Renault ZOE test-drive: more than 250 km in one day!

We are writing our first impressions to you after testing the Renault ZOE and trying the charging stations available in Alsace for the first time. All in all, it was quite a positive experience!

A couple of days before taking part in the Renault ZOE’s official tests taking place in Portugal, I was lucky enough to be able to drive the ZOE in Alsace, my home region. Mulhouse’s Renault car dealer nicely agreed to lend me this renowned electric car for a day. At this point, the car had only driven 20 km ! Many thanks to them for trusting Automobile Propre!

I was accompanied by Matthieu, one of our blog’s fond readers, who became a cameraman for the day. We took the fully-charged ZOE in Mulhouse. It was necessary, as the target we had set for the day was ambitious: driving to Strasbourg and back, which meant approximately 200 km (124 miles). The main issue at stake? Being able to recharge the car in Strasbourg thanks to one of the newly-installed charging stations. We had to do this, in order to be able to give the car back to the Mulhouse Renault dealer at 5 pm, as agreed.

The ZOE is waiting for us just in front of the garage, its design still as attractive in reality as it was on paper! Its outlook undoubtedly evokes that of an auto-show prototype ! We check that the recharge cable is in the trunk, and we are able to sit inside the car (at last!). I have been waiting for this moment for more than two years! Surely, the ZOE knows how to kindle desire…

The car’s interior is very clear and minimalist. Plastic elements seem to be good quality products, even though white materials might eventually suffer… Time will tell! Besides, the seats are very comfortable and their design is quite surprising, as they also seem to belong to a concept-car.

We take off and start driving: the car is very quiet. Perhaps is the Nissan LEAF slightly better soundproofed–I use the LEAF as a reference, as I drive one on a daily basis. What we can hear a little bit is mostly the tyres’ rolling noise, but do not worry too much about it as it is still very subtle.

The Renault ZOE's bright interior

The driving experience is very relaxing, as it is with all electric cars. The atmosphere is quiet and the white interior creates an impression of clarity, even though it is quite dark and cloudy outside. I have been using the «eco» mode from the start and I have been following the rules of ecological driving I have acquired from driving my electric car. The distance to cover is about 100 km, 90% of which will be on the highway or on speedways.

The first setting we enter is a map of our journey on the sat-nav.: to know how many kilometers remain to be covered is essential in order to be able to manage the car’s electric range properly. As soon as we have started it, the sat-nav. indicates that the battery’s capacity is too small to complete the journey. Yet we decide to carry on, as I am confident in my ability to manage the car’s autonomy…

As I do not know the car, I am very careful not to take any risk. We stop the heating system–the outside temperature is 1°-and enter the highway where we drive for quite a long while, at a speed comprised between 85 and 90 km/h (53 to 56 mph). If you are not used to driving an electric car, you might not know that speed has a crucial influence and the car’s consumption. Yet, during this test, we will discover that it does not seem to be as true with the ZOE as it is with other models.

The journey lasts around an hour and a half, as we make a little detour to Matthieu’s house. On the way, some cars overtake us as their drivers wonder what this unusual car is… It is slower than other cars as well… I reckon that some drivers recognized the ZOE and understood that it was quite exceptional to see one of them on the road. Indeed, we are certainly the only persons in Alsace who drive one…

Matthieu is toying with the R-LINK console during the journey. An entire article would be needed in order to describe it properly, because there is so much to say. Generally speaking, the touchscreen is very nice to use and R-LINK seems to possess numerous properties: getting to know them extensively will take some time! As he is a little bit worried about the car’s electric range, Matthieu launches the charging station research system, in order to see if we could recharge on the way, in Colmar.

We wait for one, then two minutes. No results available, R-LINK does not seem to be able to find charging stations. Matthieu launches another search : same outcome. He will try again later on during the journey and we will eventually find a list of stations. However, we shall be cautious as some stations are missing while it is clearly impossible to use some others with the ZOE (as we can not use the ZOE’s charging cable there). Therefore, we will not stop in Colmar and we will have to try and drive with range and efficiency in mind.

We finally arrive to our destination in Strasbourg with about 15 km as remaining range. Just as expected! A brand new charging stations network is being unveiled in Strasbourg on the day. It belongs to the CROME projects (upon which I will further develop in another article). Therefore, our ZOE is being greeted as a star by people in attendance, among other electric cars (Kangoo ZE, Peugeot iOn, Smart ED, Mia, etc.). It is understandable, as nobody was expecting the arrival of a ZOE…

What bothers me is whether it will be possible to recharge the ZOE on the charging point (set on the “Place du Schluthfeld”) which is said to be compatible with each and every electric car available on the market… We will see about that!

At first, I reverse to park next to the charging point, I get the recharging cable and suddenly realise something: the cable is too short! I then park the car again, this time with its front next to the charging point, and at last, there is enough cable length available. The charging point is indeed fitted with a Type 3 socket, so I will be able to plug the cable in. I flash my badge in front of the scanner, unlock the trap on the charging point, plug the cable in, open the trap on the car and connect it: everything is working out perfectly, now the charge is on!

Then, an interesting detail catches my attention: the dashboard remains lit up during charge. It enables the driver to check the charging level in real time, from outside the car. Matthieu and I notice that the charge percentage is evolving quickly: without a doubt, we are in quick charge mode. What a relief…

Soon after, Matthieu notices that the ZOE’s charging trap seems quite fragile, which is not exactly reassuring in case of vandalism. However, the socket seems to be quite strongly fixed into the frame of the car and it looks like it would be very difficult for someone with malicious intent to take it away.

