Currently reading: First drive: 2023 Renault Espace
Absent from the UK since 2012, the Espace lives on elsewhere. Here's what we're missing from the all-new one

It’s 40 years since the Renault Espace introduced us to the concept of the MPV. The class of car it helped create is now virtually extinct due to the rise of the SUV yet still the Espace lives on, having followed the market shift itself by morphing into more of a crossover.

We Brits never got the fifth-generation Espace that’s been on sale elsewhere in Europe since 2014 so it’s no surprise that we’re not getting this new sixth-generation version either. The Espace was last seen on our shores in 2012, the year Renault removed it from UK showrooms as part of a brutal cull of unprofitable models, alongside the Modus, Laguna and Wind ranges.

So what are we missing out on? The new Espace is a follow-up to the Renault Austral and is effectively an extended version of the family crossover. Think of the Espace as a Nissan X-Trail equivalent to the Nissan Qashqai-sized Austral.

It is based on the same CMF-CD architecture as the Austral and, at 4.72m long, is 21cm longer than the Austral, that growth being roughly split between a longer wheelbase and greater rear overhang. The Espace is also a significant 215kg lighter than its predecessor, a welcome bucking of the industry norm.

Renault espace review 2023 05 panning rear

The new Espace is 14cm shorter than before but interior space has improved thanks to the better packaging allowed by the new architecture. It is available with five or seven seats and there’s excellent flexibility in the seating, all of which can fold flat into the floor. The boot space can be as much as 1818 litres with the rear seats folded. While it might now be an SUV, it’s still an MPV at heart. 

It’s clever inside and is smart looking on the outside too. While the Austral looks a bit anonymous, the fundamental styling of that car translates well to a larger model and the Espace has presence but without the drama of recently revealed seven-seat rivals such as the Kia EV9 and Hyundai Santa Fe. It looks better on the road than in pictures.

The interior design is pleasing on the eye and, as you’d expect, also familiar from the Austral. The materials are nice and the perceived quality is excellent, while also retaining a sense of durability that is a must in a car like the Espace. Infotainment is also from the Austral: there’s a 12.0in portrait screen with crisp graphics on the centre console and an equally vibrant 12.3in driver display screen. Both work well. 

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The Espace is a comfortable car to drive, riding nicely on the smooth Danish roads of our test route. This is perhaps a surprise given one of the Austral’s weakest points is its ride quality, yet alas we won’t get to see if the Espace fares any better on our more broken surfaces. Rear passengers reported good comfort levels and a sense of airiness too. 

Renault espace review 2023 09 interior

The four-wheel steering from the Austral makes it onto the Espace and is far more useful on the larger car, making low-speed town manoeuvres a doddle and handling more predictable than in the smaller car. 

Just one powertrain is offered in the Espace. Also from the Austral (are you detecting a theme yet?), it is a 197bhp hybrid of the ‘self-charging’ variety that mixes a turbocharged 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with twin electric motors and a small battery. 

While this hybrid system works well in the Austral, mixing performance with refinement, in the Espace it feels underpowered and you have to work it hard to extract the performance from it - and it lets you know about it too, with a grumble from under the bonnet. It remains efficient, though, showing around 50mpg on our mixed-roads test route. 

So should we be longing for the Espace in the UK? The seven-seat SUV market isn’t the largest and is already well served by established players like the Skoda Kodiaq and X-Trail, with exciting new additions such as the EV9 to come. It’s hard to think of what the Espace offers that these don’t.

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It’s the classic case of solid yet unspectacular, exactly the kind of cycle Renault wants to break out of with the new era of electric cars being created under its inspired CEO, Luca de Meo. We’ll leave this one for now but excitedly await what the Espace may yet become in the future. 

Verdict 3.5 stars

Renault Espace E-Tech 200 Iconic 7 seats

Price €48,800 (£42,300) Engine 3 cyls in line, 1199cc, turbocharged, petrol, plus 80bhp electric motor Power 197hp Torque na Transmission 7-spd automatic, front-wheel drive Kerb weight 1698kg 0-62mph 8.8sec Top speed 109mph Economy 61.4mpg CO2, tax band 104-111 g/km, na Rivals Skoda Kodiaq, Kia EV9 

Renault espace review 2023 20 static front

Gallery: The most interesting cars never sold in the UK

Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

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misc 8 October 2023
It's a fair bit longer than my Citroen Grand Spacetourer but has less usable space inside. I'll never understand the SUV craze.
Andrew1 6 October 2023
The reason why it won't sell in the UK is because UK drivers have preconceptions about big French cars. Usually old farts who hard them from their own old farts.

When you read the article and then the comments you realise the commentators have read a different story - the one in their heads.

Their latest releases are a success on the market, the first half of the year bringing an 11% increase in sales compared to last year.

Andrew1 6 October 2023
Besides, the usual hypocrisy "it's not an Space anymore". Really, would you have bought it if it were? The reason they don't make MPVs anymore is because virtually nobody wants them anymore. For better or worse.
scotty5 6 October 2023

It's no surprise we're not getting the 6th Generation either.

Yes we are, it was in yesterdays motoring news under the headline 2024 Skoda Kodiaq.