R EN AULT ZOE E- SP OR T

With gov­ern­ments around the world look­ing to ban petrol cars, could Re­nault’s 454bhp elec­tric Zoe be a sign of hot hatches to come?

Evo - - CONTENTS - by STEVE SUTCLIFFE

Wor­ried about petrol bans and an all-elec­tric fu­ture? Then let Re­nault’s 454bhp all-wheel-drive hot hatch con­cept of­fer you hope

ONT HE ONE HAND, YOU can’t help but grav­i­tate to­wards even just the idea of a 454bhp hot hatch. Es­pe­cially one that rides on 20in wheels and tyres that do their ut­most to burst out from un­der a quar­tet of quite mag­nif­i­cently blis­tered whee­larches.

But on the other hand, when you re­alise that said hot hatch is ac­tu­ally just a con­cept car that will never, claim its cre­ators, see the light of day in terms of pro­duc­tion, you can’t help won­der­ing why on earth they went to so much bother. Why put so much ef­fort and skill and de­sign savvy into a pro­ject that will never turn a wheel on the pub­lic road? Why, damn it, don’t they just make the Zoe e-sport then bask in the glory that it would un­ques­tion­ably at­tract?

An­swer: be­cause Re­nault has a rich his­tory of giv­ing us mad but deeply sexy con­cept cars – Es­pace F1, Twizy F1, Tre­zor, etc – most of which never stand a chance of mak­ing pro­duc­tion. The de­li­ciously pumped-up e-sport is merely the most re­cent of these, but it does still serve a pur­pose be­yond mak­ing petrol­heads go weak at the knees just be­cause of the way it looks (and the way it goes, more on which in a bit).

Tech­ni­cally, if not vis­ually, the e-sport pro­vides a glimpse into the fu­ture re­gard­ing what might be pos­si­ble in a hot hatch in, say, six years. Its twin elec­tric mo­tors – one for each axle – and 450kg lithium-ion bat­tery are tech­nolo­gies de­vel­oped di­rectly from Re­nault’s highly suc­cess­ful For­mula E cam­paign. So it’s not as if Re­nault had to start from scratch with the car’s un­der­pin­nings, even if they did have to be pack­aged in a very dif­fer­ent way com­pared with a sin­gle-seater For­mula E car.

The way the bat­ter­ies and mo­tors are cooled is al­most iden­ti­cal to the rac­ing car, for in­stance, and the bat­tery pack it­self is lo­cated in the floor at the back, again in much the same way as it is in the FE car. Even the chas­sis is a be­spoke alu­minium frame that’s pure rac­ing car and bears zero sim­i­lar­ity to what you’d find in a reg­u­lar, front-wheel-drive Zoe, in­clud­ing, of course, a driven rear axle, plus a lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial front and rear.

All up, the e-sport weighs a chunky-sound­ing 1460kg, but that does in­clude the driver, says Re­nault, so call it a lit­tle less than 1400kg sans oc­cu­pants but other­wise ready to roll. Given that the com­bined out­put from the twin elec­tric mo­tors is a claimed 454bhp, with 472lb ft of torque avail­able pretty much from the mo­ment you so much as sneeze on the ac­cel­er­a­tor, the e-sport’s claimed per­for­mance fig­ures are pre­dictably com­i­cal. As in 0-62mph in 3.2sec and 0-130mph (the car’s top speed) in ten sec­onds flat. A Fo­cus RS, even one that’s been tick­led by Moun­tune, wouldn’t see which way the e-sport had gone un­til the EV ran out of puff at 130mph.

And as for the chas­sis, again it’s pure com­pe­ti­tion car in both de­sign and setup. It was de­vel­oped for Re­nault by Tork En­gi­neer­ing, which has adapted what is es­sen­tially an ice-rac­ing chas­sis to make it suit­able to drive, er, not just on ice. The dampers are four-way ad­justable Öh­lins units at each cor­ner, and the Miche­lin tyres on those mas­sive wheels have a su­per-soft com­pound but still some ev­i­dence of tread to their de­sign (so not a full­blown slick, in other words).

The brakes, says Re­nault, are ‘suit­ably large’ ven­ti­lated cast-iron discs, although for some rea­son it won’t say pre­cisely how large. In much the same way it also doesn’t want us to take pic­tures of the car with­out its car­bon­fi­bre rear body­work in place, which means we can’t show you what it looks like un­der­neath at the back. Then again, a touch of Gal­lic mys­tique seems al­most ap­pro­pri­ate in this in­stance, and if any­thing it just adds to the sense of oc­ca­sion when, fi­nally, there’s enough juice in the Zoe for me to climb aboard and go for a quick blast.

And when I say quick, I mean it in both senses, be­cause not only is the e-sport’s straight-line go hi­lar­i­ous, but the juice doesn’t last long if you gun it ei­ther. Give this car the beans for much more than about 20 min­utes and there will be zero charge left in the bat­ter­ies, which then take eight hours to charge again. Hence the rea­son I am asked to trun­dle along as slowly as pos­si­ble be­hind the cam­era car to be­gin with, just to try and keep as much charge left for some fruitier laps a bit later on.

