I received a phone call yesterday from the Renault NL customer relations rep. He was prompted by the sales rep from the dealer who had called me the day before to know if there was any message from Renault NL. The customer relations guy Just reconfirmed that they have achieved nothing. And that he could not make any predictions, it’s in the hands of an unnamed third party. Two weeks and counting.
I you want to drive the first thing is start the car. Since I have the ‘Intens’ model with the hands free key card, I just
sit down slide in horizontally and press the start button. The displays comes on with a nice animation and I’m set to go. But what if I forget to unplug? Will this happen? –>
Luckily my Zoe is much more intelligent than the ICE age dinosaurs, and she refuses to move a millimeter while the plug is still in her snout. She won’t even start. What if you do it the other way around? First start her and then plug in? They thought of that too and my Zoe will switch off as soon as I plug her in. There is a disadvantage though: once I noticed I forgot to close the windows after plugging in. I went back inside to close them, but couldn’t. I can only operate the electric windows when my Zoe is on. But while plugged in, I can not start her. So I had to get out, unplug her, start her up, close the windows and plug her back in. And would you expect I could at least change the charging schedule? Nope, only when she is on and thus not plugged in. Not very convenient and I wished the Renault engineers had tweaked this safety feature a little bit so you can do certain things while she is plugged in.
One of the main qualities of the Prius (that is perhaps hard to appreciate if you’ve never driven one), is the Rolls-Royce like smoothness of the drive train. Absolutely no shocks or vibrations, just smooth, uninterrupted acceleration. Also very easy to drive in day-to-day traffic, as you have very precise control over your speed, which is more often than not determined by the vehicle in front of you. The electric drive of my Zoe offers those same qualities and goes beyond by adding an effortless silence and instantaneous response. The Prius drive train has some lag as sometimes the engine has to be revved up. No such delays with my Zoe, she goes where I think her to go, as if we are a mind meld and my brain is connected directly to her motor.
What about performance? The graph to the right is a screen print from a GPS speedometer with the important speeds and timings marked. I arrived at the guidelines’ position by pixel counting, so do not take this too seriously.. At the low end you can see 0-10 km/h was slightly slower. There was water on the road where I started and I had some slippage. I will try a perfect run later and update the image. Below is the video of another run. Notice the background going from green to blue to purple. That is how my Zoe feels about my driving style. She does not approve.
The brakes feel totally ordinary, which is an achievement not to be sniffed at. To maximise range an EV has regenerative braking, using the motor as a generator to convert all that kinetic energy in electric energy instead of heat. The Prius has that too, and Toyota did a tremendous job on making it barely noticeable as the friction brakes take over from the electric brake. I say ‘barely’, since I sometimes did notice some slight shocks. The Renault engineers have improved on that and I can not feel anything, only smooth, predictable, natural deceleration. What is nice is that my Zoe displays the power level for both acceleration and deceleration. The maximum power she allows for regenerative braking is 43 kW, which happens to be exactly equal to the power level for fast charging.
The cruise control is engaged by a button on the central console and operated by the four buttons on the steering wheel. It operates in very direct manner, you can really feel the acceleration and deceleration as you change the setting, my Zoe even applies the generator brake for a short second when I turn it down a notch. It is less comfortable than the Prius, which would react with a much more gradual speed change. Many times I had to look at the speedometer to notice any reaction. Although less comfortable, it does allow me something new: ‘thumb driving’. I can adapt my speed much quicker and react to the traffic ahead much better, thus allowing me to drive the car with only my left thumb operating the cruise control. The cruise control can also operate in speed limiter mode but I never use that.
So the response is good, the acceleration is more than sufficient for everyday use, braking feels 100% normal. What about range? For now, on my daily commute (100 km roundtrip, 70% highway) my Zoe brings me back home with 30%-40% battery remaining. I put the cruise control at 98 km/h, but have no fear of accelerating temporarily to 110-120 when passing a truck. So in summer, if you keep your highway speed in check, but without obstructing other traffic, you’ll have no problem of hitting the top end of that 100-150 km guidance. I will report more on range as I gather more data. This is just a first impression.
