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?
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’
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
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