- Driving range of up to 239 miles
- Low running costs
- Pricier than some rivals
- Base model misses some useful kit
- Unusual driving position
Renault was first out of the blocks with a cheap electric car with its Zoe, which was first launched in 2013. The French supermini has been subtly and continually improved over the intervening years and remains a very sound alternative to the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, and even Renault’s own Clio.
The world has caught up with the Zoe, however, and buyers now have a much broader spread of small, reasonably priced electric cars to pick from. The Vauxhall Corsa-e has a lower entry price and the Peugeot e-208 is better to drive. Even so, the Zoe is still among the best cars in its corner of the market thanks to its distinctive looks and a battery that has been increased to offer a combined driving range of up to 239 miles on a single charge. That’s much more realistic than early Zoe models that struggled to top 100 miles on a charge when the car was first introduced.
As a supermini, the Zoe is ideal in and around town, where its small size and zippy performance allow it to get about with no tailpipe emissions. It’s easy to park, too, while the interior has a good amount of room for four people. You will notice the driver sits up higher than in other superminis, which is a consequence of the battery pack under the floor.
Most drivers will become accustomed to this, while charging up the Zoe from zero to 80% takes a little more than an hour using a 50kW public fast charger. At home on a typical wall charger, you can reckon on a full charge needing about 9.5 hours to complete. You also have the choice of two electric motor power outputs, in R110 and R135 models, where the more powerful model offers swifter performance rather than any extra driving range.
Infotainment, comfort and practicality
The name supermini could have been coined just for the Renault Zoe as it lives up to the title by offering far more interior space than you would think possible from the exterior size. While the compact outside dimensions help with parking and town driving, the inside has plenty of room for those in the front. The driver sits up quite high, which seems odd if you’re stepping into the Zoe from most other superminis like the Ford Fiesta or Hyundai i20. This is due to the battery pack that lies under the floor to keep weight low in the chassis and it’s something most drivers quickly become used to. A welcome side effect of this is the driver is afforded a very good view in all directions, which helps with changing lanes or slotting the Renault into tighter parking spots.
There’s no driver’s seat height adjustment in the Zoe, but you get good headroom and this car also provides lots of space for legs and shoulders in the front compartment. You also get decent storage for odds and ends, while rear parking sensors and front electric windows are standard on all models.
The Zoe’s main digital dash display is clear and simple to read, while steering wheel buttons operate most of the regularly used functions. The two lower trim models have a 7-inch infotainment touchscreen that works with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. it’s easy to fathom and use, and it’s placed high the in centre of the dash. If you choose the top spec GT Line+ model, it upgrades to a 9.3-inch screen, but you don’t gain a great deal in functions beyond the larger display. On a less high-tech note, there are separate physical dials for the heater controls, which make adjusting the ventilation a doddle as you drive.
Move into the rear seats and the Zoe is just as generous with its space as in the front. Compared to most superminis, the Renault has a good amount of leg, elbow and head room, so two adults can sit back here without complaint for most journeys. Children will be more than happy in the rear and there are Isofix child seat mounts on the two outer seats in the back, as well as another Isofix mount on the front passenger chair.
Boot space in the Zoe is good by supermini standards as it offers 338-litrs with the 60/40 split and fold rear seat in its raised position. There is a bit of a drop from load sill to boot floor, but the base is broad and unhindered by the wheelarches. Fold the back seats and you can free up a total of 1225-litres.
2013 Renault Zoe engines: how does it drive?
Renault has always had a knack with balancing good handling with a supple ride in its superminis. With the Zoe, the French firm pulls off the same trick despite the added weight of the battery pack to contend with. This is in contrast to many EVs where the suspension is firmed up to cope with that weight but at the expense of comfort. There is a little more stiffness to the Zoe’s ride around town and at low speeds compared to the Clio, but it’s not harsh or jarring.
The dividend for that slight firmness below 30mph is the Zoe feels very stable and planted at motorway pace where some superminis begin to betray their small size. Instead, the Renault is very much at home on faster roads, and it also handles well when you head off into the hinterlands. Its steering is crisp and accurate, with good communication between front wheel and driver. When you get to the end of a journey, parking is simple thanks to the power assistance and tight turning circle, so you can fit the Zoe into most bays with ease.
A big part of all electric vehicles is their regenerative braking and the Zoe is no different. Unlike some newer EV superminis, there are not multiple options to choose between different brake regeneration settings, but you can pick the B Mode for greater regenerative brake force to put more of this energy back into the battery as you slow. It’s not the same as the i-Pedal system in the Nissan Leaf that allows for one-pedal driving, so the Zoe driver still has to use the brakes to slow the car. Despite this, the Zoe makes smooth progress in traffic.
