MOTORING / Auto Biography: The Renault Espace V6 in 0-60 seconds

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The Independent Culture
ASK the seven passengers accommodated in a Renault Espace what they think of it, and six will say more or less the same thing. First they'll comment that you need an HGV licence to drive it, then they'll mention the flat surface the size of Salisbury Plain between the dashboard and the windscreen. When your rearmost passenger seems so far away as to be invisible and inaudible, it's true that the Espace feels like a bus to drive. But, in the end, a car is still all it is. The rectangle it occupies on the road is the same size as any family saloon, and once you have shaken off the illusion that you're handling something unwieldy, its high driving position is very reassuring.

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.

(Photograph omitted)