2015 Renault Zoe review

A daily-driven electric car in Dubai – the owner’s put 20,000km on it in 6 months!

By Shahzad Sheikh

Click below to watch the video review of the 2015 Renault Zoe now

This thing is electric. No I don’t mean hybrid or range-extender or some such tech that allows it to be green and yet still use our beloved petrol. I mean it’s completely electric. No fuel goes in whatsoever. And no emissions come out.

There’s a slab of batteries (22kWh lithium-ion) embedded unobtrusively in the floor sandwich, and an electric motor produces 65kW (87bhp) and 162lb ft which gives it the ability to get up to a very respectable 140kph.

Newer Zoes (from 2016) get a 41kWh (you can retro-upgrade an older one) which nearly doubles the quoted range to 400km. The car tested here is said to have a range of 210km, although owner Salman Hussein gets up to 150km out of it depending on how he drives (the worst he’s managed is 100km).

Renault Zoe

You can buy this here?

He’s one of only a handful of private owners (there maybe two others he reckons) as the car is not officially on sale here, although there is a guide price of AED120,000. That’s slightly higher than the European price of about AED100,000 ($26k) and that’s before you get a French government tax subsidy of AED25,000, though you do have to ‘lease’ the battery with a monthly fee there.

In the UAE there are around 40 of these running about with DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority). In fact this car was won by a DEWA customer in a competition, and was then put up for sale. Salman snapped it up at a bargain price on Dubizzle about six months ago and has since been running it as his daily driver.

Renault Zoe

Yep, this is the car that he uses to get to work and back each day – a round-trip of 80km. Admittedly he can charge the car at home and at work, and makes good use of almost 100 charging stations now available throughout the UAE, including one each in Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.

He’s already put a staggering 20,000km on it and all that’s cost him is AED190 per month in charging fees (you can get charging cards and some of the charging stations are actually free!). So AED10 could get you nearly 200km! The only other cost is a servicing package (AED2600 for 4 years or 100,000km) though without an engine, there’s not too many moving parts to worry about.

Renault Zoe

Can you actually run an electric car here?

So here’s a chap proving me utterly wrong on a daily basis, as I have steadfastly maintained that full electric cars are not viable or feasible in the Middle East. My issue is that our environment (particularly in the summer) is too harsh for these cars because more energy is needed to cool the systems, and that we don’t have an infrastructure to cater to them. Plus who wants to drive a slow milk-float around in the UAE anyway?!

Now I’m partly vindicated as admittedly Salman’s range is over 50km lower than that quoted for Europe, and if he drives hard everywhere, it goes down to just 100km. But he has used it in the summer and there haven’t been any issues with the car.

Renault Zoe

And again I may be somewhat mistaken about the complete lack of infrastructure – these charging stations at various fuel stops don’t seem to be on my radar at all – but they clearly are out there, and Salman has an App on his phone telling them where they all are.

In fact en-route to our shoot location in the Qudra desert, he stopped off for 15 minutes to get a top-up charge. And he insists that he’s never run out of go-power, because even when the display hits 0km, he can still eek out another 10-20km from it!

It takes him about 50 minutes to get almost a full charge, though a 9-hour charge really fills up the juice. Now I maintain that despite these charging stations it’s still difficult for normal drivers – for example if you live in an apartment, do you dangle an extension lead out of your window?

Renault Zoe

What’s it like to drive?

Now to my final point – it’ll be too slow and silly to keep up with our fearsome traffic. Wrong again, not only is 140kph pretty much the ‘legal’ limit here anyway, but off the line the terrific torque sees it belting away – stunningly in complete silence!

And to drive, not only is it entirely normal so no relearning and not much adapting is required, but it has fantastic brakes (due to the regenerative action), a quiet and refined ride (you only get wind noise and some road-roar, although maybe even that would be lessened if it had the correct European-market low rolling resistance Michelin tyres) and there’s pretty decent handling.

Renault Zoe

That last is due to the low low centre of gravity with most of the weight (which comes from the battery pack) below your feet. So despite this being a slightly heavy car for a mini – about 1400kg – it hustles well and darts about like you’d expect a little French hatch to do so.

There’s a remarkably spacious and deep boot, rear seating room is tight but not impossible for two adults and front space and comfort is not an issue. A digital instrument panel with a pleasing and clear configuration, plus a large centre infotainment screen, as well as the modern and cleanly styled swathes of white dashboard, make it a very nice place to sit in.

Renault Zoe

Verdict

Okay, frankly speaking, I’m still not fully sold on the electric car experience. Not that there’s anything wrong with little Zoe herself, she’s a perfectly delectable and accommodating little lady, with all the pros of a little city runabout and not many cons at all.

However, she doesn’t come cheap, that’s for sure. Not yet anyway. Despite the savings in petrol money, you’d have to be doing a ton of miles to justify AED100k for something this size.

And the shortened range confirms my suspicion that our environment is harsher on EVs – although having said that it will be interesting to see how the car does with the upgraded battery pack (which Salman is thinking of having fitted). With a 400km European range, that should give around 350km here, which would make it a lot more usable.

Renault Zoe

I’m still not convinced that I want to spend 20 minutes to an hour sitting in petrol stations getting this thing charged up though, and if you don’t live in a villa or a building with power sockets in the car park, that’s what you’d have to face.

So personally, if I had to go green – and with rising fuel prices and pollution in the city, that’s looking to be an increasingly attractive proposition – hybrid cars would still be my preferred best route (see my Prius long term test here).

But having said that, the Zoe proved far more appealing and user-friendly than you might imagine. Renault are using the 40 or so cars here to test the environment and the market, and with people like Salman hoisting up the EV flag, and Tesla now set to officially enter the market, electric cars will very soon become commonplace on our roads, whether I like it or not!

Please let me know what you think of electric cars and whether you’d own/drive one in the comments below!

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