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Renault upgrades its electric Zoe supermini with a stronger power source and improved interior quality.
Electric front windows, LED DRLs, remote central-locking, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning
Before the recent changes to the company car taxation regime, the idea of running an electric vehicle may have seemed somewhat fanciful to most business users. Now, though, it is more a case of whether electric car production can keep pace with demand.
The Renault Zoe is one of the more affordable electric cars and for 2020 its exterior has been subtly refreshed, courtesy of a swisher front bumper, standard LED lights and a bolder Renault nose logo, which doubles as a cover for the plug-in charging points.
Inside, a refreshed interior is dominated by a sporty-looking steering wheel, a neat, precision drive selector, and Renault's latest Easy Link touchscreen system. Perceived quality has also received a bit of a hike, thanks to a mixture of soft-touch, grey denim-covered materials, along with some neater switches and silvered rotary climate control dials.
The biggest news, however, is reserved for what has gone on underneath. With an upgraded battery and stronger motor, the Zoe now has a bunch more power and significantly greater range potential.
The new battery in the R135 version is rated at 52kWh, giving a theoretical cruising range of up to 245 miles on the WLTP test cycle.
Although Renault will continue to sell the less powerful R110 as an entry model proposition, the stronger, higher-spec R135 model is predicted to be the volume seller, especially as it is still relatively affordable by electric car standards, starting at £28k once the government's £3,000 grant has been applied.
Standard kit includes an AC charging port, capable of accepting 22kWh, but you'll need to fork out another £1,000 for a 50kWh CCS DC fast-charging port, which can add 90 miles of range in 30 minutes from a typical motorway services charging point. A further black mark against the Zoe's business credentials is the £500 7kWh wall box home charger, which is included in the list price but only for retail customers.
The more potent Zoe now has a claimed 0-62mph of 9.5 seconds, but in practice it feels more urgent than the bald figures suggest, thanks to the instantaneous power delivery. Coupled to compact dimensions, feather-light steering and one-speed, press-and-go transmission, the Zoe is an absolute breeze to scoot around town in.
Not that everything is sweetness and light as the low-speed ride is rather abrupt, and quite a few surface vibrations can be felt transitioning into the cabin. The regenerative brakes aren't particularly brilliant either, being both noisy and quite grabby, particularly at low speeds. You can reduce this somewhat by moving the gear selector to 'B' as this produces additional electric motor braking, allowing you to execute parts of your urban journey without ever using the brake pedal.
Not that the Zoe is out of its depth on faster routes. It will cruise effortlessly at motorway speeds and whereas a small-capacity petrol engine of similar power output would need a significant prod of the accelerator pedal on drawn-out motorway inclines, the Zoe's strong torque allows it to tackle the same kind of stretches effortlessly.
Inside, the driving position is surprisingly upright, almost SUV-like, due to the need to create enough space under the floor to stash the batteries. This lofty perch may not be to everyone's tastes but it does help deliver excellent all-round visibility, although this is undermined on sunnier days by hefty dash top reflections in the windscreen. Additionally, a large portion of the driver's side windscreen remains unswept by the wiper blade when the heavens open.
Although the Zoe's designers will eulogise about its flush-fitting rear door handles, in practice, they are fiddly to use, manufactured from flimsy black plastic, and are located way above the reach of small children.
Even more of the Zoe's batteries are stockpiled under the rear seats, meaning the seat cushions are raised even higher than those upfront. As a result, taller adults will be obliged to slouch to gain sufficient head clearance, although those who haul toddlers in and out of child seats will probably view this lumbar-easing elevation as a bit of a silver lining.
To be fair, the Zoe isn't claiming to be the most practical car in the world, and while its driving characteristics could still do with some finessing, its upgraded range, improved quality and especially its tax-exemption virtues make it a more attractive proposition than ever.