Renault Espace MPV (1997 - 2003)
NCAP Rating 4 / 5
Few vehicles can genuinely stake claim to inventing a class of car, but the Espace is one such machine. Introducing the space efficient mono-box shape, the original Espace of 1984 brought to the motoring lexicon the three-letter acronym MPV - Multi Purpose Vehicle. For a long time the Espace set the standard in the segment by providing spacious, comfortable transportation for families wanting something different from estate, saloon and hatchbacks previously on offer. The ‘Multi Purpose’ element might really have only related to space - even if, with all the seats in use, the boot isn’t much use - but the Espace ’s legacy is obvious in every car showroom around the globe.
The Espace produced between 1997 and 2003 was the third incarnation of Renault’s ground-breaking MPV. Built, like its two predecessors, by Matra, the Espace was based largely on Renault’s own Laguna using many plastic exterior panels to keep the weight down. The engine line-up comprised of a pair or petrol 2.0-litre units, a petrol 3.0-litre V6 and a 2.2-litre dCi turbodiesel. Manual transmissions were standard, the automatic an option along with leather interior and a twin sunroof.
Criticisms of the regular Espace ’s seven-seat layout lacking in boot space saw Renault introduce the Grand Espace a year or so after the standard version’s release. It added a longer rear for greater luggage room. In it, like its non-Grand version, the individual rear seats can slide or fold, though unlike many rivals the rear most set don’t fold away completely into the boot floor when not in use.
The Laguna it’s based on hasn’t got the best reputation for reliability, and certainly this era of Renault isn’t the French company’s finest, so be sure it comes with a complete service history and lots of receipts to show it’s been maintained properly.
Trim lines follow Renault’s bewildering, and extensive line-up, with Authentique starting the range: it came with air conditioning, central locking and electric front windows; Expression added alloy wheels; and Privilege gained more luxury equipment as the range topper. Renault also introduced a special edition Race model, to celebrate its association with sailing - it gaining most of the kit of the Privilege and additional badging.
Given its practical focus the 2.2 dCi diesel is the best bet, even if there are a few more 2.0-litre petrol models in the classifieds. Expression trim brings alloy wheels to the otherwise comprehensive list of kit offered on the Authentique so it’s worth looking out for it. Unless you really need the additional space of the Grand model most will find the standard Espace adequate.
Engine: 2,188cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Maximum speed: 177km/h
0-100km/h: 14.5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 8.8 litres/100km
Euro NCAP: ****
- Spacious interior
- Individual seats
- Good looks
- Limited boot space
- Questions over reliability
- Rivals now offer more versatile seating
The Espace might have defined the large MPV marketplace, but Renault didn’t push too hard with its development, seeing many rivals offer more innovative and useful interiors. The smart styling remains a draw, though this generation of Espace comes from a period where Renault’s reputation for reliability was less than sound. A worthy family choice, but buy with caution.