Renault Zoe ZE unmasked: keenly priced and clever too

7 March 2012

Renault Zoe ZE 2012 front view

The production version of Renault’s pretty Zoe ZE electric supermini will be one of the cheapest EVs available when it reaches UK showrooms later this year. Prices will start at £13,650 plus an additional £70 per month to lease the car’s battery.

Unveiled yesterday at the Geneva Motor Show, the Zoe ZE is propelled by a 65kW (87bhp) electric motor, with peak torque rated at 220Nm. Acceleration times and overall weight haven’t been revealed, but it will no doubt feel quite perky on urban roads. There’s no gearbox, and the 290kg, 22kWh lithium-ion battery lives under the cabin floor, yielding plenty of luggage space for a car of its size.

Renault Zoe ZE 2012 rear view

Renault Zoe ZE 2012 rear lamp cluster

Renault says range works out at 130 miles between charges under the NEDC test, but it cautions that the real-world limit will be about 60 miles in cold weather and 90 miles in warmer conditions. Top speed is restricted to 84mph in aid of greater range.

When the Zoe ZE is on the move at less than 18mph, it will warn pedestrians with a “ZE Voice” warning sound. The driver can choose between three different noises, or indeed turn it off if they find it annoying.

The car includes a selection of features that Renault has dubbed Range OptimiZEr, a wince-inducing reference to eco tyres, improved regenerative braking and highly efficient heating.

Tyres first: Michelin Energy E-V rubber will be fitted to the Zoe ZE as standard in either 15 or 16 inch diameter. The compound, tread design and sidewall springiness have all been chosen specifically for the unusual demands presented by EVs, namely high torque and low rolling resistance.

Renault Zoe ZE 2012 hidden rear door handle

Renault Zoe ZE 2012 hatchback

Renault is less clear when describing its new intelligent regenerative braking, which it seems is able to vary the balance of regeneration and mechanical braking depending on the circumstances, to try to recapture as much energy as possible.

Attempts to cut the electrical drain of the cabin heater are a little harder to grasp. Like many other plug-in cars, the Zoe ZE can pre-condition its interior while still plugged into the mains, to preserve limited battery charge. On the move, though, Zoe can summon up as much as 3kW of warmth for every 1kW of energy taken from the battery.

No, Renault’s engineers haven’t defied the laws of physics and nor have they fitted a wood-burning stove. They’ve used a heat pump – a machine that works exactly like an air conditioner in reverse. Heat pumps are more complex and more expensive than an ordinary electric heater, but when your energy supply is limited they are a great choice.

A heat pump seems to get energy for nothing because it borrows heat from the cold air outside the car. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the key is to realise that even if it’s a bone-rattling -10°C outside, the air still holds more energy than it would if it were -20°C. Heat pumps take some of that latent energy to make it warmer inside and ever so slightly colder outside. The end result is more heat for your money.

Heat pumps are so similar to air-conditioners that it’s likely Renault has been able to make double use of core components to save costs. Essentially the same kit could keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. Which is clever.

Renault Zoe ZE 2012 charging socket

Renault has also developed what it thinks is the smartest on-board battery charging system fitted to any EV. Called the Chameleon charger, it can work with electricity supplied at a very wide variety of wattages. At the low end, a full charge from an ordinary household socket might take nine hours. At the other, 43kW charging will take just 30 minutes.

By making the on-board system capable of dealing with such a wide range of inputs, Renault hopes to quarter the cost of installing high-power, fast charging units. That should be good news for their proliferation in Renault dealerships if nowhere else. And since you lease the battery, as a driver you don’t have to worry about high currents damaging the cells. That’s Renault’s problem.

The starting price of £13,650 buys the electric car in basic “Life” trim, while stepping up to “Zen” or “Intens” trim costs an additional £1,100 and brings a reversing camera, 16-inch alloys rather than 15-inch steelies, electric rear as well as front windows, improved upholstery and an audio upgrade. Nicer paint and 17-inch wheels cost extra, while all cars get Bluetooth, hill hold, an ESP stability system, cruise control, aircon and a full set of airbags as standard.

Renault Zoe ZE 2012 interior view

Renault will also fit its brand new R-Link multimedia system across the range, featuring a seven-inch touch screen in the centre console, backed up by a selection of online services including up-to-date charging point locations.

More details are available via the Renault ZE website, where you can also now pre-order a Zoe ZE ahead of the first deliveries later this year.

Prices include a government contribution of 25% through the plug-in car grant scheme. The handout will be lower than the often quoted £5,000 because the Zoe ZE’s list price is less than £20,000.


tahrey said...

And where are we going to find these magical 43kW chargers? And will mere mortals even be allowed to touch them, given that a typical house's fuseboard is only rated for about half that, and it is instead closer to what feeds through one of the main, huge breaker panels in one of my workplace's utility cupboards?

