Quick, quiet and smooth - and easy to use once you suss the funny brakes
Appealing cabin that's easy to use
Plenty of airbags, plus Isofix for the front passenger seat
Likely to be better than a petrol or diesel car
Roomy cabin for all but the tallest drivers, and big boot for a supermini
Even entry-level cars have everything you might need
Like all electric cars, the Zoe doesn't have any gears, which means it's quick from the off, and the other effect of having no engine is that it's incredibly quiet. At low speeds the Zoe is also very smooth, though on faster roads it tends to judder over poor surfaces - it's also at higher speeds that you tend to notice some wind and road noise, mainly because there's no engine noise to speak of. The Zoe's brakes take a bit of getting used to, as they're very sensitive. However, the Zoe's light steering responds predictably to your moves, and the car has plenty of grip on corners; its soft suspension means the Zoe does tend to lean a bit on bends, but it always feels stable and secure. The only real issue with driving the Zoe is that you have to factor in its range, which Renault says is a maximum of 130 miles on a full charge, though we reckon 90 miles is more realistic.
The cabin feels solid and generally looks sleek, although there are some cheap-feeling plastics here and there. The large, smart, colour touch-screen housed in the upright centre console is easy to use. The front seats are quite high up but there's enough adjustment to allow most drivers to get comfortable. There's not masses of room in the Zoe - it's only a supermini, after all - so while the rear is fine for kids, adults will want for kneeroom if there's a tall person up front. The boot is a good size, however, and you can fold the rear bench back forward to expand the space, though it's a shame the rear seats don't split 60:40 to improve practicality. Even entry-level Expression cars get alloys, climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth, a USB socket and a touch-screen infotainment system with sat nav. More expensive trims bring goodies such as rear parking sensors, automatic wipers and lights, keyless entry and go, and a Teflon-treated interior to help protect it against stains and spills. All models have Isofix not just on the two outer rear seats but, unusually, on the front passenger seat, too.
It's too soon to say how reliable the Zoe is, but the technology is sound: electric motors promise great reliablity as they have far fewer moving parts than a combustion engine, and the sort of battery used in the Zoe has proven to be durable in vehicles for at least a decade. What's more, the Zoe comes with a four-year, 100,000-mile warranty as standard. A maximum five-star rating in crash tests by Euro NCAP (including 89% for adults and 80% for children) is reassuring, as are curtain airbags covering all the side windows. Since a noiseless car is more likely to go undetected by pedestrians, the Zoe also comes with a subtle noise (from a choice of three) to warn them that the car is coming.
As well as buying the Zoe in the first place, you also have to lease the battery, which costs from £70 per month. Even so, the Zoe is much cheaper than any other purely electric car on sale. Renault claims it has a maximum range of 130 miles and can be fully charged within just one hour using a 43kW fast charger, although charging from a standard socket will take up to nine hours - remember that you'll need an electric point you can park next to, which will be difficult for most town dwellers.