To extend the range, there is an obligatory ‘Eco’ button on the central console, but I never use it. Eco mode will reduce the maximum power of the motor to 45 kW and the top speed to 90 km/h (real speed, 94 on the speedo) and operate the climate control in a more economic fashion. Unless I press the go pedal all the way down, then my Zoe feels that I need maximum acceleration she will obey without complaint. I think it will do very little for me, since I already have the ‘eco’ built into my genes after 8 years of Prius driving.
On cornering abilities I can’t say much. Although I do take corners at high speed (braking for corners wastes energy!), I am in no way a racing driver and don’t notice much difference between one car or the other. If I turn the steering wheel clockwise, my Zoe goes to the right, when I turn it counterclockwise, she goes to the left. Just as I expected.
In terms of comfort, she seems to be a bit harsh, bouncing over the speed bumps, but that might be my subjective impression. Where I live the roads are mostly of near perfect quality, so in all honesty, I don’t care very much. The seating position is high, so I have good overview. The view through the rear view and side mirrors is good, although the left side mirror is a bit narrower than usual and has a slightly larger blind spot than I like. It has a curvature at the left side to reduce the blind spot, but there still is a tiny blind spot left.
What I really dislike is the gear shifter: a classic ‘old granny style’ linear P-R-N-D lever. How much more convenient (and futuristic!) is the control stalk in the Prius or LEAF with which you can switch any gear directly from the central position to which the stalk always returns. Much more direct and easy to operate. It is one of those things where you ask yourself: “What were those Renault engineers thinking?”. Perhaps they did it in a misguided attempt to offer people something familiar. But the average Zoe buyer wants nothing more than leave the old 20th century tech behind as far as possible!
One of the things I hate when waiting for a traffic light at night is the driver in front of me keeping a foot on the brake. Modern cars have very, very bright braking lights, especially Volvo has driven this to an absurd height out of their concern for ‘safety’. Modern braking lights blind the driver behind you. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” is always a good motto, so when waiting for a traffic light I was accustomed to switching to P (in a Prius the P is engaged by a simple button press) and taking my foot off the brake. For my Zoe this would mean pushing the granny lever all the way forward through all the gears until reaching P, having to also operate the unlock button at some point on the journey there and on the way back to D. Just a tad too much hassle. An acceptable alternative is to shift to N. When the traffic lights change, I can pull it in D and drive off without having to touch the brakes. Of course, this only works on horizontal roads, which we luckily have in spades on our former seabeds that we call ‘polders’ :D.
My Zoe has an automatic hill start assist. She will hold the brakes for a maximum of 2 seconds after I have taken my foot off the brake pedal and until I press the go pedal. A no-brainer for today’s cars that already contain all the hardware to apply the brakes automatically. Just a few lines of computer code.
The dashboard is nicely done. I like the design and the plastics look good. However, I noticed yesterday that the plastic of the dashboard is quite shiny. The sun was low and I took off my polarised sunglasses to better read the touch screen. I was surprised by the amount of reflection. So if you think about buying a Zoe, prepare yourself and buy a pair of polarised sunglasses. You’ll need them.
There are two TFT screens: one central for the R-link system and one for the instrument panel. Just like in a Tesla Model S! Below the instrument panel is a row of warning lights as you would find in a conventional car. Having a TFT instead of mechanical dials or a fluorescent display is really awesome and you wonder why car manufacturers waited so long. TFT technology has been very common for more than a decade now. Is the ICE age public so conservative? It looks really great and is very easy to read. It allows my Zoe to communicate with me clearly and without clutter. The display provides three main instruments, from left to right: the battery indicator, the power indicator and the speedometer. Also an area at the top of the screen to display the status of the cruise control and at the far right a general information area.
The battery indicator has 8 segments, but is is more like an analog instrument, it shows partial segments as the battery depletes. It is a pity that they opted for 8 segments instead of 10. We live in a decimal world and 8 segments make it harder to estimate remaining battery capacity. My Zoe only communicates her charge level in % when she hooked up to a charger or after switching her on . There is a myriad of information available to me, but not that crucial factoid. Very weird. I have to rely on the more crude and hard to interpret battery level indicator.
