Sunday Drive in a Renault Zoe

By Paul Gipe

Nancy and I were visiting family near Koblenz, Germany in early May. We’d scheduled a Sunday afternoon with relatives in Miehlen, a village on the Taunus Plateau southeast of Koblenz.

Miehlen is 30 kilometers (~20 miles) from Koblenz. We had planned to take the train, but my second cousin, Thilo Wirth, offered to drive us instead. He’d drive from Cologne, where he lives, pick us up in Koblenz, and then take us to his parents place.

We met Wirth in the square in front of the rathaus or city hall. We were elated to find that he not only would drive us to his parents but he’d rented a Renault Zoe electric car for the trip from car sharing company Cambio.

We drive electric in California and Wirth has followed our exploits. He too has experimented with electric vehicles (EVs) and had driven to Miehlen from Cologne in an EV before. (See Renault Zoe EV: Cologne to Miehlen on One Charge.) However, on that trip he used an earlier model Zoe with a 22 kWh traction battery.

In a gasoline- or diesel-powered car, the 130-kilometer (~80-mile) trip is a short hop. With an EV, especially an early EV, it’s challenging.

In the fall of 2016, Renault introduced a 41 kWh traction battery with the Zoe. This was a substantially bigger battery pack than the 24 kWh and later 30 kWh battery packs Nissan were using at the time in the United States.

Renault and Nissan are part of a corporate “alliance” and Renault’s introduction of a 41 kWh pack caused a buzz of interest on the EV message boards. There was hope that Nissan would adopt Renault’s battery and offer it in the North American market. That wasn’t to be the case.

Unlike their Japanese alliance partner, Renault rated their battery packs at usable capacity. That is, the first generation Zoe offered a 22 kWh traction battery while Nissan was marketing its Leaf with a 24 kWh battery. However, only 22 kWh of the Leaf’s battery was usable by consumers driving the vehicle. This may be one explanation for why the Zoe’s pack is rated at 41 kWh and not some even number, such as 40 or 42 kWh. What it meant for North American drivers was that Renault was using batteries substantially bigger than anything we were getting outside a Tesla.

As a consequence of the Zoe’s bigger battery and Renault’s more truthful rating of the battery, I’ve always been curious about Renault’s product. Thus, it was a welcome treat to walk to the square and see Wirth standing by the Zoe as it charged at the Rathaus station.

The Zoe is classed as a supermini, five-door hatchback that officially seats five. It’s slightly smaller than the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf. The Zoe weighs about as much as the original Leaf, however, the trunk is about half the size of the Leaf’s trunk and somewhat smaller than that of the Bolt.

According to Wikipedia, Renault’s 41 kWh battery was developed with Korean conglomerate LG Chem, though the battery is assembled in France. Nissan was using its own battery in its Leafs and the battery had proven problematic. Nissan sold their battery venture last year.

Since its introduction in 2012, Renault has delivered 60,000 of the Zoe’s worldwide.

The drive was uneventful. The car was comfortable and quiet as expected. We climbed nearly 400 meters (~1,200 feet) out of the Rhine Valley without any difficulties.

The Zoe did have its quirks. It takes some getting used to the rear door handles that are hidden in the door frame. They were a bit of a mystery at first.

Like the Nissan Leaf, the Zoe’s charge port is in the snout of the car. It uses a European Type 2 connector and the car comes with the necessary charging cable.

In contrast to the practice in North America, Level 2 stations in Europe do not have charge cables. The stations provide only a Type 2 receptacle. The driver who wants to charge must use their own cable. They plug one end into the station’s receptacle and the other into the car.

Wirth later dropped us off back in Koblenz and with more than enough charge that he could return to Cologne on the Autobahn in the fast lane without stopping to recharge. Oh the difference a bigger battery makes to an EV!