Renault replaces its classic flagship MPV with a new take on the seven-seat utility vehicle, but it's not for sale in the UK

What is it?

This is the all-new fifth generation Espace which, as a first glance shows, has moved markedly away from the class ‘monobox’ styling that began with the original model back in 1984.

According to Renault's own crystal ball gazers, the monobox MPV is a rapidly dying concept  - a move which will also see the upcoming replacement for the Scenic become much less MPV-ish. 

The official line on the new concept is that Renault's existing Espace customers still want the "Espace DNA: a light cabin, comfort and modularity" but now also want more driving pleasure and "more emotion". 

Renault calls the new Espace a crossover, and admits that the styling of the lower half of the car is influenced by SUV design.

Indeed, it gets larger wheels (a choice from 17in to 20in) and a useful ground clearance of 160mm; some 40mm more than the outgoing Grand Espace. 

The upper half of the new Espace remains determinedly and individually Renault, as you might expect given the company's track record on large car design. While the TGV-influenced nose has gone, the deep windscreen remains, as does the upright tailgate and high-mounted rear light clusters.

The new Espace is based on the Renault-Nissan Alliance's CMF platform. This natively front-wheel drive architecture will underpin D-segment cars globally from both brands, including the upcoming Laguna/Latitude replacement and the new Renault Kadjar SUV.

It’s built at the Douai plant in France, which has undergone a £300 million refit for the new architecture. Interestingly, Renault says that Daimler gave it advice on improving the production quality, including the paint finish.

Thanks to the all-new platform, the use of aluminium and plastics for the skin panels and much lighter non-removable seats, the Espace 5 is a significant 250kg lighter than its predecessor.

The platform’s base specification is decidedly mainstream, offering MacPherson struts at the front and what Renault calls "a semi rigid" rear axle. However, Renault is offering an interesting cost option called 4Control chassis. It combines active damping with active four-wheel steer, something first seen on the Laguna III in 2007.

Multi-Sense – operated through the impressive R-Link 2 touch screen – allows extensive customisation of the areas of interaction with the driver. The steering response, engine sound and response curves, the transmission shift points, instruments and interior lighting effects can all be tweaked. On models fitted with 4Control, the dampers and chassis responses can be adjusted.

Renault is offering three engines at launch. The 129bhp, 236lb ft and 116g/km Energy dCi 130 diesel that is matched to a six-speed manual gearbox will please home market rationalists, but the Energy dCi 160 EDC twin-turbo diesel will probably be the most popular. This unit is good for 159bhp, 280lb ft and 120g/km CO2 and is matched with a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic.

The one petrol engine - the 199bhp and 191lb ft Energy TCe 200 EDC - is rated at a reasonable 140g/km of CO2 and hooked up to a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission.

For all the evident thought that has gone into the new Espace, it is not being engineered in right-hand drive and won't come to the UK. For those markets receiving it, prices will start at the equivalent of around £25,000.  

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What's it like?

Perhaps the best way to experience this unusual car is to drive it in southern France under blue skies - which is exactly how Renault revealed it to the press.

The long, loping roads through stunning countryside shows the Espace 5 at its best. The high driving position, panoramic windscreen and armchair-like front seats make this car something of a definitive Grand Tourer.

The perky twin-turbo diesel engine is admirably quiet from inside the cabin and meshes extremely well with the six-speed, dual clutch 'box. In Neutral mode (there are also Sport and Eco modes for the 4Control chassis) the Espace really does a good job of smoothing out poor roads and smothering road noise.

It’s true, too, that the optional all-wheel steer is remarkably effective at making this big car much easier to nose through the tight streets of French villages. Renault says the car’s turning circle is just 11.1m, marginally wider than a Clio’s 10.8m, and it really does make a significant difference.

You do, though, have to be careful when steering around roundabouts. While the Espace's nose hardly darts into curves, the subtle assistance from the rear wheels can have you kissing the central reservation.

Easily the best part of the Espace is the design of the cockpit, which many premium car makers could learn from. The high-mounted touchscreen, high centre console and clever T-bar shifter are a lesson in how to move interior design into the future.

The clarity of the touchscreen and its position high in the driver’s eyeline is one of things that made solo navigating for five hours around the unfamiliar winding roads in southern France so easy.

Despite the Sport setting for the chassis, the Espace has absolutely no dynamic pretensions. Even with the turbo petrol engine, pressing on merely results in a discernible lightening of the steering but no discernible improvement in driving pleasure.

Switching the chassis to Sport mode simply results in a deterioration in the ride quality, and a massive increase in the amount of vibration and road noise transmitted to the cabin on poor surfaces.

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Incidentally, the lighter dashboard colours cause significant reflections in the giant windscreen – an unforgivable oversight in a car that trades on the driver’s forward view.

Of course, it's pretty good at swallowing passengers. It's a healthy 4.9m long and gets seven seats as standard. All five rear seats can be automatically folded away into the floor at the touch of a button, thanks to a combination of a clever mechanical spring and gravity.

Even with the third row of seats in place, boot space is a not hopeless 300 litres. Drop both the rear rows and the Espace does a good impression of a van, although the floor is relatively high - a problem that also affects the middle row of seats, which have impressive legroom (the wheelbase is 16mm longer than the outgoing Grand Espace). Again, the floor is a little too high for ultimate comfort.

In truth, the Espace is all about sitting back in the big chairs and bowling along, admiring the scenery. It's a long way from both the aggressive dynamics favoured by German premium cars and the authentic all-terrain character of serious SUVs.

The result is a very unusual mix of luxury character and utility, while being neither the premium van previous Espace models were, nor a proper crossover. I suppose you might call it a return of the classic Grand Tourer, which puts the Espace in the smallest of market niches. 

Should I buy one?

If you live in the UK, you can’t, and that's probably a wise decision by Renault because the higher end of the UK market is in thrall to the premium brands and their traditional SUV and saloon offerings.

Although the Espace makes sense when, say, crossing Paris by night or heading to the South of France, it is very much a French answer to French lifestyles. Indeed, France is one of the few continental countries where larger families are the norm.

You can quite see the philosophical thread that draws together the Espace MPVs and the Avantime and Vel Satis - Renault’s previous attempts to break the luxury car mould - but the cramped, impatient roads of most of the UK are probably not well suited to the Espace’s relaxed and easy-rolling character. 

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Renault Espace dCi 160 Twin-Turbo EDC

Price na; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1598cc, twin-turbo diesel; Power 178bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 317lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox: 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1659kg; Top speed 125mph; 0-62mph 9.9sec; Economy 61mpg; CO2 rating/tax band 120g/km/22%


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oraziob 22 February 2017

Reflections on the windshield

As you said, the light dashboard reflects on the windshield making driving conditions quite risky. Renault technicians who have checked my car said that reflection is absolutely normal in some weather conditions. However, you can see the problem in any weather conditions, even with rain or under the street lights, at night or in a tunnel. If you want, you can watch the video I recorded to prove how terrible this flaw is (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73htn65G-wI). IF YOU HAVE THIS PROBLEM TOO, YOU CAN JOIN MY FACEBOOK GROUP (https://www.facebook.com/groups/289887228096380/) AND SEND PHOTOS OR VIDEOS.
Sulphur Man 31 May 2015

That touchscreen....

Looks like its stuck onto the dash, over the air vents.

Apart from that, quite a handsome car, for a people carrier

jer 27 April 2015

That engine

Sounds a decent what else is in credit : space, ride, interior design abnd build, low price, great in car goodies, low C02 for a 5m car, acceptable performance, good dsg auto, nice exterior style for an MPV.