Above the battery level is the estimated km remaining, which has limited value. Not for nothing that LEAF owners mockingly call the remaining range indicator the ‘guess-o-meter’ or GoM for short. I have found the GoM to be much more conservative than that in the LEAF, which many around the Internet have reported to be wildly optimistic, a fact that I could verify on the one test drive I made in the LEAF. The GoM in my Zoe tends to underestimate the available range (at least, with my driving style). Well done, Renault! There is one quirk though. When resetting the trip computer, the GoM deletes the recent driving history and defaults to 130 km for a full battery. From that point on, she has to start learning all over again.
Next to the instrument panel is a button to change the appearance of the instrument panel somewhat. There are two different power indicators and a switchable background gradient. By changing the color of the background gradient my Zoe lets me know if she approves of my driving style: green is good, blue is so-so, purple is bad. As an experienced economy driver with 8 years of Prius training, I don’t need that, of course ;). One of the two power indicators is totally useless, the other does provide sufficient information for me to know about how much power my Zoe is consuming or generating. It helps me with one my favourite pastimes behind the wheel: gliding.
In any car, when you lift your foot off the accelerator it uses the engine as a brake. In a hybrid or EV, the engine brake actually is a generator brake, it uses the electric motor as a generator to put kinetic energy back into the battery. But there is a small penalty: conversion losses. So it is best to prevent this as much as possible and glide instead. My Zoe tells me she is regenerating when her power indicator is below the zero divider, in the blue zone. This is what I see when I lift my foot off the go pedal. The trick is to compensate by slightly pressing it until no blue and no green bar lights up. Then I am in a glide. For a novice it takes some practice, but after 8 years in a Prius it has become second nature to me.
The generator brake is a bit stronger than in my Prius, and I think even a bit stronger than in an ICE car, perhaps comparable to having it in 3rd gear. But it is not strong enough to enable the ‘single pedal driving’ that Tesla owners rave about. In a Tesla the regenerative braking is so strong that the brake lights are engaged when you take your foot off the accelerator.
Last words in this article go to the information area at the far right of the instrument panel. It is used to display things like average consumption/speed/odometer/trip distance/service interval. With two buttons at the end of the right control stalk you can cycle through these displays or turn it off. When my Zoe wants to bring something important to my attention, like having forgotten to close her charging flap, she will notify me with a message in that same area.
Just in, some good news.
When Fastned made public their intent to deploy a few hundred EV fast charging stations alongside petrol stations along the Dutch motorways, the petrol station owners were quick to file a lawsuit. They have been granted a contractual monopoly until 2024 to sell ‘fuels’ on those locations. They thought electricity (for powering cars) would be covered by the definition of ‘fuel’. The judge thought differently, at one point asking: “If cars could run on water, would you claim a monopoly on operating a tap?”
It is at this moment unknown whether the petrol station owners will appeal.
I went to the dealership this afternoon to have the autolocking beep turned off. Took the opportunity to ask the salesman in person about the status of my ZE connect account.
The Renault customer service rep is not a friendly person and sounds as if I am bothering him. He never gave me any piece of useful information, just defensive language to keep me in the dark as much as possible. Never any feedback, not by phone, nor by e-mail. When I told the salesman at the dealership how displeased I was with Renault’s handling of this incident, he basically ignored my comment, almost reacted like it was nothing extraordinary. Very telling.
Then he phoned Renault about the status of my issue. Renault Netherlands had sent the issue over to Renault France to resolve. They expect an answer within a few days. Yeah, right.
So after more than a week I still can not control my vehicle from my phone and monitor charging progress, start climate control, see trip data, charging sessions, etc. ZE connect is one of the main selling points of the Zoe and Renault seems unable to give me a friggin’ login account to use this service! The level of incompetence is breathtaking.
This morning I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to do some EV science. The weather prediction said there would be very little wind, and Sunday mornings the traffic is light, almost non-existent. So I headed out at 6:30 to a straight, dead flat, five lane section of the A4.
When I got there, the wind turned out to be a bit stronger than I had hoped, but the direction was almost parallel to the road. Cross-winds increase your energy consumption in both directions and would spoil a good measurement. Of course I made two runs in opposite directions at each speed to cancel out the effect of wind as best as possible.
The stretch of motorway that I had selected is about 5 km long. I used the trip computer to record energy consumption. The energy consumption settled to a stable value after 2 km, so a 5 km stretch looks to be enough to make accurate measurements. I don’t know how accurate my Zoe is measuring her consumption, so my results may not be comparable to those from other Zoe’s.