Clam­ber­ing into the e-sport is some­thing of an art. The high-sided race seat is not the eas­i­est to squeeze into, but once you’re en­sconced the whole thing fits

just so. There are three big blue but­tons on the con­sole that look highly in­tim­i­dat­ing, plus a dash­board that’s fes­tooned with yet more but­tons and lights. How­ever, the only ones that re­ally mat­ter, say the engi­neers, are those that in­di­cate how much charge there is left for each mo­tor, and whether you’ve se­lected for­wards, re­verse or neu­tral. Oh yes, and the big blue but­ton in the mid­dle of the dash that shows whether you’ve se­lected the high­volt­age mode or not; you can tell if you have be­cause there’s an almighty series of whooshes and whirrs when the higher volt­age is de­ployed, at which point the e-sport prop­erly comes to life.

The steer­ing is elec­tric power as­sisted but still sur­pris­ingly heavy as I move away, out onto the test track that Re­nault has in­vited us to for the day. The ride is in­stantly rac­ing car in that it is very, very stiff; too stiff, I’d say, even for cir­cuit use. But it’s the noise that em­anates not just from the elec­tric mo­tors and their cool­ing fans but also from the rear diff and the tyres that dom­i­nates to be­gin with. For a pure EV, the e-sport makes a right old racket on the move, even at 30mph, and when the cam­era car peels away af­ter a cou­ple of slow laps and I put my foot down prop­erly for the first time, the noise lev­els go ut­terly berserk in­side.

Berserk to a point where not only does the e-sport feel quite a lot like a jumbo jet just be­fore it takes off – it also sounds like one in­side as well. The com­bined ef­fects are weirdly, com­pul­sively dra­matic, and very quickly I start to get unusu­ally car­ried away in the car and have a huge over­steer slide across a kerb on only my first lap.

You soon learn, how­ever, that a 450kg bat­tery pack mounted at the rear equals mon­ster lift-off over­steer, pretty much ev­ery­where seem­ingly, and of the kind that isn’t es­pe­cially easy to catch in a car with such a short wheel­base, even if there is four-wheel drive. But what I also dis­cover about the e-sport af­ter I calm down a bit is that there is trac­tion – and ab­so­lutely mas­sive ac­cel­er­a­tion – the like of which no hot hatch has ever had be­fore. The hit of torque that ar­rives when you press the throt­tle is enor­mous and in­stant.

There is sim­ply no de­lay what­so­ever be­tween press­ing the throt­tle and the car lung­ing for­wards, yet at the same time the trac­tion is to­tal, which makes for some com­bi­na­tion, even if the front end does want to push out wide if you give it too much throt­tle, too soon on the way out of a cor­ner. I had hoped that the e-sport might powerover­steer, what with its me­chan­i­cal rear diff and 50 per cent of its en­ergy be­ing de­ployed via the back axle. But in re­al­ity it feels res­o­lutely like a front-wheel-drive car that hap­pens to have bags of trac­tion.

In truth, the e-sport’s chas­sis setup could do with some fine tun­ing, not just to make it a bit softer but also to dial out the power-on un­der­steer that makes it so dif­fi­cult to put the nose where you want it. But hey, this is a mere con­cept car, re­mem­ber; one whose pri­mary role is to wow the pun­ters on mo­tor show stands. So the fact that its han­dling is a bit spikey and its ride is pretty much nonex­is­tent means not a great deal in the over­all scheme.

Be­cause, ul­ti­mately, the Zoe e-sport is all about de­mon­strat­ing what’s pos­si­ble from an elec­tric hot hatch, and it does so in some style. Quite apart from its ra­bid per­for­mance and what lies be­neath its car­bon­fi­bre body­work, the Zoe e-sport just looks so com­pletely right in the flesh. As a styling ex­er­cise alone it’s worth its weight in lithium ions, and the fact that it drives as well as it does shows that an EV hot hatch can’t be all that far away. Re­nault should make a car like this, and make it fast, be­fore some­one else gets there first.

‘A 450kg bat­tery pack mounted at the rear equals mon­ster lift‑off over­steer ev­ery­where’

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by STEVE HALL

Be­low: roll-cage, Re­caro bucket seats and lash­ings of Al­can­tara hint at this Zoe’s ra­bid per­for­mance. Be­low right: 20in wheels use a cen­tral-lock­ing nut; race-style dig­i­tal screen dis­plays all the vi­tal info

R E N AU LT ZO E E - S P O RT CO N C E PT

Above: body­work is all car­bon­fi­bre; rear dif­fuser is in­spired by that of the Re­nault e.dams For­mula E car, as is the colour scheme of Satin Blue with yel­low high­lights

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