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Reaching a lower price point; Renault's ZOE aims to provide an affordable solution to those who quite like the idea of a practical car that runs on batteries. ANDY ENRIGHT reports.

THE problem with electric cars to date is that the ones you'd want to drive have been hugely expensive.

Renault is bent on changing that and the ZOE supermini brings a sub-PS14,000 price tag with a realistic claimed range of just over 100 miles. What's stopping you? If you've ever hankered after an electric car, there might have been a few impediments to an impending purchase. The first wave of electric cars looked nothing more than mobility scooters used by disability benefit fraudsters. Never a good look.

Then came a second generation of vehicles that looked more like cars but which carried price tags that read like a bad joke. Electric cars were either cheap and horrible or expensive and barely adequate. One manufacturer above all is looking to change that and it's Renault.

The brand has already brought us the fun Twizy lightweight city car and even a Kangoo van featuring battery power. With this ZOE supermini though, the company's got really serious about all-electric concept.

The ZOE is designed for city driving, so the steering has been geared to offer a smooth effortless feel. Likewise, the throttle pedal doesn't offer too much in the way of resistance but the brake responds to a good hoofing which seems a little odd at first.

Like all electric cars, the ZOE feels eerily quiet as it pulls away, with no discernible engine noise other than a faint whine. This usually means you'll hear every bump and thump from the road as a result, but Renault has done a good job on chassis refinement and ride quality is excellent.

To prevent pedestrians waltzing out in front of its silent approach, the ZOE emits a sound at low speeds but you can barely hear it at all from inside the vehicle. The 'Z.E. Voice' can be switched between three different sounds or can be completely switched off if you fancy a new bonnet ornament.

Handling is as good as you'd imagine for a car with such a low centre of gravity. The synchronous electric motor with rotor coil has a power output of 65kW, equivalent to 88hp, and instantly delivers maximum torque of 220Nm. Acceleration and pull-away are responsive from low speeds, while its top speed is limited to 84mph. Renault says this car has managed a 149-mile range in the unrealistic New European Driving Cycle tests but admits a real world range will be in the region of 71 to 106 miles for most versions.

Remember this moment, because it might just be the time that electric car technology finally flirted with the mainstream. Most people would walk past the ZOE and not take it for anything other than Renault's latest cute little car. Rather refreshingly, its design inspiration doesn't appear to be a Jolly Cab from Total Recall. Instead it's pertly-styled with a large underbumper that some have compared to the protruding lip of a surly toddler, but with its curvaceous flanks and neat one-box shape, it's quite a good-looking thing.

The fascia is decidedly futuristic with a digital strip in place of the traditional clocks and a moulded centre stack dominated by a large colour touch screen. Some of the plastics aren't going to give Audi designers anything much to think about, but being built down to a price is very much the point of this car. It's no bad thing.

The view out is extremely good as you sit rather high but a lack of seat height adjustability might prove an issue for taller drivers. As with most superminis, space in the back is more mini than super but access is good thanks to the standard five-door layout, and there's more than enough room back there for the kids.

One substantial plus point is the 338-litre boot which extends to 1,225-litres should you fold the one-piece rear bench.

The ZOE is offered in three trim levels: Expression Nav and Dynamique Nav variants feature a higher-tech power unit with a slightly longer range, while a third Dynamique Nav Rapid Charge version has the older unit.

All derivatives feature the multimedia system R-Link as standard. To enable drivers to control its functions without taking their eyes off the road, R-Link features a big seven-inch display, steering wheel-mounted controls and voice recognition. It also delivers integrated connectivity with motoring services and applications available from the R-Link Store.

Programmable pre-conditioning heats or cools ZOE's cabin when the vehicle is charging, so when the driver gets into the car, the cabin is just the right temperature and battery charge is saved in use. As a further neat touch, this can be activated remotely via the owner's smartphone on Dynamique Zen and Dynamique Intens versions. The base ZOE Expression Nav comes with an on-the-road price of around PS13,500, after the Government Plug-in Car Grant deduction, while the Dynamique Nav and Dynamic Nav Rapid Charge versions cost around PS15,000. You'll need to add battery hire to that though, which comes in from around PS70 per month.

Buy the battery outright and you're looking at prices starting at PS18,442.80 for the car.

Renault quotes a 149-mile range but in real world conditions that'll shrink to around 70 miles in cold weather and 100 miles when it's a bit warmer.

The Renault ZOE is another step towards the electric vehicle becoming a genuinely practical mode of transport for the average motorist. There are still a number of caveats that will inhibit mass take-up but most of these are due to the inherent nature of electric vehicles themselves rather than any flaw in the ZOE in particular.

If you have off-street parking and a short-ish and predictable urban commute, the numbers don't work out at all badly and there aren't many small cars that are much more relaxing to pilot through the city streets.

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Renault Zoe has a claimed range of just over 100 miles on its batteries
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Aug 7, 2015
Words:988
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