ROAD TEST: Australia’s cheapest electric vehicle is a Zoe
PRICE and how far you can drive between charges are two key issues for those considering an electric vehicle. Renault reckons a recent range-extending update addresses both, which is why the Australian division has switched from fleet-only sales to private buyers for its small Zoe hatch.
The Zoe is the cheapest EV on sale in Australia, backed by a realistic driving range of 200km-300km depending on how owners use the aircon.
Renault Australia boss Andrew Moore says the Zoe will appeal to a suburban or city buyer with enough roof area for solar panels and battery storage.
Stored energy can be channelled into the Zoe at night or it can tap into any surplus generated on the weekends.
"Zoe isn't for everyone," Moore says. "While there are no government incentives to buy and not everyone has storage capacity for renewable energy, the Zoe isn't going to be on everyone's shopping list.
"What most people don't realise is how good the value is once you've bought it - it's cheaper to service and even on base-load power should only cost $8-$10 to refuel.
"Tap into the solar on your roof and it's effectively free."
The Zoe kicks off at $51,990 drive-away for the Life, fitted with a seven-inch touchscreen, cruise control and a "pedestrian warning" emitted at up to 30km/h that sounds like whitegoods singing harmony.
Opt for the more expensive (though better-value) Intens. At $54,540 drive-away it adds larger diameter alloy wheels, power rear windows, auto lights and wipers, reversing camera, rear parking sensors and more up-market interior and exterior trim.
The Zoe may be ushering in the semi-affordable EV but it lacks active safety found in vehicles half the price.
Autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot and lane-departure warning can't be had on this car.
Despite the software omissions, the Zoe (overseas model pictured) gained a five-star EuroNCAP rating when it was tested in 2013.
Another negative is the warranty: at three years, it isn't good enough for a brand that's aiming to bolster its presence.
The battery is covered for five years/100,000km.
A wall-mounted power box is probably a worthwhile addition for the house at about $1600 plus installation. The Zoe comes with an adaptive cable that will handle everything from domestic to three-phase power. Expect to take about 15 hours to fully recharge from a household plug.
ON THE ROAD
Don't expect miracles and the Zoe won't disappoint. The electric surge off the line makes it competent through roundabouts and intersections but the acceleration drops off as the pace increases.
That's why it is aimed at urbanites who aren't likely to get much past 80km/h on the workday commute. Assuming they're travelling 25km each way, the Zoe should need charging only once a week at about $10 if you're drawing on mains electricity.
The interior is bland for the price, looking and feeling too much like a $20,000 Renault Clio. The low-mounted battery pack ensures it handles well, even if the eco-friendly tyres squeal when cornering, signifying lack of grip.
The brakes have a more relaxed and progressive feel than those on such rivals as the BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf. That probably means they aren't recovering as much energy during deceleration but they've a better pedal response for it.
The seats aren't particularly well bolstered and the dash display starting to look dated.
As the cheapest mainstream electric vehicle, the Zoe makes sense for those using renewable energy. And that number will keep growing…