The big thing that puts people off buying an electric car is the range, which (with only a notable exception or two) is still only a small proportion of most conventional powered cars. For the novice, this 'range anxiety' is akin to driving around with the fuel warning light on in a regular car; you know that you can't drive forever, but you're not entirely sure when the needle will suddenly plummet and the engine expire. Although there are some who love to live in this zone, most of us find this frisson of uncertainty rather off-putting.
The reality is that such worries are largely irrelevant. A week in the city with Renault's new Zoe simply halved the car's 100-mile range, proving two things: one, we often drive far less than we think - a fact borne out by plenty of research into real world car use, even amongst daily commuters - and two, the Zoe is an excellent alternative to a conventional car.
Renault, like its sister company Nissan, is currently leading the world in mass-market electric car design, setting up a sub-brand of zero-emissions cars, Renault Z.E., that starts with the dinky Twizy and rises up to the large Fluence saloon. The Zoe sits in the middle, with a clean, neutral design, cleverly proportioned to disguise the fact that this is not an ultra compact car, but a mid-sized hatchback. Eschewing the fussy surface treatment of so many modern small cars, Renault has gone for clean lines and smooth forms, culminating in a charge point concealed behind the Renault diamond logo.
Like all modern electric cars, the Zoe has plenty of zip, thanks to all the power being instantly available on tap. An 'Eco' mode takes this raucous edge off in order to maximise range, but in everyday driving the Zoe has no problem keeping up with traffic. At parking speeds the snappy accelerator doesn't allow for particularly smooth moving, and the hefty battery pack makes for thumping progress over speed bumps.
Inside, the car comes with all the creature comforts you would expect, from climate control to a well-thought out dashboard interface and entertainment system. You can even hook it up to an app to remotely check the battery and range. Charging is done via a citywide network of roadside sockets, increasingly common in London. A maximum charge time from empty of 9 hours can be substantially reduced if you plan ahead and charge when the opportunity arises.
The numbers still seem to outweigh the practicalities. Even though the Zoe performs beyond all expectations, it's still hamstrung by the raw - and unfavourable - economics of building and selling batteries. In actual fact, you're not buying batteries from Renault, but leasing them, adding a tariff of monthly rental fees on top of the purchase price.
Couple these costs with the (perceived) stress of range anxiety and many people might dismiss this car out of hand. They'd be doing themselves - and the city - a disservice, for the Zoe makes for a very welcome alternative.