Car Test   R0309
January 2003
First Drive Renault Espace
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It seems hard to believe that it’s nearly twenty years since Renault gave us the pioneering first-generation Espace - the motoring equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.
   Since then, pretenders have come thick and fast, spawning mix 'n' match, multi-purpose versatility across an increasingly diverse range (and size) of offerings.
   To address this ever-growing rivalry, Renault now brings us the fourth-generation Espace. This not only marks a switch to the French maker building its latest MPV in house (previous models were farmed out to specialist builder Matra), but also introduces a steel monocoque body instead of previous models’ plastic-clad spaceframe build.
   With its Laguna and Vel Satis underpinnings clothed in plastic wings and rear hatch, aluminum bonnet and doors, and a steel roof, the new Espace offers a choice of six engines, mated to either a six-speed manual or a ‘Proactive’ five-speed automatic gearbox.
   Our first outing in the big Renault gave us a chance to sample three of this sextet: the common-rail 2.2 dCi diesel (previously encountered in the Laguna), together with two new engines, a 165bhp 2.0 Turbo (also recently slotted into the Laguna), plus the enticing 3.0 V6 dCi, which brings executive-style diesel power to the MPV class for the first time.
   This V6 diesel provides effortless and impressively unobtrusive urge, but, disappointingly, its Euro-average struggles to crack the 30mpg mark. The 2.0 Turbo and 2.2 diesel provide acceptably lively pace (unladen at least), but, not expectedly, are rather more vocal in comparison.
   About 14cm longer and up to 5cm taller and wider than the outgoing model, the new Espace improves on its predecessor’s spacious, stylish interior with higher quality fixtures and fittings and a more up-market ambience. It also boasts a touch more space all round - thus achieving Renault’s goal to offer a more luxurious, VIP-style experience aboard the Espace.
   Subdued, club-class comfort continues, once under way, with the well-proven chassis providing a more soundly engineered feel than hitherto. Rude jolts are still a little too readily transmitted into the cabin, though. The light, responsive steering proves a boon around town, but could also use more weight and feel for the hushed, high-speed jaunts at which the Espace excels.
   Luggage space remains tight with a full house (although the Grand Espace makes amends), but despite their neatly integrated three-point seatbelts and posh leather wrapping (on dearer versions), the individual rear seats remain ‘cosy’ and lack thigh support compared with their counterparts in an executive saloon.
  considering size, price and rivals
  • slim A-pillars aid vision at roundabouts
  • huge glass sunroof
  • full-length seat rails maximise versatility
  • air-con vents and full three-point seatbelts for all
  • seats still heavy to lug in and out
  • load space still limited on Grand version
  • 2.0T and 2.2dCi engines quite vocal
  • cramped instrument layout hard to read
The new, upwardly mobile Espace brings with it smart new looks and impressive credentials, but it marks solid rather than spectacular progress over both its predecessor and a pack of increasingly competent rivals.

body large (Grand Espace extra large) mid-to-premium priced MPV   trim levels Authentique, Expression, Privilege, Initiale
engines petrol: 4 cyl/2.0 litre/140bhp, 4/2.0 Turbo/165, V6/3.5/245
diesel: 4/1.9/120, 4/2.2/150, V6/3.0/180
  drive front-wheel drive, 6-speed manual (2.0/140, 2.0T/165, 1.9dCi, 2.2dCi); electronically controlled 5-speed automatic (2.0T/165, 3.5 V6, 2.2 dCi, 3.0 V6 dCi)
notable features new moncoque build, 6-speeds for all manual gearboxes, 20cm-longer Grand version retained, new V6 diesel option (first for MPV class), extra-large glass sunroof, automatic parking brake, keyless entry/engine start system

No Space and Practicality information
  easy to park/garage?
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