My Zoe has now rolled 300 km, maybe she still needs some breaking in. I don’t know if EV’s need that. Tire pressure front and rear was 2.6 bar. The speedometer has a +4 deviation from real speed. I have corrected for that, the table shows the real speed. The calculated range is based on the official figure provided by Renault: 22 kWh usable capacity. I completely switched of the air conditioning and fan. When I got home at 8:00, the energy consumption screen still showed 0.5 kWh used for ancillary systems. 500 Wh in 1.5 hours suggests a ~350 W drain that I can not account for at the moment.
The meteorological conditions were: temp 17°C, relative humidity 80%, wind speed 3 m/s, pressure 1020 hP.
I had planned to do tests at 10 km/h intervals from 70 up to top speed, but I had to skip the last ones because the battery was not fully charged.
These are the results:
|Real speed (km/h)||Run 1 (kWh/100 km)||Run 2 (kWh/100 km)||Average (kWh/100 km)||Calculated range (km)|
The line graph looks a bit surprising. I would have expected more of a parabole, as air resistance (the dominant force at those speeds) increases with the square of the speed, but from 80 km/h upwards it looks like a straight line.
I agree, the title is heavy handed, my dear Zoe. But I thought we had an agreement when I took upon me the responsibility to look after you and take care of you. Have I failed you in any way?
Last night, I set the timer for you to start charging at 05:00. When I switched you off, there was a confirmation message that charging would not start until 05:00. I connected you to the charger correctly, as the green light on the charger confirmed. I pulled both plugs to confirm they were in place and locked. I checked your screens and you did not tell me that there was anything wrong. So I expected the battery to be full this morning.
But you did nothing. You just stood there looking pretty and pretty useless. There was not a single Wh extra in your battery. What is the matter with you? Is such a simple command to complicated for your silicon brain? Or are there little critters in you brain, that the computer people call ‘bugs’?
All wild speculation, let me investigate further before jumping to conclusions. I will report my findings here.
After reading the manual on ‘charging’ again, I have found out what the issue is. My Zoe wants to be in ‘P’ for charging. She doesn’t want to endanger anyone, and because she has no way of telling the handbrake is on, she relies on the transmission in ‘P’ to make sure she stays in place while connected. Would she roll away while charging, she could rip a plug from either socket and expose live wires to the public. Not good.
But my Zoe is not entirely in the clear on this. Her communication skills are a bit lacking and the consequence of not putting her in ‘P’ could be more explicit. When I switch her off with the transmission not in ‘P’, she shows a warning message on the dashboard, accompanied by a bleep, suggesting me to put the transmission in ‘P’. But it looks more like a friendly reminder than something important. My Zoe was on level ground with the handbrake firmly on, so I ignored it and forgot about it. So many new bleeps to get used to. After plugging in, the dashboard showed the message ‘Ongoing checks..’, which is a normal message that my Zoe displays each time she starts charging, sometimes these checks take more time than I have patience for. So I ignored that message and expected that after all checks were done and handshake protocols with the charger complete, she would surely start charging.
I have found out that she gave another clue. I had to find that out myself, because the Renault people did not write everything in the manual about the ‘secret charging indicator morse codes’. I can not blame my Zoe for this. If she is all set up correctly and ready to charge then, after charger handshake is complete, she double-blinks her external charging indicator and the wall charger will show a blue light, as if she is charging. This lasts for about 2.5 minutes, then all indicators revert to normal ‘connected but not charging’ mode (external charging indicator is off, wall charger shows a green light).
I will tell the Internet people all about your charging protocols later, but for now, my dear Zoe, all is well again between us.
It is now time to get honest with you, my dear Zoe. Honeymoon is over and the routine of daily life starts. I will tell the Internet people all that I discover about you and what I think of it. I have driven Prius for more than 8 years (the 2nd and 3rd generation), so that will serve as the benchmark for my opinions. The main reason for going Zoe was not because I was not content with my Prius. On the contrary, I think it is an exceptional car, both the current model and the previous one. But since I have my own power plants on my house, I want to use that energy for my transport too. And I think oil is doing too much damage to this planet and, consequently, to us. I have been eager to jump into electric cars for 10 years, but only now they have reached a level of maturity and price that it is a viable option for an early adopter who depends on it because it is his only car. I have no fossil backup for my Zoe.
