This exciting five-door electric supermini has been one of Europe’s top-selling plug-in cars since it launched in 2013. Its secret is you don’t have to make compromises to switch to emission-free electric motoring. The car is affordable, easy to drive and own, and has all the practicality of a normal hatchback.
The first Zoe arrived in the UK in 2013 and it seemed like a breakthrough – Renault created a completely normal-looking five-door hatchback that runs entirely on battery power. The Zoe has been improved and updated ever since and still creates a great impression. It looks like a standard modern supermini. There are no weird design features to show it uses pioneering electric power. In fact, many of the underpinnings come from the Renault Clio and the Zoe’s exterior has a sleek modern stance. With its sharp lines and hidden rear doors, the Zoe looks the epitome of a cool urban runabout.
There’s a choice of sounds that alert pedestrians of your presence under 18mph, otherwise they wouldn’t hear you coming. You can, however, disable the system.
The first Zoe arrived in the UK in 2013 and it seemed like a breakthrough.
What’s it like to drive?
Forget the battery power for a moment and the Zoe is a nippy little hatchback that’s easy to drive. Of course, it’s quiet and smooth because of the electric motor, but generally you can forget it’s not a gas-guzzler and just drive around normally.
In 2016 a new battery was available with a range increased from 150 to 250 miles. From 2020 all models have the higher range. The 2020 changes also added a simplified electronic parking brake and gear shifter that made driving the Zoe even easier.
Around town it feels particularly nippy as the electric power is delivered instantly when you press the throttle. More recent versions are more powerful than older models thanks to the bigger batteries. But most drivers find the Zoe’s initial acceleration is lively, even on the oldest versions.
The Zoe is a nippy little hatchback that’s easy to drive.
The Zoe has a spacious interior because the batteries are stored under the floor and don’t intrude into the front or back of the cabin. This means you step up to get in and sit higher than a normal supermini. Drivers get a clear commanding view of the road and there’s room for five although the higher seats mean taller passengers may notice the limited headroom.
A 2020 makeover created a more modern look inside the Zoe. These more recent cars have bigger digital dials, a portrait infotainment touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard and phone connectivity. There are still simple dials for the heating and air-con beneath though. The parking brake and gear shifter became electric in 2020 and freed up even more space in the cabin. Drivers got a nice new chunky, soft-touch steering wheel.
Renault’s tried-and-tested keyless operation system has always been fitted to the Zoe. It means you carry a card in your pocket which unlocks doors and starts your car at the press of a button. It automatically locks the car as you walk away, too.
The most important practicality for most owners will be the battery pack – the crucial details of its range and how long it takes to charge. With several different options over the years, it pays to check which one is fitted to the car as some came with a quick-charge option. The biggest battery takes around nine hours to charge from flat to full when charging from a home wall box, or three hours on a public charge point. This will give you an 80% charge in just over an hour. A full trickle charge from a normal domestic socket will take over 30 hours.
Apart from that, there’s an average-sized boot and split-folding back seats to enlarge it as needed. A handy optional extra was a stowage space under the boot floor for the charging cables that leaves a nice flat loading area too. Zoe’s have a five-star safety rating thanks to a long list of technology that includes an anti-skid system and cruise control. A lane-keeping system is an optional extra.
Running costs and reliability
Used models are so sought-after that they’ve retained their value and so bargains are unlikely. In fact, the value of your Zoe may even go up while you own it. In addition, consider the Zoe’s extremely low running costs. Road tax is free and other costs should be cheaper than any normally powered hatchback. The cost of a full charge will vary between models and your charging system, but can be just £3. The main extra cost to consider is the price of any home charging system.
What we love
Extremely low running costs and excellent environmental credentials would be enough on their own. Add in the great modern looks, the ease of driving and the comfortable, quiet ride and the Renault Zoe is even more appealing. Best of all is the range of 250 miles between charges, which makes electric motoring practical for most owners.
Still looking for the one?
Use our comparison tool to find the car for you
If you like the Zoe...
Town and country drivers
The long battery range of the Renault Zoe lifts it above many electric rivals. It also looks good, drives well and has a likeable high driving position. There’s a choice of battery packs with different capabilities and all versions offer the benefits of a normal five-door hatchback too.
This review was