The nameplate that kick-started the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) revolution in Europe in 1984, less than a year after Dodge introduced the Caravan in the United States as the first minivan, Renault has revealed the sixth generation Espace, but not as many would have remembered.
Whereas the previous generation signalled a departure from the first four by adopting a crossover-type look complete with a lowered coupe-like roof, the latest Espace makes the biggest transition of all by becoming an SUV and more specifically, a long wheelbase version of the Austral introduced last year.
Returning after a three-year hiatus, the Espace’s visual differences from the Austral on first glance is largely limited to a different grille and restyled alloy wheels up to 20-inches.
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… and by a lot
From the B-pillar back though, everything has changed as underneath, the CMF-D platform has been extended by 212 mm in overall length compared to the Austral and by 69 mm in the wheelbase department.
Despite this, the 4 722 mm final length means the Espace not only measures 135 mm shorter than its predecessor, but the switch in platform has additionally resulted in a weight drop of 215 kg as the maximum kerb mass now stands at 1 689 kg.
Arguably the biggest benefactor is interior space. Although still offered with five seats, a seven-seat option can now specified, which sees boot capacity vary from 159-litres with all three-rows up, to 777-litres with the outer chairs lowered.
Dropping the second row meanwhile frees-up an additional 1 041-litres for a total of 1 818-litres, a massive a 1 243-litres more than what the Austral manages. In total, 39-litres of storage is provided inside.
As for the interior itself, the similarities with the Austral prevails in the retention of the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, the 12-inch OpenR Link touchscreen infotainment system with over-the-air updates, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the 9.3-inch Head-Up Display on pricier models and the same steering wheel.
The difference in spec depending on the trim level is where the Espace differs the most as the entry-level Techno receives an electric tailgate, wireless smartphone charger and a full array of safety and driver assistance systems, while the mid-range Iconic boasts ash wood inserts and model bespoke 20-inch alloy wheels.
Not surprisingly, the range-topping Esprit Alpine takes centre stage as, apart from satin grey exterior details, it also comes equipped with Alcantara and blue stitching on the doors, seats, centre console and dashboard, diamond-cut 20-inch alloys, a Nappa leather Alpine branded steering wheel with blue stitching, Alpine door sills and Alpine signifying ‘A’ embroidered headrests.
Black seatbelts with blue outer edges, alloy pedals and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system rounds the model off, together with a 48 colour ambient lighting package and an optional panoramic sunroof measuring 1 330 mm long and 840 mm wide.
Underneath and up front
Underneath, Renault has kept the Espace’s chassis unchanged from that of the Austral, meaning it keeps not only the multi-link rear suspension, but also the 4Control rear-wheel steering system.
Also carried over is the Multi-Sense drive mode selector with four settings; Eco, Comfort, Sport and Peso, but not the Snow or All-Road settings.
As with the Austral, the Espace’s powerunit is electrified from the start, but while the former sports a more extensive line-up of choices, Renault has opted for a single variant for what is now its flagship SUV.
Carrying the E-Tech moniker, the brand-new 1.2-litre turbocharged engine is also the smallest displacement offered in the Espace’s history, but comes with the assurance of a added two-kWh lithium-ion battery driving a pair of electric motors.
The final results is a combined outputs of 147 kW, top speed of 175 km/h and 0-100 km/h in 8.8 seconds. Sole transmission choice is the unique four-speed multi-model clutchless ‘box that premiered on the Clio E-Tech in 2019.
Not yet South Africa bound
Now available for ordering in Europe with pricing to be announced later, production of the Espace also moves to a new location, the same Palencia Plant in Spain that manufactures the Austral.
Before, the Douai Plant in France assembled the Espace, though this facility has been upgraded and classified as an electric vehicle only hub for assembly of the Megane E-Tech.
More than likely on track to tack aim at the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, the Espace, like the Austral, has not been mentioned for South Africa this year, although should approval be given, expect a likely debut sometime in 2024.