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Renault Espace 2.2 dCi Privilege review (2003 onwards)
Bodystyle: Full-sized MPV
Engine:2.2-litre dCi 150bhp
Fuel type: Diesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Date of test: February 2003
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What is it?
Introduced in 1984, and now in its fourth incarnation, the Espace is the vehicle that introduced European buyers to the idea of the 'Multi Purpose Vehicle', or MPV as they're commonly known. Not a huge seller in its formative years, the Espace started a slow revolution in the car world, there now being various different size categories for MPVs, even mundane saloons and hatchbacks featuring MPV-inspired design details inside and out. As the originator Renault aims the Espace at the top end of the market, with more engine choices and trim levels available than less expensive competition. Aiming the Espace high pitches it against luxury saloons, estates and 4x4s, none of which can offer anything like the versatility of the big Renault. There's even the choice of a bigger 'Grand' Espace for those needing to carry seven on a regular basis with their luggage too. At only £1,000 more than the standard Espace it's well worth considering.
Where does it fit?
Right at the top of the MPV heirarchy. The Espace is up there with other premium MPVs like the Chrysler Voyager, Toyota Previa and Mercedes V-Class. Positioned slightly above models like Ford's Galaxy, VW's Sharan and the PSA group offerings of the Citroen C8 and Peugeot 807 the Espace offers a more extensive range of engines - including petrol and diesel V6s. In UK sales the Espace fights for third position with the Chrysler Voyager, the only one of its rivals, which like it, is offered in two sizes. It might not manage the huge sales of the Ford Galaxy, but the Espace sells well to private buyers, in trim levels far higher than those of the majority of the competition.
Is it for you?
If you've got a lot of children, or need a classy vehicle to ferry clients around in for business then the Espace is a seriously attractive proposition. The five individual rear seats are all the same, making moving them around to suit your requirements easier than the majority of the competition. There really is space for five adults in the rear, though luggage space is limited if there is a full compliment of passengers on board - there's always the Grand Espace if you need the additional space. It really does feel a cut above the majority of the competition, it's supremely quiet on the move, right up there with the best of the executive machinery which it aims to steal sales from. A versatile and stylish vehicle, the Espace makes a lot of sense.
What does it do well?
All vehicles of this type offer versatility that conventional cars cannot hope to offer. Seating for seven, on individually moveable, removable and foldable chairs the Espace can carry all but the biggest families. It looks fantastic too, Renault's stylists being a bit more restrained with the Espace compared to more recent offerings. The diesel is refined, offering excellent low and mid-range lugging ability, that six-speed manual hardly needing stirred to maintain decent progress. The air conditioning, or climate control on more expensive models, has outlets throughout the entire cabin, meaning everyone will be able to travel in comfort. The huge expanse of glass up front, slim windscreen pillars and high driving position enhances all-round visibility while also adding to the overall feeling of spaciousness. Equipment levels are high and safety equipment is comprehensive across the entire range - Renault confident that the Espace will continue the trend for its cars to obtain five star ratings in the EuroNCAP tests.
What doesn't it do well?
More expensive than the majority of its rivals the Espace offers little more in the practicality stakes, unless you factor in the availability of the Grand Espace. The cabin might look and feel good, but on all the examples we drove there were squeaks and rattles from all those seats and the roof lining. The firm ride is fine for those up front, but it can feel slightly choppy in the rear. Without the optional panoramic sunroof the cabin feels a bit dark, with it the rearmost passengers are robbed of headroom. All come with traction control that incorporates understeer control - it's just as well, as with it switched off the Espace ploughs on in tighter corners. A great system, that masks a shortcoming of the chassis.
What's it like to live with?
Living with an Espace should be great, if you need all that space of course. It's a fine all rounder, with executive levels of comfort, refinement and equipment, while there's also a huge amount of standard passive and active safety kit too - which is bound to attract family buyers. The large glass area up front makes it easy to cope with its size and it is a great looking alternative to more common rivals. The only worry is over its reliability. The old Espace had a patchy reputation, lots of niggling faults cropping up through time. If Renault has sorted this out with the new model it'll be a winner. There were squeaks and rattles apparent on our test vehicles, which had the capacity to annoy, but it seems they may have just been more noticeable due the Espace's near whisper quiet operation whether around town or on a high speed motorway cruise.
Would we buy it?
Of the seven seat MPVs the Espace is arguably the most attractive of the bunch. It feels like a premium machine inside too, until the odd squeak and rattle from the trim intervenes. It does come with lots of equipment, and Renault's reputation for safety would be a huge selling point to us if we were carrying that most precious of cargoes - children. Increased competition in this sector from new models like the Peugeot 807, Citroen C8 and Fiat Ulysee with their useful sliding doors and similar size are difficult to ignore against the Espace. Upmarket it may be, but it offers little extra in the way of practicality over such rivals. The all-seat ventilation system is excellent, the ride and handling impressive and it's undeniably stylish. A wide engine and trim choice enhances the very attractive package. With the Espace it seems the premium might just well be worth it.
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