Motoring: The Independent Road Test: Spaced out in the top people's carrier: Renault's Espace will be even more popular in its turbo-diesel version, says Brett Fraser

HAVING created the so-called 'people carrier' or 'multi-purpose vehicle' (MPV) class with its Espace model in 1984, Renault is being pursued by a fast-flowing stream of imitators. So far, the Espace has swum ahead of the torrent, although Toyota's Previa is close on its tail. But a collaboration between Volkswagen and Ford to produce a people carrier (now in the latter stages of development), a similar project from Mercedes-Benz, and rumours of MPVs from Lancia, Peugeot and several others means the Espace is in danger of being swamped.

Renault has a replacement for the plastic-bodied Espace under way, but meantime is launching in Britain a turbo-diesel derivative, as what one might call a buoyancy aid. European markets have had the turbo-diesel for some time, but the market for diesels on the Continent is greater than it is here, and the price difference between diesel and petrol much bigger.

However, the UK diesel market is ballooning at the moment; in January diesels amounted to 17.9 per cent of total new car registrations, against 11.6 per cent in the same month of 1992. So the arrival of the turbo-diesel Espace is timely and allows Renault to broaden its line of defence.

If all this talk of people carriers - after all, don't all cars carry people? - has you puzzled, let me offer the following explanation. They are stylish vans with windows. At least, that is what they look like, although this rather simplistic description is likely to render marketing and public relations teams apoplectic. To be fair, most people carriers drive more like a car than a commercial vehicle, feature much greater refinement, and are equipped to saloon-car standards.

They are hybrids: part-estate car, part-minibus. In the case of the Espace, it is considerably more versatile than either of those categories of vehicle. Its flexibility is attributable to its movable seating. It can be bought as either a five- or seven- seater, and each seat can be removed and/or repositioned. This allows a variety of configurations beyond the obvious ones.

For instance, with five seats in place, the two fronts can be turned to face rearwards, two of the back chairs moved to the very rear of the passenger compartment, with the remaining seat fixed centrally between the pairs, and its backrest folded down on to the cushion to form a table. (It is not a good idea to try this while the vehicle is moving.)

With provision in all versions for three rows of seats, and each individual chair capable of sliding, reclining, folding flat into a table, sprawling out into a bed, being removed altogether and able to face backwards, the number of permutations is worthy of a bingo card.

The drawback to all this clever- cleverness is that when all seven seats are in place, there is little space for luggage. And when the seats are only five, there is no way to hide your worldly wares from those keen to redistribute wealth. Still, there is an alarm on the options list.

Turbo-diesel propulsion suits the Espace's role in life. Its performance is unhurried (101mph top speed, 0- 62mph in 15 seconds), but then, with a family aboard, who wants to be hurrying? Anyway, it will cruise comfortably all day, five-up, at 90mph. Many of the Espaces I see every day are being used for the school run, a task particularly suited to a diesel engine's characteristics. Diesels pull strongly at low engine speeds and are much more economical than petrol units for around-town tootling. Even when used hard, the worst fuel consumption figure you can expect will still be in the region of 28.8mpg.

Only when the engine is idling, or accelerating at full throttle, are you fully aware that this Espace is diesel- powered. Good soundproofing and a general improvement in diesel engine refinement over the years means drivers are no longer abused by the excessive noise and vibrations of the diesels of old. On the motorway the turbo- diesel Espace is quieter than its 2-litre petrol-engined counterpart.

For the moment, the turbo-diesel is available only as the pounds 17,595 RTdT, which is Renault-speak for mid-range trim. This gives you power steering, electric windows all round, remote- controlled central locking and an excellent six-speaker hi-fi.

Among the more desirable options are anti-lock brakes, an alarm and air- conditioning - the standard ventilation system is hopeless for an interior so large.

Of all the current people carriers, the Espace is the pick of the pack. And if outright pace is low on your list of requirements, the new turbo- diesel is the pick of the Espaces.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links
    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing