The argument will long rage over whether Renault (with the Espace) or Chrysler (with the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager twins) invented the minivan. Renault maintains it did and has just unveiled the Geneva motor show#;s closest-to-production ‘concept#;, aka the new Espace – compete with chromed Concept badge on the tailgate.
The new Espace, for launch this year, is less radically changed compared with the current model, than that version was over its predecessor. Potential buyers now used to Renault#;s central digital instrument display, briefcase-swallowing centre glovebox and dashboard-end ventilation controls will find the new cabin more evolution than revolution, and the exterior, with a new incarnation of the latest corporate nose, more like a facelift than all-new.
Renault says it wanted to stress occupant comfort and well-being with the new model.
“It is a search for the best possible bespoke solutions, tailored to individual needs, within the same shared convivial space,” the press blurb reads.
Having pioneered separate left and right heater and a/c units in the previous Espace, Renault has now added separate rear head and face outlets with independent speed control. Big deal, US and Japanese minivan owners, accustomed to such luxury for years, might well say, but it is an advance in European minivanland. Truly.
Three-point seatbelts for all three or five rear seats is another new Espace feature while the chairs#; integral rail mounting system allows the same sort of almost infinite seat layout arrangements as the old, er, current model.
Dashboard digits are now blue instead of orange and the Concept has a 2.16 square metre sunroof with roller blind.
Other details are being kept under wraps for the moment but Renault has effectively confirmed the new Espace will have its new 180bhp three-litre V6 direct injection turbodiesel (also offered in the new Vel Satis luxury sedan) and five-speed Proactive automatic transmission by fitting them to the concept. Also expect a petrol 3.5-litre V6, a two-litre petrol four and a 2.2-litre turbodiesel.
“I doubt there#;ll be many changes from this to production,” said Renault UK press officer Graeme Holt at Geneva.
And what chance Renault returning to the USA to take on Chrysler et al in the minivan market?
“Nil,” responds Holt. “We can do far better spending the sort of money it would take to return to the US more successfully developing other markets around the world such as the Far East and South America.”