Small hatchbacks with electric fied powertrains are cheap to run and produce little pollution – ideal if you mostly drive in town. But should you go for a Toyota Yaris Hybrid or a fully electric Renault Zoe?
*** Note : £1 = $1.33 (correct at time of post)
Renault Zoe R90 ZE40 Dynamique Nav
List price £22,670
Target Price £13,231
Our favourite electric car has an impressive driving range and very low running costs.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid 1.5 VVT-i Excel Nav
List price £19,545
Target Price £18,289
Updated Yaris Hybrid offers good fuel economy and road tax exemption yet no range anxiety.
The year is 2040. Robots rule the planet. The latest Dyson hypercar has just set a new lap record around the Nürburgring. The only new cars you can buy are electrified. And the UK is still negotiating its exit from the European Union.
Yes, okay, some of that will (probably) turn out to be nonsense. But in 23 years’ time, it’s true that, if the Government sticks to its word, the new car market in the UK will be made up exclusively of electric and hybrid cars.
But why wait until you’re old and grey before making the switch? Depending on your lifestyle, a small electric or hybrid car could make a lot of financial sense right now – particularly if you’re a company car driver or regularly venture into London’s Congestion Charge zone.
To find out which is the better type of eco-car, we’re pitting our favourite electric car, the Renault Zoe, against the recently revised Toyota Yaris Hybrid. The latter emits less CO2 than any other car that doesn’t require any plugging in and claims a mighty 85.6mpg, so it should offer many of the cost advantages of a pure electric car without the obvious drawbacks.
Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement
The hit of torque you get the instant you prod the Zoe’s accelerator pedal makes it the much nippier car around town. In fact, it streaks away from traffic lights with surprising urgency. Above 50mph, though, the Yaris builds speed more swiftly; for instance, it’s a second quicker from 50 to 70mph.
When you’re driving gently at low speeds, the Yaris does a decent job of utilising its electric motor as much as possible, smoothly switching to petrol power as you pass 30mph. However, accelerate more briskly and the petrol engine screams away as the automatic gearbox clings on to high revs until you lift your right foot. This makes the Yaris seriously grating to drive on faster roads.
Conversely, the Zoe cocoons you in a bubble of serenity with the light whir of an electric motor the only soundtrack; it’s quieter than the Yaris at all speeds. It’s more comfortable, too, dealing with imperfections in the road more adroitly than the firmer-riding Yaris, although the Zoe’s body does bounce around more over dips and crests on faster roads.
You don’t get much feedback through either steering wheel, but the Zoe’s steering is more precise and naturally weighted, allowing you to place the car confidently through corners. However, the Yaris hangs on more gamely through faster bends and its body stays more upright. Still, neither car is much fun to drive compared with, say, the Ford Fiesta.
Both cars are easy to manoeuvre at low speeds – a good thing considering they’re mainly designed for town driving – and the Yaris has an impressively tight turning circle of 9.4m, compared with the Zoe’s 10.6m. It takes a while to get used to the Zoe’s regenerative brakes, but they are still smoother than the Yaris’s, which are very grabby.
Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality
Neither interior is particularly futuristic in design. In fact, to be frank, both are a bit drab. The Yaris is particularly guilty of this, with hard, cheap-feeling plastics on its dashboard, flimsy buttons and a gear selector that looks like a relic from the 1990s. At least in the Zoe there’s some gloss black plastic around the infotainment screen that goes some way to lifting the perceived quality of the interior.
These cars have very different driving positions. In the Zoe, you sit surprisingly high up, giving it an almost MPV-like feel and good visibility in every direction. However, the seat isn’t height-adjustable, even as an option.
The Yaris’s seat moves up and down as standard, so not only is its driving position better suited to especially short or tall drivers, but you also have the option to sit lower in the car if you prefer. That said, the Yaris is let down by its minimal range of steering wheel adjustment.
The Zoe has a 7.0in touchscreen with sat-nav. The menus are easy enough to get your head around, but the screen isn’t that quick to respond – especially when you’re programming a destination. It’s also a shame that you can’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring. However, there is a Renault smartphone app that allows you to remotely monitor how much charge is in your car’s battery and precondition the interior temperature.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Toyota’s Touch 2 system isn’t particularly slick. The menus on the Yaris’s 7.0in touchscreen are unnecessarily complicated and the graphics aren’t as sharp as the Zoe’s. However, on this Nav version you do get (yep, you guessed it) sat-nav, and the physical shortcut buttons that flank the screen make it easier to hop between functions. Disappointingly, the Yaris also doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot
The fact that both cars need to lug around a battery inevitably has some impact on interior space. This is most noticeable in the back of the Zoe, because its hefty pack sits under the rear seats. A pair of six-footers will still fit easily, but there’s quite a bit more room in the Yaris, due to its lower-set seats.
