Dissecting my Zoe – first look

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.

General impression

Headrest Zoe brandingMy 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.


Zoe relief in the ceiling

Zoe branding dashboard

Remote control

Remote control compared to that of the Prius

Remote control compared to that of the Prius

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.
Rear door handleOpen rear door step 1Open rear door step 2


Drivers seatThe 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.

Backrest adjustment

The center console hampers backrest adjustment when the front seats are in a half-way position

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.

Center armrest

The optional armrest as seen from the rear

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.

Boot carpet

Poor fit and finish on the carpet in the boot

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.

Back seat folded

Folded rear seat is not horizontal

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.

Boot with folded backseat

The folded rear seat forms a large hump


Glove compartmentThere 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.Main center console storage

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.

Center armrest storageThe 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.Additional center console storage


Vanity mirrorThe sun visors have vanity mirrors, but no lights.

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.


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