I had to drive to Stansted airport very early the next morning. For petrol or diesel engines this would just mean a trip to the filling station but it meant driving to a supermarket, plugging into the free chargers and returning five hours later when it had finished charging.
My inner Scrooge approved that I didn’t have to pay for effectively refuelling my car (more of which later), but there was no questioning the inconvenience.
Especially so, two hours later, when my Renault smartphone app suggested the car wasn’t charging properly, necessitating a return trip to double-check, only to find that it was charging correctly.
Renault Zoe price: from £18,170 (plus battery lease)
Then another trip back again later to eventually collect it.
Although on the face of things this new version of Renault’s Zoe hasn’t changed much, underneath the skin there’s an uprated 41 kWh lithium-ion battery with an extended 186-mile range under normal driving (up from the previous 106 miles).
In theory my 80-odd mile round trip to Stansted and back wouldn’t worry that full charge, though the difference between predicted and actual range are two very different things as I was to discover.
Its 0 to 30mph around town pace is great for the cut and thrust of city traffic
The same goes for the Zoe’s performance,. On paper, it has a 0 to 60mph time of 13.5 seconds and an 84mph top speed (along with, obviously, 0g/km emissions).
But the reality of electric motoring feels very different. Any normal car powered by an internal combustion engine would feel positively sluggish with a 13.5 second 0 to 60mph time, but the Zoe’s electric power delivery with those watts immediately available means it can sometimes surprise you.
Its 0 to 30mph around town pace is great for the cut and thrust of city traffic but on faster roads you’re constantly watching the live electricity consumption rate – affected considerably as your speed rises.
The fact is electric cars don’t like driving at motorway speeds and the only answer is to lift your right foot. Not really an option when you have a plane to catch. To be fair this is a slight anomaly with electric cars.
If the trip computer’s range in a standard car dropped to 100 miles, you’d probably have half an eye on filling up in the near future, but in an electric car you tend to be more realistic about where those 100 miles will get you. That said, the baby Renault is still missing a couple of small tricks.
Although we purposely didn’t have the air conditioning on, it would be good to see what effect the fan or radio might be having on the range and also the ability to vary the effect of the regenerative braking as on the BMW i3 or VW’s e-Up.
There’s a lot to like about the rest of the Zoe’s on-road driving experience, though.
Renault Zoe engine: Electric – 41kWh battery
As with other electric cars, the low-speed silent running is actually quite relaxing and that immediate on-tap performance makes it fun.
It’s not the sportiest car to drive but, in reality, it’s not in the car’s nature to drive that hard anyway. As always too, you’ve constantly got half an eye on the car’s range and the effect that your driving style is having on it via a usage meter.
In the end our round-trip was 83.5 miles during which we lost 110 miles from that original range and, while for this trip we were well within our limits, you’re always aware you haven’t got the luxury of a top-up if need be.
This was rammed home to us later in the week. Before being collected, I planned on recharging the Zoe back at the same supermarket. But having plugged it in, confirmed it was charging and left it for the best part of a day, we returned to find the charge post had a fault and the car didn’t have a single mile of extra charge on it.
Six hours of nothing. There are other real-world issues with the baby Renault, too. While quite a spacious small car, for £18,170 (plus the battery lease), we’d like better reception on the digital DAB radio which was nothing short of awful (a long-running problem with the Zoe).
Other niggles include the steering wheel and key, which are previous-generation format. There’s only one map pocket on the back of the front seats and its odd side-entry means things can fall out. It also needs a larger main info screen and bigger glovebox.
Renault Zoe power: 0 to 60mph in 13.5 seconds, with 84mph top speed
Despite those issues we still enjoyed our time with the Zoe.
We loved the front seat Isofix child seat mounting, the good-sized boot and the hooks on the side of the boot for the cable bags.
Electric cars aren’t entirely hasslefree, especially with a charging network that could be so much easier and simpler (why can’t you just swipe a credit card rather than have several different accounts for instance?).
But for us this Renault is probably the most affordable and best plug-powered option on the market today.
Renault Zoe average range: 186 miles
Price: from £18,170 (plus battery lease)
Engine: Electric – 41kWh battery
Power: 0 to 60mph in 13.5 seconds, 84mph top speed
Average range: 186 miles
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Rivals: Nissan Leaf, VW e-Up