The new Renault ZOE Z.E. 50 on test for Changing Lanes
The new Renault ZOE Z.E. 50 on test for Changing Lanes

Caroline drives the new Renault ZOE Z.E. 50!

The Renault ZOE debuted in Europe back at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, making the ZOE one of the veterans in this modern era of electric mobility. Now in 2020, Renault is back with a new generation of the car – the Z.E. 50, a name which reflects the car’s new battery size. In fact, this is a car that has been consistently tweaked and improved over the years since its launch. And unlike the sales curve of a traditional car, ZOE has increased sales gradually year after year.

In the last six years of Changing Lanes I’ve also seen a gradual shift that means that modern electric cars like ZOE now find themselves in the most receptive market in their history. The number of electrified models in my test schedule has accelerated since 2018. In late 2019 we saw an electric car take the title of Irish Car of the Year for the first time. Media coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fact that when you press pause on the economy, the environment benefits and air quality in cities improves. The idea of zero tailpipe emissions has never been more appealing. Just like smoking, cars with combustion engines could now become very unfashionable very quickly.

The Renault ZOE is already the bestselling electric car in Europe. With this car’s compact size and affordability, it’s easy to see why. Yet ZOE no longer has a monopoly on the compact electric vehicle space. New entrants like the Opel Corsa-e, Peugeot e-208, MINI Electric and forthcoming Honda e, mean that the ZOE will find itself coming under ever more scrutiny.

The 2020 Renault ZOE has a number of new features
The 2020 Renault ZOE has a number of new features

What’s new for the 2020 Renault ZOE?

In Ireland the Renault is the cheapest way into an electric vehicle with this new ZOE coming in a whisker below the starting price of its closest rivals with a sticker price of €26,990 after Government grants and VRT relief. That’s still considerably more than a 1.0-litre petrol Renault Clio for example, but let’s not forget the incentives, zero tailpipe emissions and savings you can make on running costs with an electric car. The new 52 kWh battery replaces the 41 kWh of the previous generation of the car, yet doesn’t take up any more space. It offers 25% more range than the Renault ZOE Z.E. 40, and is officially rated at 395 km (WLTP).

New safety technology has been incorporated into the ZOE’s platform along with a new regenerative braking ‘B Mode’. A 100 kW engine joins the range with 135 hp, giving the ZOE more maturity when it comes to motorway driving.

The ZOE’s versatile standard 22 kW AC Chameleon charger remains but there is 50 kW DC fast charging for the first time in the form of a new CCS adaptor, available as an option.

New paint colours include Celadon Blue (pictured), Flame Red and Quartz White. There’s also a brand-new interior that takes many cues from the new Clio, which improves the quality and technology of the vehicle considerably. We also welcome a new electronic “e-shifter” gear lever and automatic parking brake with auto-hold function.

Inside the new Renault ZOE
Inside the new Renault ZOE

What are my options?

Let’s take a closer look at the Renault ZOE Z.E. 50 range in Ireland to find out what’s available. There are three trim lines – Play, Iconic and GT Line. Two motors are available which give a different power output – the R110 motor (108 hp) and the new R135 motor with greater performance (135 hp).

The entry model into the range with that appealing sticker price (€26,990) has the R110 motor and in built 22 kW Chameleon charger. Equipment on this vehicle includes an impressive new 10-inch TFT instrument cluster, 7” touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlamps, automatic lights and wipers, air conditioning, electric door mirrors, and cruise control.

The Iconic model is available from €28,990 with the R110 motor or from €30,990 with the R135 motor and opens up the option of the CCS adaptor.

The GT Line is the top of the range model and comes as standard with the R135 motor, available from €31,990. Visually this model gets more bling with tinted rear windows, 16” diamond cut alloy wheels, chrome stamped grille. While inside there is special part recycled, part synthetic leather seat upholstery. Equipment updates include rear parking camera, front and rear parking sensors, blind spot warning, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, automatic high beam, traffic sign recognition,  9.3 inch portrait touchscreen, climate control and a wireless phone charger.

CCS fast charging is available for the first time in the 2020 Renault ZOE range
CCS fast charging is available for the first time in the 2020 Renault ZOE range

How practical is new ZOE?

