Rising up the ranks: Renault is targeting its latest version of the Espace at a new breed of customer. Natalie Wallis wonders if it can meet the criteria

Rising up the ranks: Renault is targeting its latest version of the Espace at a new breed of customer. Natalie Wallis wonders if it can meet the criteria – Renault Espace IV

Natalie Wallis

It seems a fairly incongruous image of top management driving an MPV instead of a BMW but that is the picture Renault aims to paint. Although the French manufacturer, which has already effected a number of radical moves this year, remains reserved about which marques it aims to steal marketshare from, it is making no bones about positioning its latest Espace against `nonspecific executive saloons’, implicating models like the 5 Series, the A6, the E-Class and the CLK.

The Espace has always been endowed with a reputation for innovation since it was launched as the first European MPV in 1984 in partnership with Matra Automobile. However, it has not always held the record for MPV sales, having been surpassed by the Ford Galaxy. Renault is now targeting the growing MPV market in the E-segment where fleet sales are expected to play a key role–65% of Espace III sales went to fleets. The new model is expected to improve fleet sales figures by the targeting of senior management.

Offered in two wheelbases–the Espace and the Espace Grand (except on the entry-level 2-litre petrol version)–Espace IV features angular, futuristic styling cues, like those of Renault’s other recent launches, and an optional expansive sunroof that gives an airy atmosphere. Inside, the cabin has been designed with a saloon feel, offering adjustable seating positions in the front and a reach/rake steering wheel.

The rear has been amended to increase comfort and convenience. Seats are installed on long rails that run the length of the cabin adding to the Espace’s adaptability. In addition, access to the third row of seats has been improved.

Engines comprise six powerplants. Sitting proudly at the top is a gutsy 3.5 V6 24V petrol unit, the most powerful in the MPV segment. Also new to the segment is the 3-litre dCi V6 diesel unit. The range is completed by a 2-litre 16V petrol unit plus turbocharged variant, and a 1.9 dCi and 2.2 dCi common-rail unit–the latter is expected to be the fleet favourite. Transmission offerings are a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed Proactive automatic transmission with flickshift control.

Three powerplants were available to drive at the launch; the two V6s and the 2.2 dCi. Both V6s performed well as expected, with the dCi not losing out too much under high revs. The 2.2 dCi, however, was the biggest surprise. I had my doubts about its responsiveness at first until I tested it out on the open roads where performance was ample and the diesel proved smooth and refined.

Driving dynamics are set to more closely emulate those of a saloon as the Espace has been designed to combat the MPV tendency to understeer. It also uses reduced rear overhang and wider track to provide balance, stability and speed, and does hold the road well although you don’t ever completely forget you’re in an MPV.

Prices have not been announced yet but are expected to begin at just under 20,000 [pounds sterling] rising to just under 30,000 [pounds sterling]. Spec levels are similarly guarded but executive-aimed technology includes: Carminat sat nav, automatic parking brake, parking sensor and keyless entry and startup.

As an MPV, Espace IV sets benchmarks in many ways and highlights Renault’s ongoing ability to innovate in this sector. However, as to whether management will abandon the 5 Series in droves, I have doubts.

DRIVER’S LOG

OTR PRICE: 20,000 [pounds sterling] to 30,000 [pounds sterling](est)

ENGINE’ Petrol: 2-litre 16V, 2-litre 16V turbo & 3.5-litre V6 Diesel: 1.9 & 2.2-litre dCi & 3-litre V6 dCi

TRANSMISSIONS: Six-speed manual or five-speed auto

POWER: 3.5: 245bhp @ 6000rpm. 3.0 dCi: 180bhp @ 4400rpm

TORQUE: 3.5: 330Nm @ 3600rpm. 3.0 dCi: 350Nm @ 1800rpm

C[O.sub.2] RATING: 3.5: 292g/km (Espace) & 297g/km (Grand) 3.0 dCi: 252g/km

COMBINED MPG: 3.5: 22.8; 3.0 dCi: 29.7

ON SALE: January 2003

COPYRIGHT 2002 DMG World Media Ltd.

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