Motoring: Visibility issues mar Renault's electric Zoe
The Renault Zoe could be an excellent electric car but is let down by some serious flaws
This column does get the whole electric car thing, in principle anyway. In fact, I am extremely well set up for it. I live very near the city centre, my car always stays in the garage at the back of the house where a special charging point was installed by the ESB a few years back and, during the week at least, my journeys are all very urban.
There have been problems with range anxiety when I have tested electric cars before; there are bitter memories of trawling West Dublin for a working quick-charge point, before sitting in the middle of the Nissan HQ car park on a Sunday afternoon getting current into the Leaf, when I should have been driving my partner to work.
The infrastructure has been getting considerably better and more EVs are being sold, which has brought its own problems. A writer in the Irish Times last Monday tells of pulling into a petrol station in Gorey to recharge her car, only to find two other electric cars at the charging point before her. Ciara O'Brien writes: "If you pull up to a petrol or diesel pump and there's a queue, it will move fast. With electric charging points, there is no such certainty. They could be there for 20 minutes, an hour, longer. You just don't know."
Anyway, I came to the five-door Renault Zoe at the beginning of this month with a fairly open mind. I was going to plan our Sunday-afternoon outing better; we have plenty of stuff to be anxious about without worrying over getting stuck up the Dublin mountains without any power.
In this regard, motorway driving would be kept at a minimum and we would aim to get a range boost from the regenerative power of the braking system as we came down from the hills. Renault have put considerable effort into electric vehicles, although the hype and predictions given by a previous MD in Ireland a few years back have proved to be so ridiculous.
Already Renault have launched the well-regarded electric Kangoo van, the odd bike/car Twizy and an electric version of the rather old-fashioned Fluence saloon. The Zoe, based largely on the Clio platform and aiming for the small family hatchback market was a much more mainstream project.
At first sight, it does well. Standing tall, with an attractive enough profile with hidden rear-door handles, two comfortable front seats, easily accessed; a large luggage area, clear displays and the potential to do about 130km on a full charge - this will take most of the night at home but can be boosted quickly at fast-charging stations. It's very easy to drive; initial speed picks up quickly and, if you want to do battery-draining high speeds on the motorway, it won't disappoint.
Yet, there are some very serious black marks against it and that's before the expected very high depreciation and the cost of battery rental each month, which isn't nice - and apparently Renault can remotely disable the car if you don't pay up. Go past the supportive front seats and real cheapness is apparent in the Zoe - around the doors, the industrial rear seat that doesn't split and lacks a central headrest, the boot is difficult to close for even an average-size woman and there is general feeling that quality has been sacrificed for lightness. However, the worst thing for me was the awful reflections on the windscreen which seriously impede your visibility and give real problems with glare. This, together with the nasty blindspots caused by the sweeping A-pillars, does not make for happy driving.
The British magazine Autocar says the Zoe is a "talented, easy-driving, short-range car" however, it prefixes this with "especially if it's a second or third car". Gosh, there's definitely a different economy across the water.
I feel the whole Zoe concept relies on it being a electric car than a vehicle I would happily own or, more importantly, let my family drive. OK, it has got a very good rating for crash safety, but that is not the same as being a safe car to drive.
The Zoe costs €19,290 inclusive of VRT relief and energy grant. There are a lot better small petrol and diesel cars out there for that money that will cost you less in the long run and don't have some of the faults that makes the Zoe unpleasant to drive.