Could the new ZOE do 'Dublin to Galway' (and halfway back again) on one charge?
First Drive: Renault ZOE
The trick was not to look at what was left in the battery, so Renault stuck a sticker over the information on the dash and told us: "'Forget the battery. Drive it as if it were an ordinary car."
And that is exactly what we did in the new ZOE electric car which, with its more powerful battery base, can cover a claimed 400km on a single charge. It carries twice the energy of the previous one.
In fairness to them they admit that 300km is a more realistic range in everyday urban and suburban driving.
If realistic, even that would mean not having to charge as often or worry about running out of steam. The average daily commute for 80pc of European motorists is under 60km. So if 300km is right, one charge should do Monday to Friday.
I looked on 300km with a lot of scepticism. Was I right? Or is 300km achievable?
I've driven a good few electric vehicles and know what range anxiety is all about. Indeed, I drove the current-battery ZOE to Galway and back last year. I'll not forget how anxious I became when I got on the M50 and the range projection plunged because I was doing 100kmh. I stopped and charged at Enfield, Kilbeggan, Ballinasloe on the way.
This new one has, they claim, double the storage capacity with the same charging times. If that is the case, then I should be able to do Dublin-Galway on one charge no bother.
Some pertinent facts. Purchases of ZOEs in Ireland are paltry and declining (13 this year, 30 last). The big seller is the Nissan Leaf (351 this year, 405 last). The UK electric vehicle market is up 8pc year on year.
The 'new' ZOE is a smart-looking supermini; they have given it a little bit of a lift here and there, especially in the cabin, but nothing to get excited about.
The real story is the new battery and the efficiency of the motor. A Chameleon charging unit that will suit any charger comes free. You need only the one cable as it adapts to the different power levels at charging points. A 7kw Wall Box comes (free) with the car too.
Strangely, they are continuing with one of the 'old' battery models.
Batteries last 8-10 years, and the new one weighs 20kg more than the old. There is an eight-year,160,000km warranty on the battery.
I asked about the overall level of emissions involved in an electric car, where fossil fuels are used to produce electricity in the first place. They reckon a typical petrol supermini of ZOE size would invoke 99g/km. Those for an electric car would be around 54g/km.
In France (nuclear power), that figure can be as low as 15g/km. The figures are putative because there are so many variables: overnight charging reduces CO2 as well. Often overlooked are the emissions involved in producing fossil fuels too (boring for oil, construction of pipelines, transport etc).
They expect 90pc of ZOE charging to be at home (six-seven hours) or work. It takes 30 minutes to charge up an extra 80km/100km on a public site.
Renault here calculate that a ZOE costs around €1.30/100km depending on when and where you charge. Up to this they have leased the battery in Ireland. Now you can buy car and battery.
Expect the cost of a new one with its Z.E. battery to be around €25,000. That is after the VRT rebate and SEAI grant, making a total of €10,000. The current leased-battery car costs from €17,489.
To make charging a bit easier they have all sorts of applications to make the most of off-peak electric cost and available slots.
The updated car will have three trim levels: Expression Nav (with older battery pack), Dynamique Nav and new top-of-the-range Signature Nav (leather upholstery and BOSE audio).
So what about the battery then? It's the heart of the operation after being developed jointly by Renault and LG Chem. How did its 41kWh of useful energy translate into real-world driving?
On the first day we covered 159.4km and there was 122km left in the pack when we took off the sticker. That means it could cover 281.4km.
We drove normally. We never spoke about or looked at range once. If anything, the hilly climbs were far more severe than you'd have on your ordinary electric-car trip. So I can vouch for the 300km real-world range. Now that is something.
It means you can drive from Dublin to Galway and still have plenty in reserve. What other car under €30,000 on the Irish market can do that?
The following day we had an early start to catch a flight and I hammered it along 88km of mostly motorway. There was just 110km left in the battery - a total range therefore of 198. Still enough to get me to Galway? But it was a fast drive. The first day was far more reflective of its capabilities. I reckon the old one would do half that.
This new one goes on sale in March. It will be most interesting to see if more buyers step forward.