It would appear that the average person in the street has a problem with running an MPV. Apparently Renault believes, after a lot of market research, that while the market for MPVs is a burgeoning one, opting for a people carrier is something of a bitter pill necessarily swallowed.
Male drivers in particular feel emasculated as they swap their svelte saloon with sports seats for a big box on wheels and wipe-clean surfaces. The last exuberant flushes of youth drain away as the drudgery of family life takes over – apparently. So the latest Espace is supposed to sugar that pill by offering style and Gallic cool while serving as the practical family people carrier, as well as being a cut above the rest of the MPV market – the Mercedes-Benz S-class of its sector.
Quite a tall order then.
The old Espace was the third best-selling MPV in the UK last year, running the Chrysler Voyager a close second at about 4,500 units, while the Ford Galaxy was miles ahead at nearly 11,000 units.
With the new model, Renault hopes to add 500 extra sales a year and take it into second place. Fleets will account for 65% of all registrations in the first year and, Renault hopes, 60% the following year.
Traditionally, the fleet share of MPV sales is very high – the Peugeot 806 on run-out was more than 80% fleet business for example – due to the combination of company cars and rental vehicles.
However, Renault claims that because its car is the highbrow choice, it gets more retail sales and also it doesn't want to do too much rental business.
As for residual values, Renault is very keen to compare the Espace's performance to premium models such as the Mercedes-Benz E-class, BMW 5-series and Audi A6, and in percentage terms the lower end models, like the 2.0 16-valve manual and 1.9 dCi Authentique, are achieving forecasts from CAP around the 43% to 44% mark after three-years/60,000-miles.
But they cost about £20,000 on-the-road, whereas the higher end models that compare on price to the E-class or 5-series are predicted to retain about 35% of their price new after three-years/60,000-miles, which cannot match the premium executive stalwarts. There are a number of elements of the Espace that illustrate its haughty premium pretensions though. Externally, Renault has done a good job of applying some razored surfaces to what is effectively the traditional MPV box shape. The front headlights add some sharpness to the nose, although there is more than a hint of the Honda Jazz headlights, only larger.
There is no sliding side door as there is with the Citroen C8 or Peugeot 807, and it is not available as an option either. According to Renault, 'sliding doors are for vans', and the Espace is no such thing – perish the thought.
The dashboard has been designed along the same lines as previous Espace models. The instrumentation sits high up in a long bank at the top, while air conditioning controls are located in the door, as in the previous Espace.
As a result of this lifting and moving of major function and displays, there is lots of storage space around the central area, including a flap that lifts to reveal the satellite navigation screen. It looks clumsy when the screen is in use, though.
Renault is keen to ensure that wherever occupants are sitting in the car, they get equal levels of safety – a level Renault believes will reach five stars in the Euro NCAP crash test rating.
All seats are individual with full three-point seatbelts and anti-submarining bars. There are also eight airbags, including a chest airbag for the second row. Because of the Espace IV being 144mm longer, 28mm higher and 50mm wider than Espace III, passengers get more all-round space, while those in the cheap seats in row three get 30% more legroom.
The egality of the Espace's interior for all passengers is continued with the air conditioning system, which has vents and controls for all seats. Controlling air temperature throughout such a large space is a difficult proposition and Renault has a network of vents and ducts that run through the floor and the roof to keep everybody at the required temperature.
Renault claims an 'infinite' number of seating layouts, with the front seats able to swivel 180 degrees, while the rear seats fold to become tables. In terms of quality, the Espace is the best in its class, but you have to pay for it. Prices start at about £2,000 more than a competitor like the C8 and finish in the mid-£30,000 bracket. For benefit-in-kind tax, Renault's dCi engines do very well and are the match of anything that Peugeot, Citroen, Volkswagen or Ford can muster, although the higher P11d price will count against it.
Behind the wheel
I didn't get to drive the 245bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol model, but it has a 0-60mph time of 8.1 seconds – acceleration that should keep the kids quiet, as much in fear as anything else.
The likely best-seller, the 2.2 dCi, has less rampant performance but is a smooth operator and wafts along at a whisper with quoted fuel economy figures of 36.7mpg for the manual and 31.0mpg for the automatic version.
Personally, from a driver's view, I'd have the auto box and shoulder the extra tax burden because it's worth it for the ease of use and the intelligent way it works. The 1.9 dCi is fine but just does not have the shove of the larger diesel units while the 3.0 dCi is a fantastic engine but only comes on cars of £28,995 and above, so will not prove to be a big seller.
Compared to the Citroen C8, Fiat Ulysse and Peugeot 807, the ride on the Espace is more floaty and it rolls more in corners. The trade-off is that the ride is less choppy than its competitors, particularly at low speed.
Although the Espace has variable-assist power steering like the Vel Satis and is feather-light for parking and slow speed manouevres, it still feels a little too light and detached at higher speed, which doesn't inspire lots of confidence.
The electronic dash is a bit of a mish-mash of pictures and figures and could do with being clearer to allow the driver to pick out essential information.
The Espace is the best MPV on the market, with plenty of style and the best selection of engines, allied to excellent practicality. Renault knows this and has priced it accordingly. Will the premium over its competitors prove to be a burden though?
|Renault Espace fact file|
|2.0 (Espace)||2.0T||3.5 V6 auto||1.9 dCi||2.2 dCi||3.0 V6 dCi auto|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||138/5,500||163/5,000||242/6,000||115/4,000||148/4,000||178/4,400|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||141/3,750||184/2,000||243/3,600||199/2,000||236/1,750||258/1,800|
|Max speed (mph):||121||127 (122)||140||112||118||127|
|0-62mph (secs):||12.5||9.9 (10.8)||8.1||13.2||11.5||10.9|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||30.2||29.3 (26.6)||23.2||41.6||36.9||29.9|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||224||232 (255)||292||183||206||252|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||83/18.3|
|Service intervals (miles):||18,000||(V6: 12,000)|
|Transmission:||6-sp man||or 5-sp auto|
|Prices (OTR):||Approx: £19,130||- £33,735|