Renault has this year refined the people-carrier with a smooth and eager V6 engine - and, in the model I drove, an automatic gearbox. There have been other aesthetic and practical refinements, such as a more rakish, smoothly-contoured body and a standard removable third row of seats.
Families adore this car. The hand-to-hand combat, verbal abuse and tantrums of small children in the rearmost row are but a distant hum to front-seat travellers. There are aircraft-like picnic tables on the middle row, and acres of floor-space on which to distribute luggage. The only catch is in the price and the fuel economy, but a turbo-diesel is now on the market for the more frugal.
GOING PLACES: Very smooth V6 engine, offering 0-60mph in approx 9.5 secs, 50-70 overtaking sprint in approx 10.5 secs. Smooth change-ups with newly-featured automatic gearbox, but over-sensitive change-downs on deceleration, as with Safrane saloon. Quiet, refined power however.
STAYING ALIVE: Plastic body-panel construction (due to be all-steel in new-look Espace in 1996) on rugged, rigorously crash-tested steel frame. Height-adjustable seatbelts, anti-lock braking standard on RXE, optional on all models. Handling inclined to slight roll, but otherwise a leader for people-carriers, brakes excellent, forward and side visibility excellent, parking view not so good.
CREATURE COMFORTS: High specification on the RXE, good throughout the range. Seats comfortable, extensively adjustable, but poor lateral support. Good ventilation, full air-conditioning optional. Quiet and spacious, although seven long-legged passengers sharply reduce the luggage space. Good stereo, CD optional.
BANGS PER BUCK: Power steering, ABS brakes, central locking, electric windows, sunroof and mirrors, but fuel consumption rarely better than 25 miles per gallon, busting 20 mpg in town. Price: pounds 25,925.
STAR QUALITY: Rightly famous example of how to do people-carrying properly - genuine multi-use vehicle of immense practicality, classy styling and spaciousness, made even better with V6 engine.
TURKEY QUOTIENT: Cost, average-only seating design, slightly awkward driving position, intrusive automatic gearbox.
AND ON MY RIGHT: Nissan Serena SGX (pounds 17,750) - cheaper, odd sit-up-and-beg shape, pitchier ride but more supportive and adaptable seats (two rotating), briskish performance; Mitsubishi Spacewagon (pounds 15,569) - quick, much more economical, keen price, less space; Toyota Previa (pounds 19,700) - best-designed of all, and roomier, but slower, noisier.
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