Progress re­port

Not afraid of blaz­ing a trail, even if it’s to a dead end, Re­nault’s trans­port so­lu­tions for la famille nu­cléaire are a class apart


There’s a line in the in­com­pa­ra­ble Black­ad­der Goes Forth in which our epony­mous hero ob­serves that a war “hasn’t been fought this badly since Olaf the Hairy, high chief of all the Vik­ings, ac­ci­den­tally or­dered 80,000 bat­tle hel­mets with the horns on the in­side”.

It’s difcult not to look at the Re­nault Avan­time and ar­rive at a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion. The car busi­ness is at the apex of cap­i­tal­ism, wherein juicy proft is reaped by clever de­sign­ers, en­gi­neers and prod­uct plan­ners when they cre­ate some­thing lots of peo­ple buy, a re­sult ren­dered all the sweeter when it’s some­thing they never knew they wanted. Sadly, in the Avan­time’s case, they never knew they wanted it be­cause they didn’t want it.

Re­nault, then trum­pet­ing it­self not in­ac­cu­rately as a “créa­teur

d’au­to­mo­biles”, served up a car that was efec­tively an Es­pace coupe, a bold propo­si­tion driven by avun­cu­lar de­sign boss Pa­trick Le Qué­ment’s be­lief that space, light and height were key com­po­nents in 21st-cen­tury luxury mo­tor­ing (see also the Vel Satis). Squint a bit and the Avan­time could have been part of a grand brand con­tin­uum back to 1905’s Type S, and a gen­er­ous soul could fnd merit in the idea of a pala­tial, deca­dent, pseu­doGT. But it was also cre­ated to fulfl a con­trac­tual obli­ga­tion Re­nault had

with Ma­tra, who spent two years strug­gling to turn 1999’s Geneva show con­cept into a pro­duc­tion re­al­ity. With mixed re­sults, it has to be said.

Full dis­clo­sure: I ran an Avan­time for a year, back in 2003, and it’s equal parts amus­ing and sober­ing be­ing re­united. The fact is, I loved the silly old thing, and 14 years later I still do. Es­pe­cially now that its rar­ity – 8,557 sold all told, just 435 in the UK – is ac­cel­er­at­ing, well, mildly speed­ing up, its future-clas­sic status and you can pick one up for about £5k. The huge front doors, sus­pended on com­plex double-can­tilevered hinges, al­ways shud­dered when you opened them, and the in­ter­ven­ing years and the 105,000 miles this one has racked up ob­vi­ously haven’t im­proved mat­ters. The Bridge of Weir leather on the vast arm­chairs is now heav­ily pati­nated, but they’re mighty com­fort­able. The dash­board is a late Nineties time­warp, prob­a­bly the clear­est in­di­ca­tor of how far things have come (the au­dio sys­tem came with a re­mote con­trol, for heaven’s sake). Yet de­spite France’s rep for, um, fckle build qual­ity, the Avan­time re­mains a sur­pris­ingly solid thing. Not a bad drive ei­ther, with the creamy if rather lethar­gic, 207bhp 3.0-litre V6 gamely haul­ing its sub­stan­tial mass along. This is a car for tree-lined boule­vards rather than bendy B-roads, though.

As for progress, well, the lat­est Scenic is self-ev­i­dently a vastly more prac­ti­cal tool than its wacky fore­bear. Re­nault’s com­mit­ment to main­stream weird­ness was al­most its un­do­ing, but the Scenic is that rare thing: an MPV whose prin­ci­pal USP is its far-out de­sign, capped by those au­da­cious 20in al­loys. It can’t match the Avan­time’s party trick – the full-length glass roof and pil­lar­less glass all-round still daz­zle – but there’s enough fair cours­ing through its veins to sep­a­rate it from the herd. Con­ver­gence is a word you hear a lot in 2017, but Re­nault still has the balls to do things its own way.

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