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.
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.