I’M just going to be honest here in saying that for a while now, I’ve eyed electric car owners with some suspicion. I feel like they’re part of an elite club and I don’t belong.
Let me deviate for a moment. I was behind the pack when it came to separating my rubbish. Disgraceful to admit this, I know, I know. My excuse is I could see a waste collector firing all my recyclables in with the household waste in a truck some years ago and I questioned why I was wasting my time. Fast forward a decade and I am not only separating rubbish but I am composting and looking for ideas on reducing my waste all the time. I’ve signed up to Facebook groups and watch documentaries on plastics destroying the oceans and such topics. I’ve spearheaded local clean-ups on ring roads. I’ve come a long way… I think most of us have. We feel a real responsibility to the environment.
Still though, I sometimes think there’s a certain smugness about “EV” (electric vehicle) owners. Maybe it’s because they just love to remind us that they have no petrol or diesel costs. Or maybe it’s because I unfairly judge because in the early days of electric, the only people who could afford these cars were overpaid academics. Then, there’s the fact that they won’t hear a bad word being said about electric once they make the switch. They are complete converts. They also defend the public charging network when they must be aware it’s far from perfect. They remind me of reformed smokers.
So, now you’ve got the picture: I had an in-built bias towards the electric car and brought my baggage with me to Carlow’s Autoimage. They enlisted me to give my honest opinion of the car. In fairness to them, there were no terms or conditions. Simon Rea introduced me to Zoe on the forecourt. The new Renault model came with extra specs including tinted back windows and alloys. She looked stylish. A small-ish car but quite sporty looking.
As I sat in, I wondered how I’d even turn on the car. I’d never driven an automatic before. Simon assured me I’d quickly figure it out and talked me through starting Zoe. Zoe is turned on by pushing a button. There is no key as people who have already driven Renault will be familiar with, instead, it comes with a card and once it’s on your person or in your handbag, the car can be unlocked by pushing a button on the door. It automatically locks as you walk away and makes a sound. Just make sure you don’t leave the card inside the car and walk away thinking it’s locked… it could happen.
My initial fears of driving an electric quickly disappeared when I realised the Zoe has a range of 300km roughly. This can vary (as I found out during the recent cold spell) depending on weather temperatures and other factors like using air con and heat that pull out of the same electricity source. Still though, the Zoe has a decent range for an electric. The majority of people who opt for an EV, install a charger at home and can plug it in for 12 hours every night once they’re indoors, and it’s ready to go again the next day.
There’s no doubt that this car won’t suit everybody. There was a time in my life when driving 500km plus in a day wasn’t particularly unusual. These days, I have a small commute from Carlow to Kilkenny daily (35km approx. each way). For somebody driving this kind of distance daily, this car would make sense—particularly if you plan to hang onto to it for five years or more and get full value from your investment.
Some things I loved about driving Zoe… the take-off power was fantastic. You’d really notice this at roundabouts or traffic lights when you just needed to gently tap the accelerator for a quick response. In fact, Zoe is so responsive, it takes a little getting used to, especially in reverse as there is no labouring. It’s a very comfortable drive and makes little or no noise. That can be a little eerie at times. When driving at town speeds, the speakers make some kind of humming sound which I assume is a safety feature.
My five-year-old was a big fan of the electric car—she informed me at the end of the week that she will buy Zoe when she gets older. While she was a fan, I don’t think this particular model of electric would be the ideal car for a mother of young children—or a golfer. For the simple reason, the boot is small. There’s not much space in the back either. One handbag, a laptop bag, a school bag and add a few shopping bags on the way home on a typical day, and the car would be full.
Saying that, I could certainly see it suiting a single person—man or woman. A young professional would save a lot if commuting from Carlow to Wexford/Kilkenny/Laois or neighbouring counties. The commute is also very comfortable in an automatic. I could also see the benefits for a retired person who wanted a long-term car and would see the cost savings over time.
During the week I was driving Zoe, coincidentally the public charging infrastructure improved dramatically in Carlow town with the installation of a new fast charging point on the Dublin Road. I can see that in the future, these points will become much more accessible.
My overall conclusion, Zoe is not the car for me but she’s maybe changed my mind about electric. I’m not smug. At all.