ZOE Test Drive – 2: Driving Notes

ZOE Zen demonstrator (Image: T. Larkum)
ZOE Zen demonstrator (Image: T. Larkum)

[Part 1 is here]

For my test drive I had the opportunity to take a long drive out of the town and through the local countryside and so I was able to try out the ZOE in a variety of conditions. The experience of starting up is disconcerting, as is often said when someone used to a combustion engine tries an electric vehicle. You put your foot on the brake and then press the Start/Stop button on the dashboard. At that point the dashboard lights up but of course there is no engine noise – to someone used to a combustion engine it lacks the obvious feedback of a revving engine, though I imagine one could get used to it quickly enough.

To move you engage the gear lever (marked P R N D) from park to reverse or drive. Having always driven cars with manual gearboxes I really don’t like this lever. It seems to be to be a simple sop to those used to driving with an automatic gearbox. Since the ZOE has no gearbox I believe it would be far preferable to dispense with a gear lever altogether and have simple selector buttons on the centre console, or even a simple selector lever on the steering wheel like a sports or racing car. Similarly, as soon as you release the brake pedal there is ‘creep’ and the car starts to move – this makes no sense in an electric car and again, I believe, just panders to those used to automatics.

When starting off and moving at slow speeds it would be fair to describe the travel as ‘silent’. While technically not actually silent the quietness is eerie. There is no detectible sound from the electric motor, and the noise from the tyres is little more than you would get from someone walking past.

At slow speeds the brakes are noticeably ‘grabby’ – this was commented on by each driver. This is presumably because at low speed the friction brakes are being used exclusively. This may have been particularly noticeable on our demonstrator vehicle as it had such a low mileage and the friction brakes may not have been bedded in – it’s possible we would have noticed the same effect on a brand new Clio. At highway speeds the brakes are mostly using regeneration and felt fine – very smooth. When decelerating to a stop there is a point at which the brakes necessarily transition from regenerative to friction, but I don’t notice this changeover particularly.

Leaving the dealership and starting on the test drive I found the ZOE very straightforward to drive and I had to agree with my colleagues’ comments – on the whole it is very much like driving a conventional car. In fact, given the wide range of performance and behaviour of cars, it is fair to say that the ZOE sits comfortably within that range and doesn’t stand out in terms of handling, acceleration, steering, braking, etc. for being electric.

ZOE Zen demonstrator (Image: T. Larkum)
ZOE Zen demonstrator (Image: T. Larkum)

I initially found the acceleration acceptable but not remarkable. However I realised fairly quickly that the ZOE was in ‘Eco’ mode (there’s an indicator at the bottom of the driver’s display) and switched this off (the button is to the left of the gear lever). After that I found the acceleration to be satisfyingly lively at low speeds and still perfectly acceptable at higher speeds.

The ride is good but erring towards firm – the ZOE certainly doesn’t glide over potholes or broken road surfaces (of which there seem to be a lot on British roads at the moment) but nor is it excessively jolting. Overall it gave me the impression of having suspension similar to a ‘hot hatch’ of which I’ve driven a few – a sacrifice of a soft ride to provide good handling. And the handling is good, with the ZOE comfortably managing curving and sharp corners at a range of speeds. Only a couple of times did I have the impression that the car was not responding quite as fast to steering inputs as I expected – the feeling that it was ‘heavier than it looks’. That is a largely unavoidable consequence of carrying a heavy battery pack, only partially compensated for by carrying it low and largely under the centre of the vehicle.

As touched on previously the ZOE is not silent at highway speeds – in fact it almost seemed quite noisy even in the absence of the combustion engine, though of course it’s likely that without engine noise all other noises become relatively more obvious. As well as the road noise there is also noticeable sound from the electric motor. It is much less than that of an engine but it is there. Most of the time it is just a background whirr, but under hard acceleration it produces a distinctive whine which can’t be ignored though – one could argue – it does give back to the driver some of the visceral feedback that you get from a hard-revving petrol engine. Most of the time, though, the motor just produces a background noise that is much less invasive than a combustion engine.

At one point while driving through a pedestrianised area I became aware of another sound that I couldn’t place – a bit like a low frequency rumble as though we were passing a busy factory. The salesman pointed it out as being the ZE Voice becoming activated at our slow speed. I wound down the window to listen to it. I can’t comment on its effectiveness at warning pedestrians of our approach, but as a driver I didn’t like it. I can see me turning it off, or at least choosing my own ‘ringtone’ for it (assuming I can do that) – something like a futuristic Stars Wars-style spaceship sound perhaps. Or just a music track, if that’s possible, such as Ride of the Valkyries.

[Part 3 is here]

Home Forums ZOE Test Drive – 2: Driving Notes

This topic contains 7 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Trevor Larkum 4 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #2953

    Trevor Larkum
    Keymaster

    For my test drive I had the opportunity to take a long drive out of the town and through the local countryside and so I was able to try out the ZOE in
    [See the full post at: ZOE Test Drive – 2: Driving Notes]

    #2963

    Anonymous

    Sounds like you have had pretty much the same experience as me. I had my test drive in the Intens on saturday and you’ve documented much of my experience. I was less surprised by the ‘make it feel like an automatic’ design than you because of my experiences with the leaf but I do agree with you it shouldn’t be necessary.

