Renault Zoe 3 – Road Trip!

I’ve talked previously about my first impressions of our all-electric 2015 Renault Zoe, as well as our experience of living with it for the first few months. Now it’s time to talk about the main ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to electric cars; what is it like on longer journeys?

So, we’ve been living with our first electric car for two and a half years now. For various reasons – mainly the arrival of both a baby and the Covid-19 virus in our lives – we didn’t get many chances to take it on longer journeys early on. Recently, however, we have made a few longer trips and can report back on how it went. But first, a bit of an update.

The Life Electric

I have to say, I’m very happy with the car. As I’ve said before, it’s fun to drive around the city, which is mostly where we drive it. We’ve had no breakdowns or had to perform any maintenance, other than routine stuff like replacing the brake pads during its MOT/Service.

Plugging in and a shot of the Zoe’s interior

Charging hasn’t been as much of a faff as I thought it might be either. We’ve got a charger on our driveway and, even though my wife drives to work most days, we rarely need to plug it in more than once or twice a week.

The only potential problem we faced with it was with the range. Because it is such an old car (by electric standards), its range is limited by the size of the battery. The highest estimated range we’ve seen was around 100 miles in mid-summer, which falls to around 65 in mid-winter. But we’ve been able to travel to places like Alnwick or Beamish (both around 35 miles away) and back without having to charge during the trip. And those are the longest journeys that we make on a regular basis. As I’ve mentioned before, there was only one trip to Bristol (a 600-mile round trip), where we left the Zoe behind and hired a petrol car instead. But we see the occasional hire for longer journeys as worth it for the overall reduced environmental impact of owning an electric car (plus I’m still convinced that we’ve saved money overall compared to our old car).

It’s worth pointing out that the range is only a problem because it is a ‘first-gen’ Zoe. You can probably now buy a car for a similar price that will reliably do 150 miles on a charge, and there are newer cars that will do 250+ miles. We are planning to upgrade as soon as we’ve paid it off (partly because we’ll need a bigger car by that point!), but by then we will be able to afford a car with a much larger range, which is the only real dark cloud in the otherwise blue sky of electric car ownership.

Road Trip!

There is, however, one journey that we do make fairly regularly that we thought would test the limits of the car’s range; the trip to my parents’ house, which is around 65 miles away. This was the only trip that has actually caused us any real “range anxiety”. We’ve now had the chance to make that trip several times, at different times of the year and in different weather conditions. So how did we get on?

Well, I can report that on several occasions we have made the journey without having to stop on the way. You have to drive in Eco Mode and be careful about things like accelerating up hills, which uses a lot of power. But the car can make it. It generally helps to have cruise control on and not to worry about getting stuck behind the occasional lorry for a bit, which does, of course, mean that the journey can take a little bit longer, but not significantly so.

The main issue is actually that the car’s range estimator doesn’t seem to be that accurate. We get to Hexham and compare the estimated range with the remaining distance on Google maps. The numbers are close: 47 miles to go and 48 miles of range remaining. Do we risk it? Is it under- or over-estimating? But then we decide to risk it and arrive at my parents’ house with 22 miles of range remaining! I understand why all cars err on the side of caution, but it is frustrating when the trip is right at the edge of the car’s supposed range!

Of course, we have to fill up the battery when we get there. We have a cable that will allow us to charge from a standard three-pin plug. It takes about 9 hours to fully charge from nearly empty, as opposed to 3-4 hours with our charger at home, but we usually stay overnight anyway and the car is always charged and ready to go by the morning.

The only times we have had to stop on the way were in the really cold months (between December and February), when the estimated range was much lower than the remaining distance at the critical point. Again, it is possible that we could have made it and that the car was underestimating, but we decided not to take the risk and to stop at a charger in a supermarket car park just off the main road. We plug in (at what turns out to be a free charger) and within 15 minutes – the time it takes to go into the supermarket and get snacks, gifts and a few other things – I come back to the car and it’s gone from 60% to 80% charge, leaving us with more than enough range to get to our destination. It means a 2-hour journey rather than a 1.5-hour journey, but that isn’t too bad when we only make the occasional trip across during those darkest months.

Only once have we arrived at Hexham to find that the charger is out of service. But we checked ZapMap (a handy app for electric car drivers to have) and found there was another one nearby. There was a bit of a faff downloading an app and setting up an account, but once that was done we were charged up in a similar amount of time and it only cost us £3. This cocking around with apps and accounts is one of the main problems with the charging infrastructure at the moment. I don’t understand why they can’t just have a contactless card reader that you “bip” when you plug in and “bip” again when you’re done, but hopefully this will improve as time goes on.

Final Thoughts

So, we can’t always make the trip to my parents’ house in one go, but we can most of the time. And that’s really the only issue we’ve had with the car.

I do accept that cars like ours aren’t suitable for everybody. If you regularly commute more than 30 miles or make long journeys to see friends/family, then it wouldn’t work for you. But it works for us. And it is demonstrably and unequivocably greener and cheaper to run than any ICE alternative.

The only real frustration is not with the car itself, but with how difficult the companies who install the chargers make it to give them money and use the bloody things. But according to Fully Charged (a YouTube channel you should check out if you’re interested in electric cars and green technology), steps are being taken to improve this.

Electric cars are the future, there are just a few issues to sort out before they will be suitable and affordable for everyone.

And, as I’ve said, I still wouldn’t go back.