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After Renault dramatically slashed most of its UK model line-up in late 2011, the carmaker has been slowly rebuilding its range, most obviously with its impressive new Clio, launched earlier this year.
Now it's time for the Zoe supermini, the fourth in the electric line-up, which includes the Kangoo Z.E. van, the Fluence saloon and the Twizy.
Built on the Clio platform, the Zoe is by far the cheapest electric car in the UK, starting from £13,650 after the £5k Government grant - that's significantly cheaper than Nissan's admittedly bigger Leaf. But there's a catch. Renault is continuing to lease the battery, aiming to alleviate buyer anxiety about its lifetime or reliability. This will cost at least £70 a month and could increase to £93 depending on your annual mileage.
Powered by a 65kW electric motor, the car produces the equivalent of 88hp with torque of 220Nm. Top speed is 84mph, while range is up to 130 miles. Realistically, this is more likely to be 60 miles in cold weather and 90 miles in moderate conditions. In 30 minutes, 80% of the battery can be charged through a 43kW 'fast charge' point; a full charge takes up to nine hours from typical household power.
As ever, this limitation means the Zoe is only appealing to a select few who typically do short journeys, making it perfect second-car fodder. However, Renault says the vehicle is attracting fleets that want to "do something different from a business model point of view", not just those wishing to reduce costs.
Three trim levels are available - Expression, Dynamique Zen and Dynamique Intens - and standard spec includes satnav, cruise control and climate control. The most popular Dynamique Intens, with a P11D price of £19,395 (without grant),
adds remote battery charging and aircon/heating activation, plus rear parking sensors and camera. The car also has an optional sound to warn pedestrians when it is approaching, which can be heard from 1-18mph.
On the road the Zoe is impressive. You can feel the hefty weight - 1468kg - of the lithium-ion battery. But this doesn't largely impact on handling. It has balanced but light steering, takes corners well and holds its own on motorways. Meanwhile, the instant torque of an electric vehicle makes for a relaxing drive. One area of complaint is ride: it's typically fine, but pothole-ridden Britain might prove problematic.
The interior is also good, with quality materials, and hosts the carmaker's new multimedia system R-Link with a seven-inch display and voice recognition. Space is sufficient, although six-footers would be wise to avoid the rear seats.
Drawing comparisons with rivals is tricky, given the varied charging and usage patterns of electric vehicles. Still, the Zoe wins hands down at 34.7 pence per mile, versus 51.1ppm for a Peugeot Ion and 47.5ppm for a Nissan Leaf. A worthy conventional runner is the Zoe's diesel sibling, the Clio 1.5 dCi ECO 90, which only emits 83g/km CO2 and offers 13% benefit-in-kind (vs. 0% for EVs). The cost per mile is 35.3p, 0.6p more than the Zoe.
The Clio remains the obvious option for fleets. However, the Zoe is the most acceptable and affordable EV to arrive in the UK yet, embracing good looks, practicality and driveability.
Renault Zoe Dynamique Intens
Model price range
£18,650-£19,395 + monthly battery hire
Service, maintenance and repair
Vehicle Excise Duty
Cost per mile
BIK 20/40% per month
Boot space min/max
130 miles (maximum)
Full charge time
*Without £5k government grant
Raising the EV game, the Zoe will succeed in a limited market.