    Regarding eco mode acceleration, another idea has been borrowed from automatics – kickdown. If you press the accelerator hard even in Eco mode it gives a high-power burst of acceleration so you can overtake or pull out at junctions. I had some fun playing with that 😉

    For reference, I found the suspension firmer than my wife’s Corsa and softer than my Aygo. Response was a bit better than the Corsa but I am obviously going to have to change my driving style significantly because I am used to my Aygo (which you basically drive like an old Mini!).

    Which version did you drive? The Expression, Zen or Intens? I’ve only seen the Intens but am most interested in the Zen so would be keen on people’s impressions if they’ve seen the Zen.

    Disappointingly, I had very few answers back this saturday from the long list of questions from the previous week.

    Has anyone had any success getting discounts, low-apr (or 0%) finance or other deals on the Zoe yet? My dealership was unable to offer anything but I think they are aware of the risk people feel stepping over to electric and I’m hoping they will be able to offer a decent value on my part exchange.

    Trevor: Did you pay much attention to the energy usage or range changes depending on your driving style?

    #2964

    Anonymous

    @farblue: I was told no further discounts would be possible. I considered myself lucky to get finance on the terms that were originally published in November (my dealer had to do a bit of legwork to find those and get approval for them). Having never bought a new car before, I’m not sure how much haggling is realistic. I also suppose that as all of us here are quite clearly keen early-adopters that any salesman worth his salt will realise we’re unlikely to walk away from the purchase.

    #2967

    Anonymous

    Maybe.

    But on the flip side, the Zoe is a huge gamble for Renault and the Leaf has had slower adoption than originally hoped. My salesman is well aware of the compromises I am already making for the car and has struggled to answer my questions or offer any sort of deal. He’s also aware I walked away from the Leaf and would be willing to wait until I could do a winter test drive if I don’t get the info I feel I need. He’s asked me 5 times when I’d be willing to buy and I’ve made it clear that if the price is right and the specs. match my needs I’m happy to buy before the end of May.

    For reference you usually get to negotiate on finance (e.g. 0% finance if you offer 50% capital), extras such as carpets, the part-ex value of your old car and ‘seasonal demand’ – previous reg vehicles and ex-demo vehicles after a numberplate change or at quiet times of the year such as february.

    If you time it right, £500 discount, £500 worth of extras and 50% of the value as 0% finance for 3 years is entirely possible on a £15,000 car. For the dealership this is only really less than 5% of the RRP.

    The new Clio had 3 weeks of 0% finance offers in April, for instance.

    #2970

    Anonymous

    @farblue: Thanks for sharing that – really helpful for newbies like myself!

    #2974

    Trevor Larkum
    Keymaster

    Which version did you drive? The Expression, Zen or Intens? I’ve only seen the Intens but am most interested in the Zen so would be keen on people’s impressions if they’ve seen the Zen.

    It was the Zen, though I’m after the Intens (we should have swapped!). A Renault salesman suggested in the past that the Zen may have been aimed at women (light colours, teflon coating for carrying kids, aromatherapy) and the Intens at men (dark colours, high-tech reversing system) but I don’t know if that was just his opinion. I could say that sounds like something the French would do, but that’s probably unfair. Personally I do have to carry kids quite often, so I’d actually like an Intens with teflon treatment but that’s not an option.

    Trevor: Did you pay much attention to the energy usage or range changes depending on your driving style?

    Not as much as I would have liked, there was too much going on. My impressions were that the range went down quite slowly – about the same as the actual mileage, even though our driving was not at all economical (trying out the acceleration, etc.) – and that it was pretty consistent, not jumping up and down like others such as the Leaf are said to do.

    #2982

    Anonymous

    I certainly wouldn’t put it past Renault to try and aim the Zen at women and the Intens at men 🙂 However, I already have a dark grey car with a dark grey interior and dark grey styling (My Aygo) and having had it 8 years I’m looking for something a little different. The ‘clean’ feel of a lighter car is intriguing and something I’d associate with electric rather than ICE and, as I have asthma, the air purifier / ioniser might be worth it.

    I also know my wife was much more interested in the reversing camera than I was 😉 She was keenest on the one in the Leaf as well.

    I actually found the Intens much less dark than my Aygo so it really isn’t like the photos suggest. What was the Zen like – and did the salesman say much about the ioniser?

    I’ll have to try and find somewhere that has the Zen version so I can go look.

    I’m still hoping to get a day with the Zoe so I can do my commute etc. (assuming I can sort out insurance for borrowing it) so I’ll have lots of time to check out how the range changes with different driving styles and roads.

    #3001

    Trevor Larkum
    Keymaster

    The Zen seemed fine to me – certainly nice, bright and airy inside. My concern would be that the light upholstery could show marks easily, despite the teflon treatment.

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