Renault Zoe review: compact EV trapped in no-man's land

The Zoe's size, range and price put this competent hatchback in a tricky position
2021 Renault Zoe2021 Renault Zoe
2021 Renault Zoe

There’s an advert on TV right now that shows four friends laughing and having a great time as they glide around in a Renault Zoe. The tagline is “room for everyone”.

Now, unless everyone is a contortionist, I’ve got an issue with that. The Zoe has many qualities but spaciousness is not one of them and it seems a strange thing to focus on.

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Like most superminis you’ll just about fit two average sized adults and a couple of small kids into the Zoe but four adults will struggle, and they certainly won’t be smiling.

The Zoe is sized somewhere between a city car and a superminiThe Zoe is sized somewhere between a city car and a supermini
The Zoe is sized somewhere between a city car and a supermini

Personally, if I was Renault, I’d be making more of the fact that this is an EV that sits somewhere between a city car and a supermini but offers the kind of usable range usually reserved for far larger family vehicles - up to 238 miles on a charge.

In fact, if you’re really, really careful you can do some ridiculous distances in a Zoe. A team of volunteers from the Mission Motorsport charity managed to eke an unbelievable 475 from a single charge in a completely standard Zoe recently.

There’s an argument that if you’re using an EV for short urban journeys, you don’t need to worry about a huge range but that forgets the millions of people who can’t simply plug in and charge overnight. I’ll admit that it’s not a worry for everyone but for those in flats or terraced houses, a range of 240+ miles means far fewer trips to a public charging station than in other similar sized cars.

It also means that drivers who cover larger distances but don’t want or need a big family vehicle can opt for a compact EV capable of long drives.

The Zoe's interior is nicely finished but tight on spaceThe Zoe's interior is nicely finished but tight on space
The Zoe's interior is nicely finished but tight on space

The Zoe was once the only real option when it came to smaller EVs but now it finds itself surrounded by rivals ranging from the Fiat 500 and Honda e to the Vauxhall Corsa-e and Peugeot e-208. Yet in Z.E. 50 guise it still has the advantage over them in terms of range. The Vauxhall and Peugeot both offer just over 200 miles while the Fiat, Honda and Mini Electric offer between 135 and 199 miles on a charge.

In terms of range anxiety that plays into the Renault’s favour but the downside is that the big 52kWh battery means it’s priced closer to the Corsa and 208 while feeling more like the cheaper Mini or Fiat in terms of size and practicality.

Straddling the middle ground does give the Zoe some advantages. For a start, it feels as nimble and responsive as you’d want from a city car. It’s compact enough to dart confidently around the urban jungle, backed by the instant zip from its 132bhp motor.

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But it rides better than most city cars and feels more confident on open roads where a combination of good body control, stability and impressive refinement mean it feels like its larger rivals.

2021 Renault Zoe2021 Renault Zoe
2021 Renault Zoe

As mentioned, interior space is tight compared with those larger rivals and passengers feel slightly perched, sitting atop the battery pack with little in the way of adjustment. The seats are, however, surprisingly comfortable and visibility is good for a modern car with thick pillars.

The Zoe’s cabin will be familiar to anyone who’s driven a recent Clio or Captur, with decent quality plastics and knurled metal-effect finishes to many of the controls. It feels modern and the quality is fine but the Zoe lacks the premium feel or styling that will attract buyers to the likes of the Mini and Fiat 500 or, for that matter, the sharp looking 208.

The boot is a decent size but there’s a huge lip and it’s poorly finished, with exposed metal, thin material and brittle plastic. A purpose-made bag to hold the charging cable is a good idea but it dangles off the curry hook and takes up a lot of the 338-litre area.

Our test car is a top-of-the-range GT Line which starts at £32,095, comes packed with equipment and offers the more powerful of two motor options. Cheaper versions start from £27,595 and come with a 108bhp motor but the same 52kWh battery offering up to 245 miles of range but missing out on 50kW rapid charging.

There’s a lot to like about the Zoe, from its effortless electric drive and decent refinement to the way it feels suited to city driving while offering class-leading range. But that’s also its key stumbling block. The extra power and range mean it costs more than true city cars but it feels less spacious and practical than B-segment rivals. For drivers who want a compact EV with big-car range it’s an attractive choice but for those either interested in a cheaper urban runabout or a larger family hatchback it falls somewhere between the two.

Renault Zoe GT Line R135

Price: £32,095 after PICG; Motor: Single 100kW synchronous motor; Battery: 52kWh; Power: 134bhp; Torque: 181lb ft; Transmission: Single-speed, front-wheel-drive; Top speed: 87mph; 0-62mph: 9.5 seconds; WLTP range: 238 miles

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