A luxury feel while driving but very pricey

Although it has new driverless car designs on the way, Renault based the cars used in Rouen ( see here ) on the Zoe, an electric version of the Clio. Connexion journalist Brian McCulloch tested a Zoe on everyday roads.

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Small and silent, the driving experience is that of a large automatic with no engine noise, although road and wind levels do rise with speed.

Smooth, powerful and sharp in the corners, it drives like a luxury vehicle in spite of its 1.8 tonne weight.

The luxury impression is added to by the fact the Zoe is very well built – after 7,000km the test car provided had no squeaks or rattles.

Being electric, full torque is available from the start so get up and go is especially sharp. No need for gears: just select D on the automatic style shift, foot off the brake... The official 0-50kph time is 3.9sec, with 11.4sec for 0 to 100kph, but it feels faster.

There remains, though, the problem of range before recharging is needed.

The battery has 41kWh of useful energy, and regulation tests say it can do 400km but in real life, the car does not even try to tell you it is possible, a full charge translates to between 250km and 300km, depending on temperature and other conditions.

Fine for daily commutes but any trip of more than 100km needs thought although, like F1 cars, the battery recharges on braking, coasting and on downhill sections of road.

A favourite beach of ours is 112km away, and the Zoe did it with ease. Plugging it into the power back home, though, was a surprise as full recharge took 26 hours on domestic mains.

Renault offers €500 towards fitting a powerful wallbox charger in a home garage. These can be either triphase (a 380v connection with a higher tariff often fitted for farms, workshops or other big power users) or monophase (240v domestic tariffs) with power levels at 3.7kW or 7.4kW.

Wallbox charging takes 8hr25min on the 7.4kW monophase box and 4hr30min on triphase. A full charge costs between €2 and €3 depending on your electricity tariff.

As for public charging points – to give cars 80km of charge in 30 minutes – there is much work still to do. Leclerc supermarkets are the best bet as they are slowly being rolled out but while local authorities talk big, they have yet to get many off the ground.

France aims for 100,000 charging points by 2022 and had 22,308 at the start of 2018 with Ile-de-France, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Nouvelle-Aquitaine best equipped. Occitanie has 1,474, Brittany 1,252 and Nor­man­dy 1,178. Paris alone has 3,200 parking spaces with charge points.

All new-build housing with parking must have chargers fitted and BP is to set up fast-chargers at fuel stations.

Renault’s €500 should cover the cost of a home wallbox but, for work costing more, a 30% tax deduction is possible, through the annual tax return.

It was the first modern motor manufacturer to go down the all electric route, investing €5billion with its partner Nissan in the mid 2000s, when most competitors were copying Toyota’s hybrid motor approach.

The Zoe, first launched in 2012, is the key result. But sales are slow and while 30,600 Zoes sold in Europe last year, outselling Tesla and Nissan, the 135,369 electric cars sold in Europe is just 1% of the total car market.

Renault has 61% of the electric car market in France and has sold 148,584 Zoes since it launched. Sales jumped 33% last year, possibly as people saw government incentives which cut the sticker price of the test model from an eye-watering €26,440 to €20,440 with a €6,000 bonus écologique, aligning it with small cars with full options lists.

The price on the test car though, did not include the battery. It can be bought for an extra €8,300, or rented from Renault’s supplier Diac Location, with a Zoe 41kWh for €119 a month.

The company says it makes more sense to hire the battery as technology usually makes advances every three to four years and, if the battery is rented, it can be upgraded at little cost.

However, some buyers said they did not want a monthly rent cost, so a purchase option was added last year.

There are a full range of finance plans for electric cars and the price falls further for anyone scrapping a pre-2001 diesel car, or pre-1997 petrol car as there is a €2,500 prime à la conversion. There is also a €2,000 prime to buy a new petrol or diesel car, (details tinyurl.com/y9bt828g). Depending on where you live, the carte grise will either be free or half price too.

For businesses, there is no TVS company car tax on electric vehicles and amortisement costs can be written off to the tune of €300 per year. In some departments, small businesses with fewer than 50 staff can get an extra €6,000 to buy electric.

Insurance must cover both car and battery but should be lower.