Thursday, 6 February 2014

In a weird sort of way, I miss the Renault Espace

A CAR you’d long forgotten existed is celebrating its 30th year of production this week. Many happy returns, Renault Espace!

Admit it, you’d forgotten all about the Espace, hadn’t you? In fact, it’s so synonymous with big people carriers that I bet it’s just blended into the motoring background, quietly offering overproductive couples everywhere a spacious and well-equipped means of ferrying their children to school. Only – in this country at least – it hasn’t.

Even though the Espace is still very much in production, you haven’t been able to buy a brand new one in Britain for at least three years. It is proof positive that most Nineties of motoring institutions, the big people carrier, is on life support. 

Once upon a time everyone would offer you a roadgoing ocean liner with more seats than wheels, enough window glass to front a small office block and the ability to buckle up your youngest children in what might as well have been a different time zone. If you didn’t want a Renault Espace, you could have a Vauxhall Sintra, a Toyota Previa, a Fiat Ulysse, a Peugeot 806, or a seven-seater from just about any other manufacturer you can think of.  

The old ones are easy enough to find – just check your nearest minicab firm, and once you’ve overcome the distant whiff of stale vomit and kebabs you find examples with snooker ball smooth steering wheels with roughly three million miles on the clock. New ones, however, are all but extinct. With the notable exceptions of Ford’s Galaxy, Chrysler’s Grand Voyager and VW’s twin offerings of the Sharan and SEAT Alhambra, the truly gargantuan people mover is all but dead.

Renault, ironically, is partly to blame, because with the original Megane Scenic it sparked the idea that people carriers no longer had to be absolutely enormous to succeed. As soon as Vauxhall’s Zafira managed to offer up a normal sized car with seven seats – and this was 15 years ago, remember – the Espace and its ilk were finished.  

Which, in a small way, is a bit of a shame, because for every Espace that’s disappeared from our roads a BMW X3 or an Audi Q3 seems to have taken its place, with their aggressive – sorry, “sporty” – aesthetics and their tendency to sit three inches of your back bumper on the M62. Big people carriers might have been utterly unromantic, but at least you knew where you were with them. 

The Espace might be all but a distant memory on this side of the Channel, but in a weird sort of way I miss seeing it clogging up the nation’s school runs.  

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