I currently have 2 Espaces sat outside my house - one due for collection from an Ebay sale, one now pressed into service as the family (and childminding!) transport. There are a number of differences that I think might prove useful to know for potential purchasers, hence my review.
2.2l Dt Alize Mk3 (year 2000)
This was our first foray into the big world of people carriers/MPV's. Bought for about £1400, it wasn't exactly on a huge budget, but seemed to match our requirements.
When you first get into the driving position, it is a very strange place to be - someone has moved the windscreen about 3 feet away from you, the speedo is in the centre of the dash board (clever design, Mr Renault, as the left hand drive version has it in exactly the same place!) and there is an acre of glass surrounding you. The seats are pretty comfortable and the pedals, though a little offset, are easy to reach.
My wife soon adapted to the larger footprint that the Espace has on the road, though its about the same size as a standard estate car - our neighbour's Mondeo estate is around the same length. The power steering is light and responsive, the turning circle isn't as bad as you might expect and the ride is dead comfy. The kids all love it and fight over the rear most 2 seats with their pop out side windows.
Being the Alize, it doesn't have any frills, other than electric front windows, Radio/Cassette, with controls on a steering column stalk. The front seats spin through 180 degrees to allow the vehicle to be used for indoor picnics - fold the centre seat down flat and you have a table, with access for all 6 others. Not exactly comfy but a lot better than having a Thermos of tea on a beach in the rain!
We have used the car for camping trips, when the removable rear seats have made loading the vast piles of stuff a breeze. The seats are a bit awkward to remove and are heavy, but when removed, you are pretty much driving a small van!
What we have found is that, with this model, if you have all 7 seats occupied, there is precious little space for all the "stuff" that a car full of small children need - once a pram and a changing bag are in the back, there's not much room left for footballs, changes of clothes, picnics, waterproofs, wellies and the rest.
We had kept this car for about 18 months, during which time its been pretty reliable - bearing in mind its age. It does get through tyres if you don't keep up with the tyre pressures, particularly on the front, and you soon learn the art of getting past speed bumps without the front scraping - the diesel engine is heavier than the petrol, and the nose does tend to scrape if you are a bit enthusiastic going over them! For all that, it sits comfortably on the motorway at around 75, starts first time and is a comfy, practical taxi! The only real problem we'd had until recently was the gearbox being sticky when cold - apparently a common "fault" on these.
We all love the look of the Espace Mk3, to my mind better looking than the later models and smarter than the older ones. We had also managed to track down a used genuine Renault bike rack for this model (they are like hens' teeth and cost a fortune new - well over £300 from memory!)
So, when we decided to buy a replacement, we looked for a MK3 Grande Espace, which comes with the longer wheelbase, most of which is behind the rearmost seats.
So - onto the second one parked outside the house!
2002 2.2DCi "The Race" Grand Espace
The key differences between the two are the engine and the wheelbase. I'll address the two in reverse order, as it'll make more sense that way!
The extra length in the wheelbase makes a couple of big differences. One - you do have space for all the clutter, or a huge monthly shop! Take the seats out and it's a bit like driving a narrow boat. Fortunately, it doesn't handle like one - the ride is a lot less choppy than the standard Espace and it still fits in a parking meter space like a normal car. In some supermarkets you do find yourself hanging over the end of a bay a bit, and an occasional extra 3-point turn is required, but the visibility is good and the more upmarket ones have parking sensors (ours doesn't, annoyingly!)
Now to the noisy, oily bit.
This vehicle has the 2.2 DCi engine. I know many of us glaze over when it comes to engine names (why can't they be called Bob or Sandra?) According to Renault it gives more power, less emissions , its quieter, smoother and a whole lot better for everyone.
Sadly, this isn't the case. We have had a number of problems with this engine - all of which appear to be well known to both Renault and the Renault owning fraternity. The biggest seems to be the fact that it has an EGR valve, which doesn't work very well. For the uninitiated, an EGR valve is a way the engine has of recycling some of the exhaust fumes, burning the carbon particles from the exhaust as it does so and cleaning the emissions. A great idea, but all that carbon has to go somewhere. Judging by our EGR valve, most of it simply clogs up the workings of the valve until it doesn't open or close.
My wife had limped back from Norfolk to London at no more than 45 mph when this problem came to light - a warning light had come up on the dashboard (which, helpfully, isn't identified in the handbook!) The online advice was that it was the universal Renault light for "something's not quite right!" The engine then puts itself in "limp home" mode, which it did - just!
Our local garage, (who must have a holiday home funded by us by now!) quoted us over £450 for a replacement, which was about 25% of the purchase price of the car (I said we were on a budget!) I did extensive research on line and decided to try and fix it for myself.
I spent £6.95 on a can of carb cleaner (which I will review!) and spent a frustrating few hours under the (fibreglass) bonnet, swearing quietly at the bizarre location of said valve's fixings. Eventually it came free - its about 150mm long, 60mm in diameter and tricky to free, but once out - eeurgh! What a mess! Covered in black soot, which had caked itself to the inside, stopping the spring-loaded valve from opening or closing. Judicous use of a screwdriver, cotton wool buds and an old toothbrush removed a load of black deposits from it and the valve freed enough for it to open and close. A final spray with the carb cleaner and there was shiny metal to be seen almost everywhere. I popped it back in, crossed my fingers and started the engine.
A great cloud of white, then black smoke came out of the exhaust. Oops, thought I, but the engine was revving freely, so I thought all might be well. The smoke reduced, then eventually stopped entirely. Since then, we've had no repeat of the problem, so I will keep the cleaner for next time!
Apparently this is a common problem on the engine, which also appears in some Vauxhalls, some Nissans and a number of other vehicles. Its not unique to the 2.2 litre diesel, either - apparently the 3.0 diesel is even worse!
I'll conclude there, but hope that our experience (and more importantly, the cheap fix!) is of use to the community at large.
In summary, the Espace is a great car - big, comfy and practical, but the more recent ones are less reliable than the older ones. The 2.2 turbodiesel (2.2Dt) is apparently far more robust, even if it is older. For more evidence, look at the number of "spares or repairs" DCi engined espaces available on Ebay at any time - it tells its own tale! Maybe the petrol ones, whilst less economical on fuel, are a better bet!
PPS! When buying - check the timing belt has been changed every 60k miles or so - if it goes, its a mighty big bill - we know!
I used to have the petrol model but now own the diesel model. In general this car provides plenty of leg room even with 7 people, however, this does not leave much space at the back for bags and luggage etc. Both models have electric front windows, manual rear windows and the back ones just pop out slightly. The front seats can also swivel 180 degrees which I wouldn't recommend whilst driving!
I bought this car as I am a sports coach and use it to lug my team up and down the country to various tournaments. My partner also uses it for her mobile bar business. When the rear seats are taken out (which is easy to do - although they're quite heavy) it provides just as much room as a small van so it is ideal for us.
Although it's not the most pleasing car to look at, the engines are solid, it is a very comfortable drive and cruises up and down the motorway with ease. The petrol model performs slightly better (as expected) however the diesel's more economical.
Although, I must say that the electrics may present a bit a problem for most (by experience and word of mouth). On the petrol model, the driver's side front window would wind itself up when we put the side or head lights on. This was not a problem for us but beware if you're thinking of getting one, a major electrical fault may be costly.
That being said, we have recently returned from Prague, Czech where the car never missed a beat (17 hour drive each way). So if you're looking for a reliable affordable 7 seater for whatever reason get one of these! However, I can only review the two Espace's that I've had and cannot say the same for all Renault Espace's. Hope that helps.