Car Test   R0233
 
April 2002
First Drive Renault Avantime
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 3.0 V6 Privilège
IT USED TO BE CITROËN THAT WAS FAMOUS for daring, non-conformist designs, but it seems that Renault is now taking on that mantle. The new Espace is yet to come, but first will you welcome Avantime – the long wheelbase coupé that thinks it’s an MPV.
  
   The quirky new monospace has just two doors (admittedly they’re huge and cleverly double-hinged to take up less opening space), and only the driver’s seat both tilts and slides to let rear passengers step into the light, bright and impressively finished cabin. This isn’t too difficult, except that the floor is quite high.
  
   Despite their big, sumptuous appearance, the back seats are too low-set to provide comfortable thigh support. There is, however, slightly more leg-stretching space than on earlier versions, thanks to improved toe-room under the front seats. Everyone has a panoramic view – there are no centre pillars – and pressing the “open air” button lowers all the side windows and opens the big sunroof for an al fresco feel.
  
   The driver has the best seat in the house. It’s heated and part-electrically adjustable, but it really needs cushion tilt adjustment, as well. Although the rear pillars are huge, vision is aided by good door mirrors that can be electrically folded – a useful feature because the Avantime is a big girl to take down narrow lanes. The large digital speedometer is unmissable, too.
  
   The lusty V6 we drove in both manual and automatic form is a flexible, electric motor-smooth power unit with lively performance despite the Avantime’s bulk (it’s longer and wider than an Espace). The six-speed 'box has a light, easy gearchange, but this “GT Coupé” is really best suited to the optional five-speed automatic transmission. This gives excellent shifts but is often reluctant to change up when you release the accelerator – very irritating.
  
   With Espace-based underpinnings, it’s not really surprising that the Avantime handles rather like its MPV sibling. The ride feels a bit jostly on broken surfaces, but otherwise, road faults are well-cushioned and the light, accurate steering, though lacking in feedback, gives a nimble feel that encourages brisk driving.
  
   Beyond the tailgate, luggage space varies from large to extra large (according to how the rear shelf is positioned) or, of course, outsize with the 60/40 divided back seats folded forwards.
  
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
LIKES ...
  • composite, rust-free body panels
  • excellent Carminat satnav (optional)
  • ability to switch mph/kph on speedo
  • plenty of storage bins and drawers
  • comfortable front passenger's toeboard
  • flat rear floor and no sills
and GRIPES
  • short on innovative technology
  • gearchanging elbow contacts armrest
  • interior mirror's distant view cut off
  • only driver can work heater/air con
  • temporary (steel) spare wheel
VERDICT
Unlike its “let’s be sensible” Vel Satis sibling, the head-turning Avantime is a triumph of style over practicality. In terms of accommodation it’s a waste of space and isn’t especially comfortable in the back. Neither is the car the technical tour de force it could have been. However, if you want to travel in effortless Grand Touring comfort and arrive in high style, the Avantime won’t disappoint. It’s ideal for St Tropez, but what about St Albans? Quite what the pragmatic Brits will make of it, only time will tell.


THE AVANTIME RANGE
size and type upper-medium, 3-door MPV-style coupé (premium priced)   trim levels Dynamique (2.0), Privilège (3.0 V6)
engines petrol: V6/3.0 litre/210bhp, 4/2.0t/165; diesel: possibly 2.2 dCi later   drive front-wheel drive, 6-speed manual (five-speed stepped automatic with torque converter optional on V6)
notable features (Privilège) ABS + brake assist, traction control, curtain airbags, rain sensor, auto-dip mirror, parking sensors, cruise/speed limiter controls, panoramic sunroof with electric shade, auto climate control, heated front seats. Options: leather trim, satnav

VITAL STATISTICS (cm)
length x width(inc mirrors) 464x208
front
- legroom 87-105
- headroom (with sunroof) 94-100
rear
- typical legroom 94
- typical kneeroom 70
- headroom 93
- hiproom 132
load space (all seats in use)(litres/cu ft) (540/19.1)*
load length (seats up/folded) 82-163
load width 114
load sill height (inside/outside) 30/80
* rear shelf in "floor" position (extra space below)
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