Car review - An electric future with the Renault Zoe

This nippy runaround boasts practical features and green credentials, writes Dr Tony Rimmer.

GPs are entering a new world of primary care provision that is going to change how we work. There are changes happening in the world of motoring too, reflecting a closer focus on raising efficiency and decreasing CO2 emissions.

Petrol and diesel cars are doing more miles to the gallon, but there is also the emergence of a new power source that is more efficient than any reciprocating engine could ever be: the electric motor.

We have had electric vehicles for decades, but it is only now that manufacturers have developed cars that can function like any normal passenger vehicle and can be mass produced.

Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius have been around for a few years, but electric-only cars are a new development. First on the scene was the Nissan Leaf, a Golf-sized hatchback. However, the Leaf appeared when there was little infrastructure for recharging electric cars and remains a pricey option, at about £26,000.

Fast facts: Renault Zoe
Body: Five-door hatchback
Engine: Electric
Power: 65kW (equivalent to 88hp)
Torque: 220Nm (available from rest)
CO2 emissions: Zero (electricity equivalent to 54g/km)
Economy range: 62-93 miles (full charge costs £3)
On the road price: £15,195

 

More recently, Renault launched the Zoe, a Clio-sized supermini. I have been driving one for a week to assess what life is really like in the world of volts and kilowatts. Priced from a more appealing £15,195, the Zoe should be ideal for the daily commute and short distance house calls that are the bread and butter of any GP's life.

External styling

First impressions are good. The Zoe has neat external styling and does not look out of place in the general mix of traffic. The interior is familiar, with lots of features borrowed from the Clio. There is plenty of room for four or five adults with luggage, and five doors allow easy access.

You sit high in your seat as the batteries are under the floor and the benefit of this is great all-round visibility. So far, just like any other supermini. Then you press the start button and the differences become apparent. There is no engine noise and the dashboard tells you your current range (the distance the car can be driven before it must be recharged).

Range depends on a number of factors, such as type of driving, use of lights and air-conditioning, and external temperature. It can be unnerving to see the range fall 10 miles when you have only covered two.

Range anxiety

This kicks off the phenomenon known as 'range anxiety'. Not treatable by CBT or SSRIs, range anxiety reflects the knowledge that you can only recharge at home or a public recharging point. There aren't that many of the latter, particularly in rural areas, but they are being added on a weekly basis, so national coverage is improving.

Renault quotes a range of 62-93 miles, which I think is pretty accurate. If you have a daily average commute and use of about 30-40 miles, charge it overnight at home and the Zoe would work for you.

A full charge on the special home unit (included with fitting in the price) costs about £3. High-power chargers, available at some motorway service areas, can recharge to 80% maximum in just 30 minutes.

Realistically, you are not going to use the Zoe for long journeys and this may restrict its role to that of a second car.

Driving the Zoe is fun. The instant maximum torque delivery from the gearless electric motor is brilliantly suited to urban and city driving and becomes addictive, especially as it all happens in total silence. The ride is comfortable and handling adequate. The brakes take a bit of getting used to as the regenerative element, although clever, causes some oversensitivity at the pedal.

Competitors

Rivals to the Zoe are appearing thick and fast. There is the Nissan Leaf, BMW has just released the i3 and VW is launching its all-electric version of the up!, the e-up! - the i3 costs £30,680, the e-up! is £19,250.

Despite the costs, electric cars are very much part of our motoring future. I really enjoyed my time with the Zoe. As a nippy urban runaround with lots of practical features and almost zero emission green credentials (the CO2 produced to make the electricity gives it the equivalent of 54g/km CO2 output), this Renault is a real contender for the ideal transport for the urban GP.

  • Dr Rimmer is a GP in Guildford, Surrey

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