The ZOE was designed from the start as an all-electric vehicle. Over the years, the brand has improved battery capacity without taking up more space inside the vehicle. In fact for a five door electric supermini, the ZOE does a good job. The boot is deep and has a capacity of 338 litres with a practical hatchback opening style. Up front the ZOE is roomy for two adults with lots of headroom and elbow room. It’s smaller in the back, feeling more suitable for two across the rear bench. However, Isofix child seat fixtures on outer rear seats and the front passenger seat boost practicality for young families or grandparents.

What’s it like inside?

The 2020 Renault ZOE debuts a brand-new interior. Quality has improved a lot making it feel like a more mature car in line with the Clio. The digital display for the driver is new and much more modern than what has come before. It displays information about things like your speed, range, power and efficiency. The new ZOE also benefits from Renault’s latest infotainment system that syncs easily to Apple and Android smartphones. There is no height adjustment lever on the driver’s seat but the steering wheel does adjust for reach and rake. There is also a more sophisticated gear selector to your left than what has come before.

Rear seating in the new Renault ZOE
Rear seating in the new Renault ZOE

Charging the Renault ZOE

For the first time, the ZOE will now be able to use Ireland’s fast charge network. A CCS adaptor is available from the Iconic level trim. It facilitates ZOE to charge at 50 kW at a fast charger on the ESB public charging network for example. After 30 minutes you could be on your way with an extra 145 km of range.

But don’t overlook the standard 22 kW AC Chameleon charger, which is actually a little bit of genius in its own regard. You can use any of the ESB’s more plentiful Type 2 chargers, often in town, and charge at 22 kW AC, and get a full charge in 2 hours and 40 minutes. I’ve seen this in action and in about an hour you can get 40% extra charge. A 7 kW wallbox unit at home for example charges the new ZOE in 9 hours and 25 minutes.

Driving the 2020 Renault ZOE Z.E. 50

The ZOE’s compact dimensions and electric powertrain work well together, particularly in the urban environment. You will be nipping around in no time and it’s here you really feel the benefit of ZOE’s cool, linear acceleration. My test car had the R135 motor with 135 hp and you notice that extra zip. The electric motor gives instant response from a press of the throttle. The new B mode is a more aggressive regenerative braking system that allows near one pedal driving. This is because when you lift off the accelerator the car brakes itself quite rapidly so you can modulate the car’s responses with just the accelerator pedal very easily.

I’ve tested the ZOE a few times in the last few years but this model seems to adapt to high speed motorway driving much better than before. This is down to improved refinement in the cabin and the higher powered motor.

You sit quite high in the ZOE, great for visibility but this car is not a sports car. The steering and handling does pass as feeling natural most of the time so there’s still all of the fun of driving a small car.

The new ZOE is available from €26,990 in Ireland
The new ZOE is available from €26,990 in Ireland

Did you like it?

The Renault ZOE has grown up again. The relative affordability of this car is important at a time when buyers will still find themselves paying a premium for a more environmentally friendly electric car. The ZOE now has a more mature feeling interior, while new technology features like the digital instrument display for the driver make for a much more modern and appealing driving experience.

CCS fast charging is a timely addition to the range, but it’s not included as standard. Though there are benefits to upgrading to a higher spec ZOE with CCS, the appeal of the 22 kW on board charger should not be overlooked. It really does make charging quicker from the more plentiful Type 2 ESB chargers that you are more likely to encounter in Irish towns.

More range is always an advantage as it adds more flexibility and versatility to the routines of an EV owner, less time charging and more anxiety-free driving. Over 300 km is definitely feasible from new ZOE, especially if you stick to low speed city driving. What’s more, the higher capacity battery doesn’t drop kilometres from your range rapidly the minute you arrive on the motorway and squeeze the accelerator hard.

Like many manufacturers, Renault is moving fast now into electrifying popular models in their range. New hybrid versions of the Clio and Captur are expected this year. For buyers committed to full electric motoring, ZOE remains a charming tried and tested, tweaked and honed formula that balances affordability with practical charging and comfortable range.

Now watch my video for a closer look at the new ZOE’s best features!

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: Renault ZOE Z.E. 50 R135 GT Line
Price: 
€31,990 (Range from €26,990)
Engine: 100 kW
Power: 
135 hp
Torque: 245 Nm
0-100km/h:  
9.5 seconds
Top speed: 140 km/h
Motor Tax: €120 per year