My Zoe is a very basic car for € 24000 (including options). You have the usual things on a car in this price range, but some painful omissions too. In general I think she is pretty, both outside and in. The interior materials are all plastic, with the exception of the one thing that my skin permanently touches while I am driving: the steering wheel. Since I am not into naked driving, I don’t mind the fabric on the seats being a bit cheap. The interior plastics have a nice look and the fit and finish is good. There are no obvious gaps or misalignments. The car feels sturdy and the doors and hatch slam shut with a nice, solid feel.
There are three places where you can see some explicit Zoe branding: the headrest of the driver’s seat, the passenger side of the dashboard and the ceiling.
My Zoe is model ‘Intens’ and she has a hands free key card. It has the size of a credit card and is thinner, but considerably larger than the key fob of my Prius. You can see the difference in the picture. Since I carry my keys in my trouser pocket, I prefer the Prius format.
I can get into my Zoe, start her and lock her doors without ever having to touch the key. Opening the front doors and hatch will unlock her automatically. For the front doors, I have to press a small rubber button on the door handle. Why I have to press a button, I don’t know. The Prius simply unlocked when pulling the door handle, which seems logical to me. The button on the door handle is very small, a bit too small I would say. But it works and I’m already used to it.
When I walk away from my Zoe, she knows that I am leaving her and she locks her doors when I am about 2 m away. She even says goodbye to me, but I don’t like beeping cars (not even my Zoe!) and according to the manual the dealer can disable the goodbye beep. Why this is a dealer setting and can not be done from the R-link system is a bit puzzling. The door mechanism is pretty loud and provides ample acoustic feedback since the autolocking works at such a close range. I really like this feature, the Prius required me to lock the doors manually.
Apart from the usual open and close buttons, the key card also has a button to remote start the climate control and one to pop the charge hatch/stop charging/release the plugs. More on the latter in another chapter. Remote starting of the air conditioning works by long-pressing (two seconds) the designated button and works from within the house and outdoors from a distance of about 40 m. This depends of course on various factors like obstacles, reflections, interference with other radio signals, etc. My Zoe long-blinks her turn signals to tell me she heard me and will obey my command. But if I can not see her, there is no way for me to know that. It is time for 2-way remote controls I guess. This functionality is of rather limited use to me. Walking 40 m takes about 30 seconds, so that is the gain: start cooling the interior half a minute earlier. Pre-heating and cooling can also be scheduled. More on that in a later post.
The rear doors have a conceiled handle. You press it so it pops out and then grab it and pull the door open. You can do that with both hands, either pushing with your index finger and pulling with your thumb, or push it with your thumb and pull with your fingers. I already developed a preference for the former method.
The seats are very high, so when sitting down, there is not a lot of ‘down’ action going on. It feels more like sliding in horizontally. The reason is the battery beneath the seats. It takes up so much space that Renault had to raise the seats and consequently, the roof. My Zoe is 7 cm higher than the Prius.
The driver’s seat is very basic. It has no height adjustment or adjustable lumbar support. The lack of height adjustment (which I think is a must in any car) is probably due to the fact that the battery leaves no room for the seat to go down much. The headrests are fixed and can not be removed. The seats are stiff and offer good support. I hope they are comfortable on long rides, but this is not a travel car anyway so I don’t worry about that.
The seats are covered in a basic dark grey and black cloth. On other models there are different colours available. The cloth feels like it had some dirt repellent treatment, but I will not go out to buy an ice cream and spill some just to test it. No worries my Zoe, the Internet people will have to find out for themselves.
The B-pillar is placed quite far forward. If you are tall and have the seat positioned a bit further back, you have to get around that B-pillar when getting in and out. But I don’t feel it is in the way. The steering wheel is leather clad and has a nice feel, it is two-way adjustable. More about that in a later post.
Zoe does not come with a center armrest as standard. It is a € 250 dealer option (which I took). It has a soft padded top and can swivel upwards. Inside is extra storage. It does however come with a built-in design flaw: it hampers the backrest adjustment of the front seats, there is not enough room to put your hand in between the support pillar and the knob. This is only the case if the front seats are in a midway position. If you slide the seat all the way forward or back, the knob clears the support pillar and adjustment is easy.
