The Espace was a pioneer of the MPV genre when it debuted 30 years ago, and the people mover has been a success over the decades for Renault, which shifted over 1.25 million units over four generations.
But the big MPV is out of fashion now. According to IHS Automotive, European sales of big MPVs such as the Espace, Ford S-Max, Volkswagen Sharan and Mercedes-Benz V-Class, just to name a few, dropped 45% to 230,800 units in 2013. Renault sold just around 8,400 Espaces last year; something also to do with the MPV’s age no doubt.
Many in the market for a big family car are shifting to SUVs, and that’s the segment the new Espace is trying to cross over to, pun intended. Seen it before? That’s because the production Espace is a faithful reproduction of the Initiale Paris concept from Frankfurt 2013.
It’s a big car at 4.85 m long (for both five- and seven-seat forms) and 1.87 m wide, with a generous 2.88 m wheelbase that’s 16 mm longer than the old Grand Espace’s. The crossover however sits 63 mm lower than the MPV, and has a high waistline and ground clearance to emphasise the SUV theme. The standard wheel range goes up to 19 inches, with 20-inch rims on the options list.
It may be a crossover now, but Renault boss Carlos Ghosn proclaimed at the unveiling that the new Espace will continue to provide the nameplate’s “warm and welcome interior, bathed in light” like the original. That’s will be deliverd by a 2.8 square metre “Lumiere” panoramic windscreen that incorporates a fixed glass roof over the front seats. A panoramic roof is optional.
Sitting on the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s CMF (Common Module Family) platform, the new Espace is up to 250 kg lighter than the old Grand Espace, and the significant reduction is evenly split between the body, chassis, powertrain and equipment, Renault says. Aluminium is used for the doors and bonnet, Noryl plastics for the front wings and thermoplastics for the tailgate.
Renault’s new flagship can be had with three downsized 1.6 litre turbo engines – the Energy dCi 160 twin-turbo diesel (160 hp, 380 Nm, six-speed EDC dual-clutch), Energy dCi 130 diesel (130 hp, 320 Nm, six-speed manual) and the Energy TCe 200 petrol from the Clio RS hot hatch, which has 200 hp, 260 Nm and a seven-speed close ratio EDC dual-clutch ‘box.
All three engines feature stop start and brake energy recovery. All measures combined, the new Espace is over 20% better in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
By the way, the Efficient Dual Clutch ‘box employs shift-by-wire control, and the absence of mechanical linkage allowed Renault to implement the floating console and ‘aviation-style’ gear lever you see above.
The Espace boasts an “orchestra conductor” called Multi-Sense. With four preset modes (Eco, Comfort, Neutral, Sport) and a configurable Perso mode, it manages the car’s engine response, 4Control four-wheel steering, steering weight, gearbox calibration and dampers.
Together with the above, choosing a mode also alters the in-car ambience. Things that change are the ambient lighting (green, blue, white, red, purple), instrument panel colour and content, engine sound, front seat massage settings and climate control. Multi-Sense can be controlled via the long R-Link 2 touchscreen or an iDrive style rotary knob located between the gear lever and electronic parking brake.
Other notable kit include a 12-speaker Bose Surround Sound system (with subwoofer and Centerpoint 2 tech), Ford Kuga-style foot triggered tailgate (opening angle can be set) and an impressive automatic seat folding system.
The latter can be controlled via the touchscreen or from a button panel in the boot. Simply choose the formation you want, hit the button and voila, the chairs fall like dominos! The choreography happens irrespective of head rest positions. The Espace may no longer look like an MPV, but this is one cool MPV trick others should take note of.
Alas, there are no plans for a right-hand drive version of the Espace for now, as the UK is not expected to deliver sufficient volume to make RHD conversion viable (previous car was discontinued there in 2011). It also means that this interesting vehicle won’t be available in Malaysia via official distributor TC Euro Cars for the foreseeable future.
Ghosn let slip that a new Renault D-segment sedan will surface next year as part of the marque’s big car renewal programme; if the new Espace is a sign of things to come, we can expect a uniquely styled and innovative “new Laguna” to challenge the Peugeot 508 and Ford Mondeo pretty soon, if RHD is available.
Renault Espace at the 2014 Paris Motor Show