Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Renault Espace

The Renault Espace is a large MPV from French car-maker Renault. Generations 1-3 were sold under the Renault brand but manufactured by Matra. The current fourth generation model, which seats seven passengers, is an all-Renault product; the Renault Grand Espace is a long-wheelbase version with increased rear leg room and boot size. The Espace is often credited as being the world's first MPV (a claim Renault themselves encourage). However, the 1950 Volkswagen Type 2, also known as the Kombi, and the 1956 Fiat 600 Multipla, popularised the versatile multi-seater concept some 30 years prior to the Espace, and the concept had been tried several times before that, an early example being the 1935 Stout Scarab. The Espace's design was originally conceived in the 1970s by the British designer, Fergus Pollock, (at around the same time as Giorgetto Giugiaro's 1978 Lancia Megagamma concept MPV), who was working for Chrysler UK (formerly the Rootes Group), at their design centre at Whitley, (now the Jaguar design centre) in Coventry. Later Matra, who were affiliated with Simca, the then French subsidiary of Chrysler, were involved in partnership in the design, spearheaded by Greek designer Antonis Volanis. The Espace was originally intended to be sold as a Talbot, and to be a replacement for the Matra Rancho leisure activity vehicle. Early prototypes used Simca parts, and hence featured a grille reminiscent of the Simca 1307 (Chrysler Alpine). The Espace was launched by Renault in 1984. After a very slow start — a grand total of nine Espaces were sold in the first month after launch — customers warmed to the benefits of the MPV concept and the Espace became very popular.

Building upon its success, the Espace was revamped in 1988 with most of the Talbot/Simca content being replaced by equivalent Renault parts (the chassis and mechanical components of the car remained largely unchanged). The most obvious cosmetic exterior difference between the very first Espaces and the revamped post-1988 models were the changed headlights: the forward-slanting lights with orange indicator casing of the original Espace were replaced with backward-slanting lights with a clear indicator casing.A heavily revised Espace was launched in 1991, adopting the Renault family look to replace the Talbot-themed styling of the original. This was essentially a re-skin of the original car, with a new dashboard and other interior improvements. The chassis was essentially unchanged. The third generation of the Espace arrived in 1997 while the long wheelbase Grand Espace appeared the following year, its most notable feature being the radical futuristic interior (with a centrally-mounted digital speedometer). A number of third generation Espaces were used as bases for NGV and taxi conversions for the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the Kuala Lumpur Sentral transportation hub in Malaysia, rebranded as Enviro 2000s. The third-generation Espace was the last to be built by Matra; following an end to production for Renault, Matra and MG Rover negotiated over a possible deal for the latter to build and market Espaces but this never came to fruition.

The fourth-generation Espace arrived in 2003 and was the first entirely Renault-developed and produced model. The Espace is 90% recyclable and contains numerous weight-reducing materials, thus cutting fuel consumption. The aluminium doors and bonnet are some 20 kg lighter than steel equivalents. Its styling was reflective of a new design direction at Renault, symbolised by the radical Vel Satis and Avantime models, marking a major departure from the previous model, which also saw the range moved upmarket. The fourth-generation Espace came third from the bottom in the Top Gear Satisfaction Survey 2005. The 2003 Espace featured in British motoring TV show Fifth Gear where it was crashed into a 1990s Land Rover Discovery at 64 km/h (40 mph). The passenger compartment in the Espace was kept fairly intact, but the dummy in the Discovery was smashed between the seats and the dashboard, leaving no survival possibilities.The Espace V is estimated to arrive in 2011. It is likely to again be closely related to the Renault Laguna sharing chassis, engines, transmissions and electricals and will be presented at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show.

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