Filling up your car with petrol works so well because, basically, it’s easy. Pull up, fill up, buy a Ginsters (or not) and off you go. Pay at the pump using your app and you don't even have to view the piss-poor faux pasties and other culinary horrors hidden deep inside the forecourt one-stop. You’re gone; out of there.
Charging an electric car should be the same. Sadly though it’s often far from straightforward. Owning, or borrowing in our case, an electric car is the easy bit, but getting juice into the battery pack which powers it can often be fraught with issues.
Connecting to physical charging points can be one thing, and then being able to pay for the service can be another. Charging bays are frequently occupied by cars which aren't electric, while payment can be really hit and miss too depending on the network you have access to. It’s a minefield out there. And that’s before you’ve even started with the palpitations caused by range anxiety.
Not so with the new Renault ZOE. It’s all very easy. Crucially, it’s got the charging point hidden behind the badge on the front of the grille, like the equally as impressive Nissan LEAF. This thinking makes a lot of sense because lots of charging spaces require you to pull in nose first rather than side on.
If, on the other hand, you pull in to many charging areas with something like the Audi e-Tron by way of an example we’ve tried, it’s anything but straightforward. Audi has put the bit where you connect the car to the charging point at the back edge of the front wing and has a nifty little fold out flap that uncovers it when you need some watts. It looks and works a treat, up until the point where you try and connect the vital cable and find that it either won’t reach or you have to stretch the cable around, and sometimes over the front wing in order to make a connection. It’s not quick or easy. It’s actually quite annoying. A week with the Renault ZOE though has been easy peasy.
You want range? You’ve got it. Forget the anxiety because the Renault ZOE can cover a good chunk of miles, mainly because it sports a new R135 electric motor and 50kW DC rapid charge battery combination mated to a fuss-free automatic transmission. And because of that there’s a WLTP range of 238 miles, which is darn respectable even though the top speed is only 87mph. That’s no biggie though as the ZOE ain’t that kind of car.
We spent a week in it pootling around locally and the ZOE still showed plenty of battery capacity when Renault came and took it away again. For short distances it’s nigh on perfect, though the new beefier battery means the ZOE is cool with long runs too. With its comfy seats and spongy ride on high-ish profile tyres a long haul isn’t unreasonable either.
Actually, driving the ZOE couldn't be easier thanks to its E-shifter and that auto box. The option of increasing the regenerative braking capability means you can spend time challenging yourself to push some juice back into the battery. Just like the Nissan LEAF, it’s fun.
But it’s not all effortless go. There’s some show present too. The Renault ZOE GT Line R135 Z.E. 50 like we tested comes well appointed, inside and out. That exterior is quite cute, with diamond cut 16-inch alloys, funky full LED headlights and neat body styling touches, including hidden rear door handles.
The interior’s got plenty to keep you occupied along the way too, with a height and reach adjustable steering wheel proving very useful if you always have issues getting your driving position to feel just right. The steering wheel itself features ‘synthetic’ leather while the whole GT line range of interior finishes have been fabricated using part-recycled materials.
There’s a 9.3-inch central touchscreen that gives access to lots of tech treats, including wireless phone charging. Aside from the very decent sat nav there’s an excellent audio system. Considering the ZOE is a small car, the model we drove had a big sound, tested almost to destruction with an all-the-way-up-to-eleven rendition of the Ramones's Blitzkreig Bop. No distortion.
Not surprising really, as you get 4 x 20W amplification and very good sound distribution. Add on USB ports front and back, a jack for Bluetooth along with Apple Car Play and Android Auto functionality and it’s all good.
Our model also came with a small mountain of driver aids, which – alongside practical options such as Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Warning – included RAID, the Renault Anti Intruder Device. That’s automatic door locking. With the keyfob in your pocket the ZOE unlocks as you walk up to it too, which is definitely useful.
So, all in all, the Renault ZOE doesn't come with quite the same space or splendid fixtures and fittings that something like Audi e-Tron has, but that doesn’t matter. The Renault ZOE comes with minimal faff, and we like that a lot. It’s also less than a third of the price, give or take.
Owning a Renault ZOE means you can avoid the other irritations that come with going to public places like garages. If you’ve got a fuel loyalty card for example, Shell in our case, which has recently updated and morphed its scheme into the actually not very good Go, you’ll want points.
However, a huge oil company like Shell hasn't invested a whole lot in charging points on its forecourts thus far. A quick filtered search on the always useful Zap Map app showed one or two closest to us, with the nearest being at least 30 miles away.
Luckily, our test car came with its own card for using Polar charging points, so that allowed us to top up if needed. That said we’ve still got a lot of time for our reasonably local Instavolt units, which are pretty new, pay as you go and feature tethered connections so no cables are needed in your own car. They’re right next door to a Starbucks if over-priced coffee is your thing as opposed to a Costa and a synthetic pasty from the old-school garage forecourt. It’s progress; sort of.
However, you can avoid this scenario altogether by making use of the ZOE Z.E. specific kitlist, which includes a 7kW domestic wallbox fitted at your home for free. So you can charge the car as and when it suits you and all without a Ginsters pasty in sight.
Our ZOE came with all the extras that Renault wanted to showcase, so had a price tag of £30,120. You’ll get it for less if you don't want the extras, but we gave the Winter Pack a whirl one slightly nippy evening just to get the most from the heated seats and steering wheel. Yes, an electric car with energy sapping add-ons that don't appear to make much difference to the capabilities of that beefy battery. Brilliant that.