22kWh... it's still nowhere near enough. Make it at least 50 (which will give about a 170 mile range at 70mph, assuming no heating, cooling or headwinds - so a country-spanning 250-300 mile journey... say to go see an ill family member during a midnight emergency when there's no public transport available and you can't afford to spend that much on a cab... can be dispatched reasonably quickly with just a 30 minute break in the middle) ... then we'll talk. It'll then be conceptually in the right ballpark to rival a traditionally powered car for utility and range. And I could actually commute for a week without having to hassle with somehow hooking up a charge cable every other night (I live in a 2nd floor flat with rather conservative-minded site managers, and a 30-50 mile daily travel distance) but instead only do it at the weekend when it's less of a trouble.

60 miles in winter wouldn't even get me to/from my dad's place a few stops down the motorway, and having to wrangle an extension cord out of the window and down across the lawn in -5'c, snowbound conditions every night would be un-fun.

Also, 84mph? As in 135km/h? That'll go down well everywhere except the most photo-radar-heavy stretches of autoroute. Especially germany, and poland (87mph speed limit...). Was it not possible to allow 90-ish but strongly recommend that owners stay below 80 as much as possible? They're supposedly reasonably intelligent humans after all, who in another age would have had to observe fairly restrictive running-in limits. It'd be a bit of a gyp heading down a fast motorway type road, flat out in your spanking new futuremachine, only to be easily passed by old 900cc Fiats, Sprinter vans and yuppies on maxi-scooters.

The price, however - pretty impressive. Except for the undeniable fact that the battery costs you EIGHT HUNDRED AND FORTY POUNDS A YEAR, regardless of whether you use it or not. I'm not sure that the difference between what I'd pay at the pump, and how much it'd cost in economy-7 electricity to go the same distance, would come to that much without a spike in one and a dip in the other... though, let's calculate this. Currently I'm on track to spend about £1200 on diesel this year, less if I can shift a lot of my commuting onto my bike (approx 10,000 miles at mid-50s mpg and £1.40/litre). Renault's own "realistic" figures suggest this would work out to a minimum of 2500 units; £313 at my current rate. About £150 on economy-7, assuming I was always - and I mean ALWAYS - able to recharge at the cheap rate, at home.

Including the battery lease cost, that's £990 to £1150 a year. So in exchange for a new (if not spectacularly expensive, at least) car, with limited range and speed, I'll save... oh, a couple hundred quid a year on fuel. Yay. Five hundred if I push the boat out and use the greater part of its range six days a week. Less if I do fewer miles.

OK, it doesn't need as much servicing either, little in the way of oil, coolant, filters, belts... but it doesn't run on fairy dust. All the non-engine/transmission things that plague an ICE car will still need looking at on this, and electrical systems and motors can still break down. Plus you have to spring for a charging point, probably an occasional inspection of that too...

Or I could get a lightly-used high-spec HDi for less than half the bare car's purchase price, and run it for ten years before reaching price parity with the electric, even running it on pump diesel rather than sorting out some kind of biodiesel arrangement.

We're getting there, but... a little way to go yet. Five years?

Anonymous said...

The 60 mile cold weather tange quoted like the low estimates provided by Nissan for the Leaf are not for general driving, but refer to range in heavy urban traffic where you are on the road in very cold weather with the heating going for hours but covering little ground.
It repressents about 6 hours or so in 10mph London jams.

Comparisons with second hand cars for cost are ludicrous.

Andyj said...

Unwitting people talking themselves clever over electricity supply.

Who needs massive charge currents at home?
Did you insist your present car have a fuel pump at home?

Stop whining people. Just plug it in and go to bed!

Others have no idea about Servicing & consumable costs, which are tiny. No London congestion charge, free road tax and no gears or clutches to clang about.

I'm not keen on the battery rental idea but they are supposed to be installing automatic fast battery swap utilities for an effective 3 minute charge.

martinwinlow said...

@ tahrey - OK - we get it - An EV is not for you! (But have a look at the Tesla Model S before you give up entirely - tho you'll need a bit more money to but one).

If, on the other hand, you can charge it on your driveway or at the station car park or wherever then it might be entirely feasible proposition.

You missed the point about the 43kW charger. It is built into the car and it only uses what power is available and no EVSE (ridiculously over-priced and over-hyped charge point) is required. A simple 240V 13A socket will do and will be capable of re-charging the Z in the 7 hours that Eco7 electricity is available - for one whole pound.

I agree about the range - if you are looking for an ICEV replacement, the Zoe probably won't fit the bill. But for a commuter car or one to do the shopping, ferry the kids about etc it would do very nicely, thank you. And that's about 80% of the cars on the road in the UK.

Your economics can't be faulted bar 2 things. The first is - do you live in London or any other 'congestion' zone? Enough said on that one. The other is what is going to happen to the price of fuel. It is going to go up. As the world recovers from the recession it is going to go up a LOT. Then using Eco7 electric instead might look a whole lot more appealing. Electricity go up too of course but no-where near as fast and besides, you can always install a PV array on your roof and make your own! MW

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