Range confidence, that's an idea. As coined by Renault Ireland's product manager Jeremy Warnock, it's clearly intended to be the flip side to range anxiety, that notion of not having enough juice to complete your journey.
Supposedly, it’s this above all else that has held back the tide of electric vehicles (EV) sales so far. The fact the people, even those who do not regularly drive long-haul, get spooked by the idea that they can’t undertake lengthy journeys – is this really the magic bullet that will break loose electric car sales to the masses?
Maybe, maybe. Certainly across Europe there seems some currency to that idea. Sales of electric cars have increased dramatically in the first quarter of 2017, compared to the same period last year.
According to Bloomberg, sales of electric cars have risen by 38 per cent in the first three months of the year, albeit that’s a big increase from a tiny base. 32,627 electric cars were sold across Europe in Q1, compared to total new vehicle sales of 1.89 million.
Still, you’ve got to start somewhere, and the rise is being ascribed to both the low rumble of the diesel emissions scandal, and the introduction of electric cars with bigger batteries and longer ranges, notably the updated BMW i3 and this, the Renault Zoe 4.0. No, it’s not the fourth iteration of the Zoe (it’s the second, if you’re keeping score, and then only noticeably so thanks to infinitesimal styling alterations).
No, the 4.0 is a geeky, computer-style way of indicating that this is the Zoe with a bigger (not physically bigger, but more energy-dense and developed for Renault by specialist LG Chem), 42kWh battery which can go for, according to the NEDC official figures, 400km on a single charge. Realistically, it won’t of course, but Renault claims that it will do a very creditably 300km between charge-ups, and pretty reliably so.
Enough to convince hitherto sceptical Irish car buyers to switch from diesel to Duracell? Perhaps. Warnock told The Irish Times that "I think things are starting to move. I'm seeing it more at the moment in two areas. The market has picked up a bit compared to last year and 2015, so more people are buying.
“But also more people are expressing an interest, through social media and so on, so I think we’re reaching a point now where people are starting to consider electric cars as a real possibility for them. We’ve moved beyond the early adopter stage, you’ve now got people who are much more normal, if you like, in their transport thinking.”
Surprisingly, and counter-intuitively, it’s not just an urban thing. While the bulk of electric cars are sold in Dublin and Cork, there is a greater number of electric cars, per head of sales, in Wicklow, Kildare, Meath, and Clare, at least according to Renault’s figures. If the culchies can be turned on to electric, maybe there is a future in it right enough . . .
Price might still be an issue, though. While there is a Zoe which you can buy for €23,490 that uses the older, smaller battery and has an NEDC range of 240km, which means a realistic range of around 160-180km. To get the 4.0 battery, you need to spend €27,490 on a Dynamique Nav model (which comes with keyless entry and ignition, 16-inch alloys, rear parking sensors, and sat-nav – Renault has abandoned the old battery lease part of the price, as Irish customers weren’t keen).
That looks competitive with what you'll spend on a Nissan Leaf 33kWh or a Hyundai Ioniq, but the Zoe is a very much smaller car, and feels it. Rear-seat and boot space are actually pretty decent, but as soon as you sit in, there's an obvious lack of shoulder room, and at first you'll feel hemmed in by the close-aboard door panel.
Still, the cabin looks quite nice – there’s slim, but bright and clear digital display and the familiar centre console, lifted from the Clio and the Captur, with its (these days quite small) central screen.
The seats are high set, but very comfortable, and while the quality of the cabin plastics is pretty flimsy, Renault’s engineers have clearly been hard at work as there was not a single squeak nor rattle from within the car, even on lumpy Wicklow back roads, and that’s not something we’re able to say of a €169,000 Tesla . . .
Performance around town is brisk, thanks to 220Nm of torque from the new R90 electric motor (itself more efficient than the old model, which Renault puts partly down to its experience in the Formula E electric racing championship), but you do have to lean hard on the pedal, whether in or out of range-saving Eco mode, to find meaningful shove on dual carriageways or motorways.
It’s a very pleasant car to drive, though, with nicely weighted (if ultimately quite twirly) steering and well-sorted suspension, certainly better sorted now than it was on early Zoes. You can actually kind of enjoy a mountain road in this car.
Drive for range
And you shouldn’t run low on juice either. We started with a battery indicating 287km of total range, drove on a mixture of urban, motorway, country and, yes, mountain roads, always flowing with the traffic and never consciously trying to drive for range, and returned at the end of a 120km journey with 160km of indicated range left, which seems pretty decent.
Certainly, it's the first time we've blithely wandered up past Glendalough and Laragh, miles from any charging point, confident that we'd get back without incident. Because of this, Renault suspects (hopes) that people will become less reliant on the often scattered public charging system, and instead will do more and more charging at home.
OK, so the Zoe 4.0 is rather too pricey for its size, or rather too small for its price (take your pick), and no you won’t be able to squeeze 400km out of one charge unless you fill the boot with helium (would that work?) but it is, as promised, a car which removes range anxiety and replaces it with range confidence. An electric car in which you can be insouciant, not anxious.
Lowdown: Renault Zoe 4.0 Dynamique Nav
Price: as tested, €27,490. (Zoe range starts at €23,490)
Top speed: 135km/h.
One-charge range: 400km (claimed) 300km (real-world).
CO2 emissions: 0g/km.
Motor tax: €120 per annum.
Verdict: Zoe 4.0 is not (physically) a lot of car for the money, but it has a truly impressive electric drivetrain.
Our rating: 3/5