First of all – it’s big. At 20cm longer than the Espace, 37cm longer than the Grand Scenic and a whopping 60cm longer than the Scenic, it certainly is the big daddy in the Renault MPV portfolio.
A length of 4.86 metres can make for a difficult time when parking. But the front and rear sensors make short work of any tight spots and I’m getting used to looking for its nose sticking out in the car park.
The five rear seats fix into tram-like tracks, which means that all can move fore and aft, although the two door-side seats are restricted by a rear bulkhead. And for further interior mobility both the driver and front passenger seats rotate 180 degrees to face the rear seat passengers.
All seats are easily removable but prove a bit of a storage nightmare. One of the best things about the rear seating is that all have built in seatbelts rather than the centre seat belt running through roof-mounted loops or two-part belts for which you have to be a master of macramé to fasten. The only downside has been that every rear door side passenger (including myself) has found the buckle receptor ridiculously difficult to find and close. It seems best to fasten the belt with the door open so that you can lean over and out to find it – however, experience has shown this is not a good idea when its lashing down with rain.
The stunning panoramic electric sunroof, although a £1,200 option, is well worth the money. With the cover retracted, the whole vehicle feels bigger with about an inch of extra headspace – and the view it gives is fantastic. On my trip to Scotland the sunroof provided magnificent views of Glencoe and the Highlands, which I had never seen before from more conventional vehicles.
And so to my adventures. Not long after picking the Grand Espace up, the ‘service’ and ‘faulty airbag’ warning lights came on, but after a quick trip to the local dealer a bad connection was diagnosed and fixed with no further problem.
The following week I packed the car with four adults one toddler, a small mountain of luggage and headed for the hills. The luggage was accommodated by removing the rear two seats and the middle row centre seat was moved aft slightly to comfortably fit the child seat and allow more ‘elbow’ room for the two rear passengers.
This formation worked really well apart from not being able to cover the luggage, as the child seat blocked the line to slot in the horizontal roller blind.
I’m also proud to say that for the first time in a blue moon I’ve managed to surpass the combined mpg figure for a test vehicle. My return journey clocked up 33.15mpg – 3.45mpg better than the published 29.7mpg – and that included city driving, multiple roadworks and tea stops for the wrinklies.
The only blot on the copybook came when I found a crack on the windscreen the day before I was due to head home. I had decided when it was first noticed to have it seen to on my return, but as the day progressed it started growing and I thought I’d put Renault’s customer care to the test.
What a mistake!
I initially called the helpline number on the tax disc holder, but as the car was a press vehicle, initial responses were confused. I eventually got put through to the fleet department which was sure it was the responsibility of Logistics, and Logistics would call me back straight away.
Half an hour later and no returned call, I decided to ring the other helpline provided to customers – Renault AA Assist. After being told that ‘the AA don’t do glass’ I was passed on to Autoglass.
The helpdesk was incredibly helpful in trying to arrange a repair that day – impressive considering I was in Fort William and the nearest Autoglass branch was in Oban 44 miles away.
However, as I was travelling home the next day and the replacement screen was not in stock, the Oban branch contacted the Peterborough branch and arranged the replacement for my return to Fleet News.
Once back in Peterborough, I was advised that the Grand Espace windscreen was so big Autoglass couldn’t fit it on to the racking in its vans and so it had to be replaced at the branch. I dropped off the vehicle as requested, but was told our test vehicle had a non-stock screen. The right one was promised for the next day and was replaced by lunchtime at a wallet bashing cost of £800 (including VAT).
It will be interesting to see if the electrical faults that seem to dog our test vehicles will return in the coming months, and hopefully my first ever cracked windscreen will be my last.
Model: Renault Espace 3.0 dCi Initiale
Price (OTR): £34,175
CO2 emissions (g/km): 252
Company car tax bill (2004/5) 40% tax-payer: £396 per month
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 29.7
Test mpg: 33.1
CAP Monitor residual value: £10,125/30%
HSBC contract hire rate: £600
Expenditure to date: £800 (new windscreen)