Hiring an electric car on holiday: how it can be brilliant

Hiring an electric car makes so much sense. And not only if you are wavering at the thought of switching from petrol or diesel – or even kicking your hybrid into touch. It gives you the chance to step outside your comfort zone and drive some different cars, even if you’ve already bought into the EV idea. 

So, how do you go about it? Search ‘EV car hire’ online and the results are impressive. Until you try to book one, that is. Sixt comes up top in the listings, but then only offers cars in Germany, France and Spain. 

Voltage EV hire comes in at £378 for a BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf. That’s for a week in November. EV Hire has Tesla Model X in full-blooded Ludicrous Plus spec for £2,174. Too much for me. Better is the Jaguar iPace from Avis at £1,344. 

EV Car Club offers a Renault Zoe for £50, plus £45 per day, which makes a week cost £365. But most impressive of all is the EV Experience Centre in Milton Keynes. There, you can rent a BMW i3 for a week for £120, which includes 400 miles at no additional cost.

Hola, Mallorca

Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf

That’s the UK, but I rented in Mallorca. Usually the major rental companies – Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt – charge premium prices for a premium service. But Avis had slipped in a bargain: a Renault Zoe for paltry £10 a day.

It seemed too good to be true. I needed a car for a couple of weeks and instantly got excited about the idea of an electric car for a change. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, as it turned out, although there were hurdles along the way that might have put off someone less determined. 

“Are you familiar with electric cars?”, asked the man at the Avis desk. “Sure,” I replied, which was a mistake. In principle I know about them, but as far as dealing with a Zoe, I had no experience at all. As for trying to charge an electric car in Spain… the same. 

I had to ask how to open the charge port (being a rental car there was no handbook) and how to charge it up. I was assured that every town had free recharging points, which sounded good to me, even if they were only slow 7.2 amp ones. 

Paperwork (in Spanish) was thrust at me and, in retrospect, it would have been good if I’d tried Google Translate to understand the free electricity deal. Ah well, moving on…

A date with Zoe

Renault Zoe

The car proved to be the basic Renault Zoe, a model that you cannot even buy in the UK. Still, in Spain it costs €28,839, which is roughly £26,000 here. Not cheap, then – and nor was it very well equipped. Compared with the similarly priced Honda e, the Zoe lacks parking sensors, a reversing camera, one-click windows, sat-nav, Android Auto connectivity and much more. 

The car also has extremely thick rear pillars that make reversing difficult. I often pondered how sensors and a camera would help here. 

But (and it’s a big ‘but’) even with its modest 40kWh battery, the Zoe drives really well. There isn’t the performance of the Honda, but that doesn’t really matter. Acceleration is very smooth and quiet, making the Zoe a delight in urban areas. 

On motorways, it cruises as fast as you want to go (the limit is 75mph in Spain). The Honda e also does that, but the difference is you worry far less in the Zoe about the battery going flat. 

Quite why is a mystery. The Zoe with this 40kWh battery has an official range of 195 miles. My Honda e manages just 125 miles, from a battery that’s just 15 percent smaller. The Renault really does get close to these numbers, too. 

Then there’s boot space – the Zoe must be twice as roomy as the Honda. So the French car offers a great deal more practicality, even though it falls way short on the premium feel. A bit like comparing an Oppo mobile phone with an iPhone SE. 

The charging dilemma

Renault Zoe

Yes, they told me it was free to charge. But the three public points I hooked up to in the north of Mallorca all gave the same result. The dashboard on the Renault said charge was coming in, but on returning from shopping, a coffee and a beer respectively, nothing had happened.

Luckily, the hotel close to where I was staying had a couple of charge points. Even luckier, when I connected to these and waved my credit card in the right direction, a really fast charge kicked in. The icing on the cake was that no money has, at present, been taken from my account. Result.

600 miles of bliss

Renault Zoe

Overall, the holiday rental was a brilliant experience. The Zoe was great fun to drive, it covered all the miles I ever needed in a day, and I recharged easily half a dozen times over 600 miles. 

The fact that I got a bargain from Avis was also great, although I thoroughly object to paying £3.50 a minute to call customer services. 

I also found out that the Renault Zoe in bargain-basement Life trim is simply too basic. That said, I doubt that even a plusher version would have felt genuinely desirable. The Zoe is really just another car, albeit an electric one. 

Still, this proved a valuable way to have a proper drive in a new electric car. And for very little money indeed.


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