Our ZOE is attracting attention and curiosity. We leave it for passer-bys to behold while we get inside a restaurant to warm ourselves and enjoy a little aperitif, which was planned to celebrate the charging stations’s unveiling.

There, we meet Patrick GAGNOL, who is in charge of the CROME project for EDF. He offers us to come with him to Germany, to carry out a recharging test with the EnBW team. EnBW is the German operator which installed charging stations in Kehl, just across the border.

Once we have arrived there, we try to recharge the car on a charging point. Everything works out fine, but the charging point does not seem to be able to recharge our ZOE. After we try on another charging point, the EnBW team understands that recharging the ZOE would only work if we use a German badge… The problem is solved after a few phone calls and we are able to recharge using the French badge. Therefore, we made possible for future ZOE drivers to recharge on German charging points. :-)

Matthieu and I then decide to assess the ZOE’s acceleration on a parking: it is quite powerful! I can not really compare it to the LEAF’s acceleration but I would say it is quite similar. We will make a test soon!

The braking energy receovery system works fine, which is important for an electric car. Besides, I think the engine braking is quite well balanced. The dashboard reacts very quickly and the indication of how much energy has been recovered is quite readable.

We are then able to discover the car’s various features and most notably its trunk, which is quite large with its 338 l. capacity. In terms of habitability, it is perhaps slightly disappointing that the backseat consists in one unit, rather than a 2/3 + 1/3 backseat.

We then make our way back to Strasbourg and because the hour is getting late, we decide to head back to the charging station where the unveiling ceremony was set. A nasty surprise awaits us there… Indeed, a C-ZERO is recharging, preventing us from using the charging point we need. This goes to show that parking places are being more and more occupied in Strasbourg! Thankfully, a few kilometers later, we are able to find a free charging point and recharge in less than an hour, before we set out back to Mulhouse.

On the return journey, we drive approximately at the same speed as on the previous trip. However we decide to turn the heating on a few times, and, what a nice surprise! It warms up quickly and it does not seem to consume much energy, which is unusual for an electric car! It is also more effective than the one on the LEAF.

As we become a little bit more confident with regards to the range, we decide to try and drive at maximum speed. Within a few seconds we are reaching 140 km/h (87 mph), but please, do not repeat it to the police! It is the car’s limited maximum speed.

With regards to speed limit, we have noticed that the car’s ECO mode did not allow us to go faster than 95 km/h (60 mph). We had to switch it off in order to reach maximum speed.

When we arrived back at the Renault car dealership in Mulhouse, there was still about 15 km (9 miles) left as available range. Three members of the team are waiting for us… We are 45 minutes late. However, they only had one thing in mind… trying it themselves ! Once again, I would like to thank them for lending us the car exclusively for this test !

Test conclusion:

As a conclusion, Renault ZOE seems like an accomplished electric car and is very pleasant to drive. We were able to drive for 250 km (155 miles) in a day without experiencing any major trouble. As one would expect, it is not as much fitted for highways as it is for urban and suburban conditions. However, it is perfect for urban and suburban journeys.

In my opinion, positives about ZOE are:

  • A slightly better range than the other electric cars I have tested (except for Telsa);
  • An effective and quite energy-efficient heating system;
  • Its outlook and its very bright interior (at least on the version I tried, which is ZEN).

Aspects where there is room for improvement:

  • The lack of a recharging cable which would be used occasionally to recharge on a domestic charging point. It is definitely one of the car’s weaknesses;
  • The lack of heated seats, which are very convenient in an electric car;
  • The on-board charging station localisation system does not always provide accurate informations–however, it is the case with most electric cars.

It seems therefore that Renault is succeeding in their bid to put out an affordable, democratic electric car. What remains to be seen however is whether consumers will be convinced to the point that they will take the plunge and buy a 100% electric car… They will have to be educated and encouraged!

I will be lucky enough to test the ZOE more thoroughly next week, with the Renault teams. Please do not hesitate to comment and tell me if you would like me to give you more details or precisions about certain aspects.

For now, I am leaving you you with a short video and a couple of pictures taken during the test.

Video: general survey

Video: recharging the ZOE

Pictures taken during the test:

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2 comments for this post
  1. Martin wrote the 21/03/2013

    Hi, great experience – congratulations. I thought it’s a bit different in France, but looks like an electric car attracts a lot of people most of which probably never saw one so far.

    Like your blog and will be happy to post one myself with some of your impressions. because as far as it goes I’m not sure we’ll see ZOE on sale in Bulgaria this year (hope they prove me wrong :).

    Could you provide some more details on the range: SOC at the start, then at the end, so I try make some more calculations ?

    Again, very nice and I wish you have more exciting EV test ahead (we only being able to test iOn and Ampera so far here in Bulgaria).

    Best Regards
    Martin –

  2. Yoann NUSSBAUMER, the author of the post, wrote the 28/03/2013

    I Martin, thank you for your comment!

    Feel free to use our post to write a post in your blog. We will provide more details about the Renault ZOE and its range in the next weeks.

    We have a lot of feedbacks about the first french users and we will be happy to share them in english right there.

    I hope you will be able to do a test drive of the Renault ZOE very soon ; unfortunatly I dont think the ZOE will be on sale in your country this year :-/

    Best regards,

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