There is a choice between two electric motor outputs with the Zoe, so you choose either the R110 model or the R135. With the R110 car, you get a 108hp motor that gives good acceleration from rest up to 30mph, so it’s perfect for city use. Beyond that, it takes a bit longer to gather pace, so you may want to consider the R135 with its 135hp motor. It needs only 9.5 seconds to get from a standing start to 62mph, which is almost two seconds brisker than the R110. The bigger motor is only offered in the upper two trims, but it comes with the same 239-mile combined average battery range.
Whichever motor suits your needs, the Zoe is very quiet at city speeds and carries on keeping noise at a discreet distance even as the pace builds. Wind and road noise are not intrusive on the motorway. There’s also a feeling the Zoe is made from high grade materials nowadays, which are a significant step up from when it was first launched.
Value for money: how much does a 2013 Renault Zoe cost to buy and run?
The list price of the Zoe is offset by the Renault qualifying for the government’s plug-in car grant. It can claim the maximum £1500 grant, so even a top spec GT Line+ model comes in at £30,495. For anyone looking to buy a used Zoe, there are plenty to choose from due to the car being on sale since 2013 and its popularity. An eight-year old Zoe can be found with low miles for the age from around £7000. However, you will have to remember that many early Zoes were sold with the battery pack funded on a separate lease. This is still the case with some cars, so be sure there are no hidden costs when you buy one.
There are three trims on offer, start with the Iconic that has alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, lane assist and departure warning, climate control, and Renault’s Easy Link infotainment with 7-inch touchscreen. The S Edition adds front parking sensors and rear view camera, and you have the option of the more potent R135 EV motor. Choose the GT Line+ and you get rear privacy glass, part-synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, and the 9-inch infotainment screen along with wireless charging for your phone.
Early Zoes had a realistic driving range of less than 100 miles on a full charge, so this might prove a challenge for some users. A later car with a longer range makes more sense. Charging up the Zoe from flat to 80% charge takes a little more than hour at a 50Kw public charger, but it can take more than a day if you have to use a domestic three-pin socket. Still, zero road tax to pay is welcome and is some compensation for the French supermini residing in insurance groups between 15 and 22, which is a bit higher than for many of its competitors.
One other point to bear in mind with the Zoe is it was re-rated by Euro NCAP to zero stars as testing has become more stringent. This doesn’t mean it’s unsafe, but it doesn’t have as much of the latest safety kit as some rivals.
Verdict: Should I buy a 2013 Renault Zoe?
For anyone looking to change out of a petrol- or diesel-engined supermini, or even one with hybrid power, the Renault Zoe is a simple step into the world of EVs. It does everything you would expect of this class of car, and does much of it better than most in the sector. It’s spacious, comfortable and very quiet at all speeds. It also has zesty performance and low everyday driving costs.
Every Zoe E-Tech has a claimed combined range of up to 239 miles on a full battery charge, which should be more than enough for most needs. It’s a shame the base model misses out on some desirable safety kit, such as front parking sensors. There is also the issue of the Zoe being re-rated by Euro NCAP from five to zero stars in its crash tests, though the Renault is still a safe car to drive.
What could I buy instead of a 2013 Renault Zoe?
You don’t get as much battery driving range in the Peugeot e-208 as you do with the Renault Zoe, but the Peugeot has a much more modern look and feel. It can still offer up to 217 miles on a fully charged battery, and the cabin provides good room for people and luggage. Where the e-208 does not get on terms with the Renault is its ride comfort or the ease of its infotainment to use while driving. The ride is just too brittle for most roads, while the touchscreen is slow to react and is littered with fiddly menus.
Fiat 500 Electric
Small electric cars don’t get cuter than the Fiat 500. This comes with the obvious deficit when it comes to passenger space in the back seats and a tiny boot. For anyone seeking a practical small car with battery power, the Renault Zoe has the Fiat well and truly beat, but the 500 is perfect for city driving thanks to its compact size and nippy turn of speed. IT can manage up to 199 miles on a full battery, so town driving is no threat to range. More of a worry for buyers will be the high prices Fiat asks for the 500 Electric in its higher spec versions.
The Honda-e is like no other EV on sale and the Japanese firm doesn’t give two hoots if it doesn’t have the biggest driving range on a full charge. If you’re lucky, you might see the claimed combined range of 137 miles, but it will more likely be sub-100 miles. For city use, it’s not an insurmountable problem, but it means longer trips in the Honda need very careful planning. Yet, the Honda-e is packed with appeal thanks to its looks and cabin with plenty of room and a dash that is a lesson in how to present high-tech screens.