Captain sensible

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Renault is by no means alone in what Eurocrats nowadays term the MPV (that’s Multi-Purpose Vehicle) market, but there is no question that the Espace sparked the MPV revolution. So much so that ‘Espace’ has almost become a generic term for the appealing hybrid of a luxury saloon in utility clothing. (It accounts for almost half the MPVs sold in Britain.) Forget the dimensions. The Espace looks stylish; a van in a Paul Smith suit.

Previously, it was available only with four- or six-cylinder petrol engines, but in line with contemporary marketing practice it was inevitable a diesel would follow sooner or later. Espace sales are expected to rise about 33 per cent in the UK this year, to around 5000 units. One fifth of these will probably be 2.1 dT turbodiesels.

In the UK generally, diesel sales are on the up. Jump into something like the Citroën ZX Volcane TD, tested in Motor Sport last month, and you can see why. The perceived desirability gap between petrol and diesel power has narrowed, and maybe vanished altogether if you know where to shop.

As far as the Espace is concerned, I should perhaps nail my flag to the mast: I’m an out and out fan of the thing, hooked on its astonishing blend of versatility and comfort.

The turbodiesel adds a new dimension. It will cruise comfortably all day long at 85-90 mph (Renault claims a modest top speed of 101, though I fancy you’d need to take the quick route down from Beachy Head, with a following wind, to reach three figures).

Consider those statistics for a moment. You can keep pace with mainstream motorway traffic, while carting most of your relatives and their assorted possessions, yet you’ll need to make fuel stops far less frequently (even with relatively hard use and a full load, over 500 miles between filling stations was easily attainable, as well it should have been with a 17-gallon tank). Ergo, your overall journey time should be shorter. The same argument could, of course, be applied to any large capacity diesel. The Espace scores bonus points for overall refinement and inherent panache. On the move, the 2.1 dT is every bit as civilised as its petrol cousins.

It’s surprisingly capable off the beaten track, too. As with most French turbodiesels, it’s relaxing to drive. Peak torque (134 lb ft) is at just 2000 rpm, and while that clearly isn’t enough to provide ear-popping acceleration, it does mean that the Espace dT is extremely responsive. So long as you remember that there are limitations, caravan-sized B-road obstructions can be overcome with calm efficiency.

What is something like this doing in a magazine of this nature?

Simple.

As Britain’s roads become less and less bearable (more traffic, more sleeping policeman and Gatso cameras that can’t differentiate between 80 mph at 3 am, which is quite safe on an empty dual carriageway, and 80 mph in the rush-hour, which patently isn’t), the day may come when anyone who wants to enjoy their Caterham, or whatever, may have to take radical steps if they wish to continue doing so in peace. Short of buying Cadwell Park, we don’t know what to suggest.

In the meantime, the Espace dT is the perfect solution to stress-free motoring in the fledgling ’90s. At £17,595 (and Renault promises low depreciation), it makes a lot of sense. S A

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