NOTHING is forever, as RENAULT has discovered with its ground-breaking Scenic mini MPV model.
This is the car that created an entirely new sector of the market, and became hugely successful as a result.
An ideal family model, it offers removable five-seater accommodation, with each occupant having their own fully adjustable individual chair.
Unfortunately the concept is not the sort of thing that can be protected with a patent, and soon arch-rival Citroen muscled in, followed by Vauxhall whose Zafira took the idea a stage further by offering seven seats.
Now the Citroen Picasso and the Zafira are giving RENAULT’s Scenic a hard time, illustrating the need for constant improvement within such a fiercely competitive industry.
This is why RENAULT’s larger Espace people-carrier has just been revamped, coinciding with the arrival of a trio of extremely formidable rivals.
They are the Citroen C8, Peugeot 807 and Fiat Ulysse clones, which go on sale here within a matter of weeks.
The latest incarnation of a range of people-carriers that started life as a van, the newcomers are stylish, sophisticated and well-equipped vehicles that will revolutionise this growing sector of the market.
Attempting to maintain its position as one of the nation’s favourites will be the all-new Espace, which will be forced to engage in the fight of its life.
Fundamentally different from these three main rivals, it has conventionally-hinged side doors, just like the Ford Galaxy, Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhmabra, rather than sliding doors.
RENAULT’s theory is that parents prefer the perceived safety of doors that cannot be slid open, and more especially slid shut, possibly trapping an infant’s limb in the process.
The designers also believe that the vehicle is considered to be more car-like than those with sliding doors, which are more normally associated with vans.
This, then, will immediately ingratiate the Espace to some potential purchasers, whilst alienating the rest.
For those who are attracted to the Espace concept, what they can expect is a completely new vehicle that has hopefully overcome its current shortcomings.
However, whilst it is an obvious improvement, there are still niggles. Top of the list are the lack of luggage space with the rearmost seats fitted, and the unusual seating position for the rear five occupants.
This is because the seat squabs are so low that they offer little or no support beneath your legs, unless you are a child or are extremely short.
RENAULT’s argument to both points is that there is a larger vehicle in the form of the Grand Espace, which addresses both problems.
However, to give some idea of the scale of the problem, consider that the new Peugeot is shorter than the RENAULT, yet offers 480 litres of cargo space in comparison to just 290 litres in the Espace.
Remove the rearmost seats and they are similar, although the Peugeot is still fractionally more spacious.
However, apart from this, the latest Espace is a definite improvement, with a host of changes to make life easier for its users.
For example, there are now runners on the floor rather than hooks to attach the seats to, which is far easier.
The fascia is clean and uncluttered, with excellent instrumentation and switchgear, and the safety equipment levels are first class.
There are front and side air bags, full-length curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes and brake assist (which uses engine power in an emergency to boost brake pressure), and electronic brakeforce distribution.
Each of the seats has a three-point seatbelt, and there are ISOFIX anchorage points for child seats in the back.
The air conditioning system is worthy of special mention, because one of the inherent problems with vehicles that carry up to seven people is ventilation and general stuffiness.
The new Espace has its air conditioning unit moved to beneath the front passenger seat, which creates increased storage room in the fascia, and it is connected to a myriad of outlets throughout the vehicle.
There is also the option of a massive sunroof, which covers virtually the entire top of the vehicle and is appropriately referred to as panoramic.
There’s a choice of standard and turbocharged two-litre petrol engines, plus a hefty (and thirsty) 3.5-litre V6, together with diesel options of 1.9, 2.2 and 3.0-litres, and a further choice of automatic and six-speed manual transmissions.
Prices are £19,130 for the two-litre Espace Authentique, and £20,135 for the 1.9-litre diesel version.
The Expression adds more equipment, and a two-litre turbocharged option, including even an automatic at £23,380, plus RENAULT’s hugely impressive 2.2-litre common rail diesel alternative, at £23,385.
At the top of the pile are the Privilege versions, with large-diameter alloy wheels, separated climate control throughout the vehicle, and piercing xenon headlamps.
Prices range from £23,880 for the two-litre turbo, to £28,980 for the 3.5-litre V6 and 3.0-litre diesel automatics.
The larger Grand Espace models will start at £22,880 for the two-litre turbo with Expression trim, rising to just under £30,000 for the 3.5-litre V6 and 3.0-litre diesel automatics.
These are the official list prices anyway, although it will be interesting to see the actual transaction prices people pay, bearing in mind the intensity of the competition when the vehicles go on sale here in the Spring.