Following the footsteps of...
The change was actually initiated back in 2015. Until then, the Espace was a true MPV: a boxy model where everything was about space. In 2015, the Espace became an SUV, or luxury off-road vehicle for recreational use. This is because its rugged and adventurous look appeals more than that of a square family car.
The new Espace is once again an SUV, but this time the emphasis is on efficiency. The sixth generation of this spacious family car needed to be lighter and therefore more economical, without compromising on space or performance. Renault achieved this by making the car shorter (-14 cm) and lower (-7 cm) and by integrating technology more cleverly. Precisely because the Espace is a size smaller than before, it can also replace the Grand Scenic and Talisman.
By making the car smaller, a lot of weight has automatically been saved as well. In addition, the windscreen is smaller (glass is heavy). A new platform and aluminium in the bodywork also contribute to the weight reduction.
Should the Espace look familiar, that is correct: up to the C-pillar, the Espace is almost identical to the Renault Austral. Only the grille, depending on the chosen version, has a different pattern. However, the wheelbase is larger than that of the Austral and the entire rear end is unique (including much larger rear doors).
Thanks to the long wheelbase, a straight roofline and an upright rear window, interior space is almost identical to that of the previous, larger, Espace. The new Espace is available as a five- and seven-seater (at the same price!). If the rear seats are pushed slightly forward, the seven-seater offers just enough room for adults in the third row of seats. Comfort in the third row of seats is comparable to a budget airline; it fits, but preferably not for long. When the rear seats are pushed all the way back, head and legroom in the rear are generous (but the third row of seats is unusable). Space in the front is always excellent.
Note that boot capacity depends on the chosen version. The five-seater has a slightly lower load floor and therefore an even larger boot.
As with all other modern Renaults, the Espace has a display behind the steering wheel that, with a slight interruption by an air vent, continues into a screen in the middle of the dashboard. The audio, communication and navigation system is controlled by Google. That offers excellent navigation and a particularly smart voice-activated assistant.
New to the Espace are apps specially developed for the car that allow families to entertain themselves on the road. For example, the Espace offers spoken tourist information based on location. Very special is the game "Song Pop Party" where occupants have to recognise a song (title and/or artist) based on a short clip. Music sounds from the car's speakers, while players can answer via their own smartphone and the score is kept centrally by the Espace's computer.
Much of this functionality is only available when the Espace driver logs in with a Google account. Those who don't want to can use the system anonymously, but then significantly fewer features are available. Disabling Google completely is also possible. Then the user has to rely on their own phone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
All other luxury and safety features are average for a modern car in this segment.
Making a car smaller and thus lighter is a first step to reduce consumption and emissions. The next step involves an entirely newly developed hybrid engine. This consists of a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine (Miller cycle) assisted by two electric motors. One is mainly used when pulling away and one assists at higher speeds. Thanks to a battery with an above-average capacity of 2 kWh, the Espace drive electrically more often. Moreover, this combination makes for a hefty power output: 200 hp / 410 Nm.
And this is very noticeable in real life! The power source is so decisive that it is even important to be careful with the throttle. Admittedly, the engines sometimes have to get a little angry to perform, but that performance is ultimately very good. The engines work in perfect harmony, so one can hardly hear or feel when which engine is providing the drive.
With levers behind the steering wheel, the driver can control how much the Espace decelerates when releasing the throttle, thus recovering energy. This is not only a smart way to drive even more economically, but also allows for smoother driving as the brake does not have to be used as much. Also by maximising energy recovery, a test consumption of 4.9 litres per 100 km was achieved. That, despite a demanding course, is almost as economical as Renault promises (4.7 litres per 100 km).
The Espace is on the so-called CMF-CD platform on which Nissan and Mitsubishi release similar cars. This platform is 25% stiffer than that of the previous Espace. Together with a smaller steering wheel and more direct transmission, this makes the car more lively.
What sets the Espace apart from the Austral are the wheelbase and fine-tuning of the suspension. Only on the simplest version does the rear suspension consist of a torsion axle. All other versions have multi-link suspension, which offers more options. First of all, it allows for more sound insulation, making these variants quieter.
The main advantage, however, is the all-wheel steering. This is a further development from other Renault models, where the steering angle has been increased. On the highway, the rear wheels counter-steer by up to 1 degree for better stability. In the city, on the contrary, the rear wheels steer with it (5 degrees) for a smaller turning circle. This steering determines handling and makes the Espace dynamic and comfortable at the same time.
Can the sixth generation of the Espace follow in the footsteps of a large business car, a big family car, not to mention the previous Espace? After an extensive test, the answer is yes and no.
For the business car and the family car, the new Espace is a good replacement. However, the new Espace cannot follow in the footsteps of the first generations. The first Espaces were bold, innovative and groundbreaking. The new Espace is a fine car, but by opting for a hybrid-powered SUV, Renault is merely following the trend.
This also means, however, that the Espace is exactly what the market wants. The Espace looks tough, is spacious and has modern equipment. The hybrid powertrain with two electric motors is even smoother and more economical than other hybrids. Together with its lightweight build, this ensures lower costs (purchase and use) and livelier handling.
- Very spacious
- Dynamic, lively handling (for an SUV)
- Strong, smooth, economical hybrid engine
- Test car not free of rattles
- Not as ground-breaking as first Espaces
- Handling sometimes too lively for passengers