The Zoe has a much bigger boot, though – so much so that we got twice as many carry-on suitcases beneath its parcel shelf – and there was still space left for the car’s charging cable. The Zoe’s boot remains bigger when you fold down the rear seats, although the rear seats fold down in one big, inconvenient lump, whereas the Yaris’s split 60/40.
- Official boot capacity 338-1225 litres
- Suitcase capacity 6
Front space is good, but a high floor makes rear space a bit limited for taller adults. Boot is a great size; it’s bigger than those of many conventional small cars. Rear seats fold in one big piece and leave a large step in floor, though.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid
- Official boot capacity 286-768 litres
- Suitcase capacity 3
Having a height-adjustable driver’s seat is a plus for the Yaris, and space in the back seats is more generous, but the boot is tiny. Granted, the Yaris has 60/40 split-folding rear seats, but the Zoe’s boot is a far more usable size.
Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security
If you’re buying privately, the Zoe is eligible for the maximum £4500 plug-in grant from the Government. Factor in the further discounts you can get by haggling and it actually ends up more than £5000 cheaper to buy than the Yaris. Even when you consider the compulsory battery lease on this model (£89 per month, based on 9000 miles a year) and predicted heavy depreciation, the Zoe is still the cheaper car over three years.
Our real-world range test showed the Zoe is capable of 138 miles from a full charge on a mild autumn day (13deg) in a mix of high and low-speed driving. It will go even farther in the summer, but range will drop considerably on frosty February mornings.
However many miles you plan on doing, you’ll definitely want a proper charger at home; Renault includes a 7.4kW wall-mounted charger with every Zoe that can fill the car’s 41kWh battery from empty to 80% in five hours.
Meanwhile, in our real-world True MPG test, the Yaris managed an impressive 80mpg around town, but on faster roads it drinks fuel faster than many regular petrol and diesel small cars. That explains why it averaged a good rather than outstanding 49.2mpg.
Expect to spend three times more money on petrol for the Yaris than you would on electricity for the Zoe, and the difference will be even greater if you sign up to an Economy 7 electricity tariff to get cheaper power at night.
If you’re buying on PCP finance and do 8000 miles a year, there’s barely anything in it once you’ve factored in the Zoe’s battery lease. However, if you’re a company car driver, the Zoe is much cheaper, and it will be considerably more so from 2020, when the Government is due to slash benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax for electric cars.
There’s not much in it for standard equipment, with both cars offering a decent amount.
Both also hold the maximum five-star rating from Euro NCAP, but a major bonus for the Yaris is that it has automatic emergency braking (AEB) as standard; this isn’t even an option on the Zoe.
Until the charging infrastructure improves and advances in battery technology afford longer driving ranges, electric car ownership will always demand compromises. However, unless you’re forever tearing up and down the motorway – unlikely if you’re considering a small car anyway – there’s a good chance that this latest Zoe will fit neatly into your life.
Yes, the Yaris Hybrid will deal far more easily with trips to see family at the other end of the country, but in most other respects it’s outclassed. The Zoe’s smoother, quieter powertrain, bigger boot, better infotainment system and lower ownership costs – no matter how you’re buying – make it the much better all-rounder.
1st – Renault Zoe
For Much quieter; cheaper to buy and run; better infotainment system
Against You’ll need another car for family holidays; cheap-feeling interior; no AEB
Specifications: Renault Zoe R90 ZE40 Dynamique Nav
- Engine Electric motor
- Battery capacity 41kWh
- Charging time 2hr 40min (from 43kW or 22kW charger)
- List price £22,670
- Target Price £13,231
- Power 87bhp
- Torque 162lb ft
- Gearbox Single-speed automatic
- 0-60mph 12.9sec
- Top speed 84mph
- Claimed real-world range 174 miles
- Real-world test range 138 miles
- CO2 emissions 0g/km
2nd – Toyota Yaris Hybrid
For No range anxiety; Congestion Charge exempt (if on 15in alloys); standard AEB
Against Noisy engine; much smaller boot; so-so fuel economy on faster roads
Specifications: Toyota Yaris Hybrid 1.5 VVT-i Excel Nav
- Engine size 4cyl, 1497cc, petrol + electric motor
- List price £19,545
- Target Price £18,289
- Power 98bhp (combined)
- Torque 82lb ft (petrol), 125lb ft (electric)
- Gearbox CVT automatic
- 0-60mph 12.7sec
- Top speed 103mph
- Claimed fuel economy 85.6mpg
- True MPG 49.2mpg
- CO2 emissions 75g/km