The non-removable headrests will pose a problem for me when I want to transport long loads. In my Prius I used to slide the passenger seat all the way forward, remove the headrest and move the backrest all the way down. Then I could fold the backseat down and it would just touch the tip of the backrest of the passenger seat. I could transport loads of up to three meters that way (diagonally). But because the headrests in my Zoe are fixed, they obstruct the rear seat from folding down. And the adjustment of the backrest is by means of turning a knob. It takes a loooooong time to completely recline the backrest. I will have to find another way of transporting long loads. A big letdown was the fact that the rear seat folds in one piece, not 40/60 as all other cars of today. My guess is that it saved valuable weight (and cost) *). My Zoe is already heavy at 1403 kg. But I have learned that it is unwise to talk of weight when females are involved, so I will quickly continue with the next subject.
My Zoe does not care much for her rear seat passengers, she offers them very little space. The floor is high so your knees are almost touching your chin (I am a bit exaggerating here, but you get the idea). The floor in the rear is 42 cm above street level. Again, the reason is of course the battery under the floor. The sloping roof line (for aerodynamics) takes away all the head room. I am 1.84 m tall, but I can not really sit in the back. The legs are ok if the front seat dwellers are not too tall. But I can not sit upright because my head is touching the roof. Child seats will be problem too I think, but I have no test subjects to confirm that. According to the specs, there are no side airbags for the rear seat passengers. I did not drive my Zoe into a wall to confirm that.
Then moving further to the back there is the boot. It is surprisingly large. In fact, I almost find it too large. My Zoe is by no means a travel car, so I don’t see the need for a lot of luggage space. I would have liked the Renault engineers to have given the rear seat occupants more room at the expense of boot space. There are 4 rings, one in each corner, so you can secure your luggage in place and prevent it from sliding. The bottom of the boot is covered with a flimsy piece of carpet with some sound insulation attached to the underside. It doesn’t fit well and looks very cheap. It is warped everywhere, especially at the edges, and there are gaps along the sides. My Zoe knows this and feels ashamed, but it is not her fault that her creators do not have that attention to detail and strive for perfection that the makers of my previous cars have.
The rear seat folds in one piece, which is unacceptable in the age of Ikea, for a car of any price. And we’re talking here about a car that costs almost € 25k. It severely limits the flexibility to transport large objects and more than one passenger at the same time. The rear seat does not fold completely flat (see image on the left) and there is a large hump. I will sorely miss the flat cargo floor in my Prius.
There are a few open storage compartments in the center console and dashboard and a glove compartment that is much larger than it looks in the picture. It is about 25 cm wide, 20 cm deep and 15 cm high. The center armrest adds some extra concealed storage to keep the interior tidy.
My Zoe is not friendly to those who want to consume beverages while driving. There are only two cup holders, and the one in the front looks so shallow that I would not trust putting a cup there. Additionally the (optional) center armrest is limiting access when it is in the down position, But I never drink and drive, so I don’t care much for that. There is no sunglasses holder in the roof, I will miss that.
For the backseat passengers, the backrest of the passenger seat has a sleeve with an opening on the side, but, surprisingly, the driver’s seat does not have one. The passenger seat also has a sleeve at the front for storing some documents or small objects. Finally there are the usual door pockets, front and rear.
The Renault people did not think about giving my Zoe a place to store the emergency wares: first aid kit, spare lamps, blanket, flashlight, warning triangle, towing cable, etc. In my Prius I had room to spare, in my Zoe I will probably end up putting all that stuff in a bag in the boot.
There is one interior light in the front, with three lamps (left, center, right) and three switches to individually switch them on or off. As said before, my Zoe does not care for her backseat passengers, so it will not come as a surprise that there are no reading lights in the back. But there is a light in the boot.
*) 28-7-2013: my hunch proved to be correct: “Resulta que hay una razón de ser para esta banqueta trasera única como pude averiguar más tarde de boca de un ejecutivo de Renault. En la lucha por contener el peso del coche llegó un momento en el desarrollo del ZOE en que no se miraban los kilogramos de peso, se miraban los gramos.” Google translate is your friend 😉 Read the rest of article if you can and there is more on the Zoe by that same author.