Summer marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Renault Espace first going on sale. Sales of the groundbreaking vehicle, which started the MPV revolution back in the early Eighties and has had four distinct generations, have now reached almost 1.2 million since its launch in 1984, 80,000 of which are in the UK.

Originally conceived by Renault and its partner, Matra, the first Espace appeared in 1984 and was initially greeted with a combination of intrigue and scepticism - nothing like Espace had ever been seen before. Flying in the face of accepted wisdom, the Espace epitomised Renault's desire to push the boundaries of conventional design and create a car which met the changing needs of a rapidly evolving society.

With each successive version, Renault brought additional enhancements in terms of safety, driving pleasure and travelling comfort, to the point where today's latest model is more than a match for a ‘conventional' executive car.

Espace's roots can be traced back to late November 1979 when a prototype (P16) was trialled based on Renault's plans for a grand-touring saloon with a flexible interior and individual seats, meanwhile Matra had plans for a similar vehicle inspired by the mini-van market in America but with bench seats. Espace was conceived on 15th December 1982 when Matra and Renault joined forces on a second prototype codenamed P23. Renault took charge of product definition, interior and exterior design, powertrains, promotion and sales while Matra handled vehicle development and production.

Jacques Cheinisse, head of Renault's upmarket product range at the time, drew up the specifications that would define the key features of the Renault MPV concept: uncluttered flat floor for front-to-back mobility, five or seven independent seats (with two front swivelling seats), and bodywork made from composite material to keep vehicle weight low.

Renault Espace 25 years (2009) - picture 1 of 5
Renault Espace 25 years (2009) - picture 2 of 5
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Renault Espace 25 years (2009) - picture 5 of 5
Out of the World

The name Espace (the French word for "space", in both its usual senses) fit the vehicle perfectly, and advertising material made much of the opportunities for wordplay, with frequent references to the vehicle's "out of this world" qualities.

Espace 1 was unveiled to the Press in April 1984 as a 110hp 2.0 litre petrol model, this first version being joined the end of 1984 with an 88hp turbo-charged diesel model. On sale in France from July 1984, sales at the start were slow as people struggled to appreciate the look of a high roof ‘one box' car. Sales climbed in 1985, and demand soon outstripped production at the Matra Romorantin plant, leading to the need for extra manufacturing capacity at the Renault Dieppe plant in 1987.

With sales topping 192,000, the first-generation Espace underwent a major facelift in January 1988; all versions had fresh frontal styling, and a Quadra version was introduced with four-wheel drive. Release of Espace II at the Geneva Motor Show in 1991 marked Renault's strong determination to push its MPV concept forward even further. Modularity was upgraded with the introduction of innovative floor rails for the second and third row seat fixing, a more sophisticated climate control system was introduced, and the A pillars were slimmed down by 40% to improve visibility.

In 1994, at the European Grand Prix, Renault showcased the Espace F1, a remarkable demonstration car powered by the 3.5-litre, 820hp V10 engine that had excelled in the previous year's Formula 1 World Championship. Espace II production from 1991 to 1996 reached 316,518, with total production across the first two generations topping the half-million mark in July 1996.

Grand Espace arrives

The third-generation Espace, unveiled in October 1996, brought an upmarket shift to keep ahead of the competition. The dashboard featured a central digital display for improved legibility and, to meet the needs of customers looking for an even more spacious vehicle, Renault launched a longer wheelbase version (27 cm longer) in January 1998, called Grand Espace. By the end of 2001, Espace III held an 18.5% share of the MPV market. Overall production of this third-generation Espace topped 365,200 units.

The latest generation, Espace and Grand Espace IV, went on sale in 2003. Consolidating the model's upmarket positioning and enhancing the driving pleasure and laidback luxury, the Espace's V6 petrol and diesel engines remain unique in this market sector. The optional sunroof remains one of the largest available, significantly adding to the ambiance inside.

Espace IV leads its field in comfort, performance and safety. It was the first in class to achieve the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP tests, thanks to a range of advanced safety features, such as seats with integrated seatbelts in all second- and third-row places.

With Espace, Renault created a whole new vehicle concept, which was successfully carried over to the original Twingo in 1992, Scénic in 1996, and Modus in 2004.

The Renault Espace has been the leading vehicle of its kind since inception, and, after 25 years, it shows absolutely no sign of relinquishing its supremacy in the increasingly competitive MPV market.


November 1979 P16 Renault prototype trailed
Dec 1982 Joint Matra and Renault P23 prototype conceived
April 1984 Espace I unveiled to the Press.
April 1984 Production starts at Matra's Romorantin plant
July 1984 Commercial launch in France with only nine sales in first month and 2,427 sold in the year
March 1985 10,000 Espace produced after one year's production
July 1985 Espace launched in the UK. Sales of 217 in first six months. Priced from ?9,990
June 1987 Production added at Renault Dieppe plant of 20 cars per day in addition to 107 at Matra per day
June 1987 Production hits 50,000 after 3 years and 3 months
1987 Sales during 1987 of 12,000 in France and 1,500 in UK
January 1988 Facelifted model range including Quadra 4x4 added
March 1989 Production hits 100,000, only 21 months for 50,000 more
Jan 25th 1991 Production of 191,674th and last Espace I.
March 1991 Espace II revealed with V6 petrol engine.
June 1991 On sale in UK, priced from ?16,940
1992 Production of Espace II in one year tops 64,500
May 1993 First RHD Diesel introduced
July 1994 400,000 sold in first 10 years
1994 Espace F1 revealed, featuring Williams-Renault V10 F1 car's engine, transmission and rear suspension. 0-62 mph in 2.8 seconds
1995 MPV's account for 16% of European E sector
Sept 1996 500,000th Espace produced after 12 years
January 1997 Production of 316,419th and last Espace II
March 1997 Espace III revealed
June 1997 On sale in the UK, priced from ?18,995
Nov 1997 Grand Espace unveiled
1998 Production of Espace III in one year tops 67,000
June 1999 Euro NCAP tests MPVs. Espace safest with four stars
2001 MPVs account for 28% of European E sector
July 2002 363,963rd and last Espace III produced
Sept 2002 Espace IV revealed. First V6 diesel MPV
Feb 2003 On sale in the UK, priced from ?22,700
May 2003 Espace sponsorship of Ellen MacArthur and Offshore Challenges
June 2003 Espace scores highest-ever EuroNCAP score and five stars
2003 Production of Espace IV tops 66,500 in one year
June 2004 1,000,000th Espace produced. 2nd 500,000 taking eight years
July 2004 20th anniversary of Espace on sale
2005 Globe special edition introduced in partnership with Dame Ellen MacArthur
2006 Phase 2 introduced with new dCi 175 engine and available with a six-speed automatic gearbox
2008 Quality commitment backed up with the introduction of a 3 yeart/100,000 mile warranty