Twenty-one years after the first Renault Espace lumbered onto the scene, the MPV pioneer, now in its fourth incarnation, continues to stun - with dazzling looks to complement the usual clever use of space this time round.
Its list of safety features includes integrated seat belts in the third and second rows, anti-submarining seats, and eight airbags, including thorax airbags for the second row of seats. Using brake discs all round, the models are also fitted with ABS and EBA (electronic brake assist).
Available in South Africa in a choice of three engines and trim levels, high levels of specification are on offer across the range. These luxury items include climate control, cruise control, a height-and-reach adjustable steering column, automatic park brake, and finger-tip controls for the audio system on the steering column.
Controls for the new air - conditioning system have been moved to the door panels for easier operation, and the rear passengers benefit from air vents at both floor and roof levels. To increase the illusion of space, the fashionable panoramic sunroof can be added as an option on all the models to complement the large windscreen areas.
Removable seats allow for maximum use of space. The individual rear seats are installed on rails that run along the length of the cabin for flexible use of space within the cabin. Access is also improved - the doors open wider by 30 per cent for access to the rear seats, and the front step has been removed.
A 2,0 Turbo Authentique provides entry to the range. Powered by a 120 kW 2,0-litre, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine, it has a peak torque output of 191 N.m at 3 750 r/min. Claimed top speed is 185 km/h.
Next up is the diesel-powered member of the range - the 2,2 dCi Expression. Using direct-injection common rail turbodiesel technology, this unit has peak outputs of 110 kW at 4 000 r/min and 320 N.m at 1 750 N.m
The flagship model is the 3,5 V6 Privilege, powered by a 177 -kW petrol powerplant. Maximum power is delivered at 6 000 r/min, and the peak torque output of 330 N.m is available at 3 600 r/min. Quite the sprinter, the range - topper is able to accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 8,1 seconds, and reach a top speed of 225 km/h.
Fuel consumption for the diesel is the most impressive at 9,1 litres per 100 km, versus the 10,7 litres for the turbocharged 2,0-litre and 12,4 litres for the V6.
Renault's five-speed Proactive automatic gearbox with flick-shift control is fitted across the range.
The front McPherson strut suspension arrangement with coil springs, struts and anti-roll bars, is borrowed from the Vel Satis and Laguna. A new suspension system, comprised of a torsion beam trailing axle with Panhard rod, is used at the rear. NVH levels have, according to Renault, also been dramatically reduced using a combination of innovative technologies.
The new Espace is covered by a 3-year/60 000km full maintenance plan and a 3-year/100 000km warranty with a 6-year anti-corrosion guarantee. Service intervals are 10 000 kilometres for the 2,2 dCi and 15 000 kilometres for the 2,0T and 3,5 V6.
2,0 T Authentique R 315 000
2,2 dCi Expression R 369 000
3,5 V6 Privilege R 403 000