in tight French side-streets, too.

Renault has clearly saved weight and cost by specifying hard plastics everywhere except the upholstered door armrests, but not at the expense of style. The textures and colours are attractive and the overall presentation pleasant.

An embossed electrical circuit motif in the ceiling and other neat details also help to raise the ambience.

Renault’s first-generation R-Link infotainment system is accessed via a 7.0-inch touchscreen and is arguably easier to use than the later R-Link 2 fitted to the Megane and Koleos, but shows its age through laggy responses and lo-res graphics.

Also, the grainy reversing camera display – that along with rear parking sensors will only be available on top-spec Intens variants for the Australian market – takes too long to appear after reverse gear is selected.

Much better is the well-designed and attractive digital instrument panel that displays speed, battery range and trip computer information in easy at-a-glance format.

An animated tachometer-style infographic simply but effectively shows how much energy is being drawn from or being regenerated into the battery packs during acceleration and deceleration.

Interior space is impressive for a light car and equals some small hatchbacks for rear legroom while offering excellent headroom all round. To call it a five-seater draws a long bow, but a trio of slightly built teenagers could conceivably occupy the rear bench in reasonable comfort.

Similarly the boot, which is well shaped and deep with a 338-litre volume and up to 1225L with the rear seats folded. We managed to cram all manner of luggage and equipment in there along with the bulky charging cable.

Cabin storage is also reasonable for a car of this size, with four decent-sized door bins, a generous glovebox and a handful of trays and cubbies. But the Zoe is typically Renault in having odd-sized, shallow cup-holders.

After lunch it was a short drive through sweeping bends and ancient villages before another motorway slog back into Paris.

We toyed with the Eco mode button that dulls throttle response and reduces air-conditioning performance, but the former provided too much of a disadvantage in cut-and-thrust Paris traffic to be worth the small battery range benefit and the latter was almost un-noticeable on the intermittently cloudy 19-degree day of our drive.

From our brief test, we expect people with a long commute into the city or who spend all day battling urban and suburban traffic would rarely, if ever, experience range anxiety in this upgraded Zoe.

Its compactness, manoeuvrability, practicality and style will only boost the appeal, but we look forward to thoroughly testing the Zoe on Australian roads to establish a much clearer picture of how it would fit into life for customers Down Under.

2017 Renault Zoe pricing*
Life (a)$44,470
Intens (a)$45,970
*Excludes on-road costs

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