And as soon as Ford, SEAT and Volkswagen announce they are all going to make some substantial changes to the styling, cockpit comfort and engine performance of the Galaxy, Alhambra and Sharan respectively, Renault has reacted with a number of revisions to the Espace. And it needs to. The Espace may well secure top spot in Europe with 8,500 units sold in the first five months of this year, but in the UK it is still eclipsed by the Ford Galaxy, which outsells all other rivals by at least three-to-one.
Although the list of revisions includes a new Proactive transmission mated to the 2.0-litre 16v petrol engine, Renault will try to close much of the gap with the launch of a new 2.2-litre 16-valve common rail turbodiesel engine, given that 49% of all Espaces sold in the UK are diesel-powered.
In true common rail fashion, power rises to a healthy 130bhp - an increase of 13% over the outgoing direct-injection 2.2 dT - and 214lb-ft of torque - an increase of 16% - at 2,000rpm, improvements that follow the precedent set by the Laguna and Scenic dCis in 1999, albeit with smaller 1.9-litre units.
Such figures represent a substantial improvement over the old model but unfortunately for Renault, the 'three amigos' now all carry Volkswagen's highly-praised 115bhp pnmpe dnse diesel that eschews the trendy common rail configuration in favour of a unit-injection system and yet still manages to extract 115bhp and a whopping 229lb-ft of torque at 1,900rpm. Which might explain why Renault's press material from the recent launch labours on two new features: the first is a 16-valve cylinder head which Renault claims is a class-first and the second is a variable nozzle turbocharger which changes the amount of exhaust gas to the engine: around town where maximum power is rarely needed, the flow is reduced, thus producing more torque at lower revs, but conversely, under hard acceleration, the turbocharger allows maximum flow and maximum power. In fact no fewer than 95% of the engine's components have been changed.
Although there's some diesel clatter at start-up (and this seems to be a characteristic endured by all four-cylinders) the Espace dCi is as refined and smooth on the move as the Ford, SEAT or VW. Although it has an obvious power advantage over the 2.2 dT, it never quite seems to display the same ferocious pick-up through the gears as VW's 1.9-litre TDI PD.
Ironically, a more relaxed driving experience should pay dividends with higher fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions, but the Espace loses out here as well. The 2.2 dCi boasts a 4.5mpg improvement over the 2.2 dT, but at an average of 39.8mpg it is beaten by the big three, which all record 42.8mpg and 178g/km against the Espace's 189g/km. On the plus side, the current Espace is fresh from a maximum four-star NCAP crash test safety rating - Galaxy and Sharan each have three stars - and the host of revisions include all-round disc brakes across the range, previously part of the V6-only package.
Visual clues to the recent makeover are subtle, stretching to a set of xenon headlamps and new alloy wheel designs and besides revised facia and seat trim, the view from behind the wheel remains the same which also means piloting the Espace around tight city streets requires a mixture of guesswork and luck to avoid minor scrapes and bumps.
To coincide with the launch of the dCi engine, Renault has dropped the Aliz_, RX-T and RXE model names and introduced Authentique, Expression, Privilege and Initiale. Standard equipment includes ABS, twin and side airbags, seat-belt pretensioners, six three-point seatbelts, remote locking, air conditioning, electric front windows and swivelling front seats. Expression adds 15in alloy wheels (16in on 2.2 dCi), alarm, front fog lamps and CD multichanger; Privilege adds full climate control, velour/leather trim, electric rear windows and the top Initiale boasts suede/leather trim, heated front seats, six captain's chairs, three sunroofs and a 160-watt dash-mounted CD multichanger.
Prices have not been confirmed but Renault has hinted the Initiale will cost roughly £2,000 more than the current range-topping Espace 3.0 V6 RXE. This puts the Espace 3.0 V6 Initiale auto at around £27,000 on-the-road compared to the VW Sharan 2.9 V6 Carat auto at £26,590, the Ford Galaxy 2.8 V6 Ghia Select-Shift auto at £25,495 and the SEAT Alhambra 2.8 V6 Sport at £24,995.