Renault Zoe – Going Electric

One of my recent projects involved working alongside engineers and researchers from the energy sector, which has fueled my interest in green energy and lead me to – among other things – the Fully Charged show and other similar channels on YouTube. Through all this, I became interested in electric cars and I got the impression that the technology had advanced far enough that the time was right to give it a go.

Last month we went for a test drive of the 2015 Renault Zoe and a little over a week ago we brought her home. I thought it would be good to try and write an honest blog about what it is actually like to live with an electric car and our experience of making the switch.

Let’s start with some first impressions.

The Renault Zoe

The Renault Zoe is a fully electric car. The model that we have bought was released in 2015. You can get one second-hand for around £7,000 to £7,500. There is a catch, but I’ll get to this later.

The car is kinda cute and doesn’t look too whacky and ‘out there’ as some other electric cars do. It’s loosely based on the Clio, and has many of the same gadgets inside. There is enough room in the back for me (a six-foot tall, semi-slender man) to sit comfortably behind myself and it has a large boot – 338 litres, if that means anything to you.

The car is, apparently, pretty good when compared to other ‘super-minis’ and it comes with a good set of gadgets as standard. Ours is the ‘Dynamique Nav’ model, which includes a reversing camera/sensors, as well as the touchscreen with Bluetooth© and a Tom-Tom© navigation system.

Adapting to Life with an Electric Car

I’m going to talk more about the car and what it is like to drive etc. in a future post, but for now I want to talk about some of the key elements of owning an electric car.

For reference, we made the switch from a ten-year-old VW Beetle, partly because we wanted a car with four doors and more boot space. The Zoe gave us exactly what we wanted, as well as giving us the chance to see what life is like without petrol!

The Battery & Range

So, a key component of an electric car is, obviously, the battery. Our Zoe has a 22 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery. No, I don’t fully understand what that means either, so let’s lets focus on the range. The internet will tell you that the car has a range of around 130 miles (210 km) on a full charge. In the real world, however, this is a bit more complicated. In the winter (i.e. now) the car is telling us that it will get about 70-75 miles on a full charge. It is only in the summer that can you apparently reasonably expect it to do 100+ miles, but I’ll report back on that in a few months time.

Now, that doesn’t sound like much, but most of the time it isn’t a problem for us. Most places that we visit regularly are just a few miles away and we can easily get there and back on a single charge. The only place that we regularly visit that is further away is my parents, but we should still be able to get there on a single charge.

We would then need to either find a public charger or charge at my parent’s house, which is where another pretty huge hidden cost comes into the equation. To plug the car into a normal, 3-pin socket, you need a special cable that costs over £300. That is insane, but if you think about it, that is a lot less than most of us pay for a year’s petrol!

Apparently, (depending on your electricity tariff) the car can charge from empty to 100% for around £3-4. This takes about four hours with the 7kw charger we have had installed and would take about 9 hours from a standard 3kw socket. There are rapid chargers at places such as service stations which can apparently charge the battery to 80% in about half an hour, but we have yet to experience this.

Note: It is possible to increase the range by using Eco mode and driving economically, but so far we have mostly driven with Eco mode off and been having some fun with it!

The Battery Lease

Remember the catch that I mentioned earlier? It is possible to get a Zoe and to buy the battery outright, but ours – like most low-priced electric cars, as far as I can tell – requires you to lease the battery from Renault, which costs £59 a month.

This sounds like a lot but you have to bear two things in mind. First, if the battery drops below 75% of its original capacity then Renault will replace it with a brand new one. The old batteries get recycled and put into home systems (kind of like the Tesla Powerwall), in case you were interested.

Secondly, the thing you have to realise is that an electric car is much cheaper to run than a petrol or diesel car. We reckon we have saved £30 a month by not having to buy petrol. We have also saved £10 a month on our insurance and £20 a month because you don’t have to pay road tax on electric cars. Obviously, our electricity bill is going to go up (again, I’ll report back on this later), but the lease is basically paying for itself and – in our case, at least – I feel like it is worth the cost.

The Life Electric

There are a few things you have to adapt to. We have had to stop thinking about ‘filling up’ the car, as we did with our old petrol engine. Most of the time we charge the car at home, so the car is always ‘full’ and ready to go when we need it. The only time we will actually have to use public chargers is when we go on long journeys, which we haven’t tried yet.

Charging is pretty easy. We got a Pod-point charger installed, which costs around £350. You then connect one end of the cable (which comes with the car) to the vehicle – in our case to a socket hidden behind the Renault badge – and the other end to the charger. Then, when you lock the car, the cable gets locked into the charger, so no-one can unplug you, and the electrons start to flow. There’s an app that lets you track your usage and you can even control when the car charges, so (if you’re on the right kind of tariff) you can tell the car to only charge at night, when electricity is cheaper.

What’s it Like to Drive?

Actually driving the car has also taken some getting used to, mainly because our old car was a manual. Electric cars don’t have gears, so there’s no clutch, kind of like an automatic, and the motor just works at pretty much any speed when you put your foot down. We have yet to try it on any motorways/national speed limit roads. I understand that the car is limited to around 85mph and acceleration is slower at top speeds, but its nippy and fun for urban driving, which what we do most of the time.

The engine is pretty quiet too, almost eerily quiet at first. It makes an artificial whine at low speeds to let pedestrians know you are there, but you still have to be careful as people don’t always hear you coming! You still get some wind and road noise, but it’s nice to be able to actually hold a conversation without shouting or listen to your tunes without having to drown out the growling of the engine!

Final Thoughts (for now)

I’ll be making more posts about what the Zoe is like to drive and the pros and cons of living with an electric car over the coming months. First impressions are good, however. She’s a nippy little car that is easy and fun to drive around the city and we have not, so far, had any issues with ‘range anxiety’.

I’ll report back soon to let you know how we get on!