CREDIT where its due is a mantra thats sadly overlooked in the motoring world. Anyone lucky enough to have a good idea that changes the game can look forward to a few short months of hay-making before the rest of pack jump on it and exploit the notion for all its worth.
Renault have had more than few hits on their hands over the years, but perhaps none more so that the Espace. Pedants might point to the fact that the Dodge Caravan that appeared just months before the original Espace in 1984, but that was a glorified van with windows: the Espace had four doors, a proper boot and individual seats that were configurable in numerous ways. It was truly multi-purpose, hence the MPV tag that lives on today.
Fast forward to 2011 and the current third-generation Espace has been given a mild update to keep pace with younger challengers, but it only takes a few minutes to realise how much of the original formula is still inherently right. In terms of looks the Espace is clearly a car that has been designed from the inside out: the vast glass area, including a panoramic roof on some versions, is just the ticket for a vehicle designed to hold up to seven people at once. For 2011 the exterior changes amount to LED daytime running lights for a smarter face, increased colour palette and smart new alloy wheels. What you still get from the exterior view is a sense of the space inside and also the high vantage point. Its a car that slips through traffic largely unnoticed due to its familiarity, but avoids being a dull-looking box on wheels even some of its younger rivals dont manage that.
Climb inside and whatever seat you choose, the view out is superb. For the driver there is the unusual but pleasant feeling of being so far from the base of the windscreen. That adds to the feeling of space and also gives room for the Espaces broad dashboard, packed with cubby holes and gloveboxes, while the major controls are grouped towards the drivers seat rather than merely in the middle: climate control on the drivers door, sat-nav down on the left and the audio system that can be largely managed by the dedicated column stalk. Unusual at first perhaps but eminently sensible with familiarity.
2011 upgrades on the inside are the option of that epic glass roof with electric blind, the virtually-essential rear seat entertainment system and even an opening tailgate window. Theres also the option of a Lux pack which brings leather upholstery throughout, front parking sensors, metallic paint, a Tunepoint system for greater audio connectivity and full European mapping on the user-friendly TomTom sat nav. It even gives you four rear seats instead of five for a proper luxury feel.
Mechanically the Espace is much as before, although both diesel engines have been tweaked in line with Euro 5 emission regulations. So the top version with 175bhp and an automatic gearbox as tested here are down to 189g/km of CO2. On the face of it the driving experience is where a car this practical should fall down, but the reality is quite different. The engine is refined and sufficiently distant from the cabin to make little noise, and the combination of the slick automatic gearbox and generous torque make the driving experience pleasingly relaxed. Call upon the Espace to hurry along and it does so with gusto, helped by possibly the best view out and driving position that money can buy.
Comfort is of course a priority and it does not disappoint, soothing away most road imperfections easily but without allowing it to loll excessively through the corners. As a long-distance cruiser the Espace is perfect for the job, yet despite its size the high driving position takes the strain out of crawling through traffic.
The 2011 updates have added a useful fillip to the Espace and although it may not be the youngest of a thriving MPV sector, theres a lot to be said for a work by the original artist.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Renault Grand Espace Dynamique dCi 175 Auto, £29,420
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit producing 175bhp and 266lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic gearbox driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 123mph, 0-62mph in 11.1 seconds
Economy: 39.2mpg combined
Emissions: 189g/km of CO2