Automotive Flops: Renault’s Quirky 2001 Avantime Coupe-MPV

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The automotive industry has seen many flops during its century-long existence, most of them due to poor thinking and execution. Every once in a while, though, some truly innovative vehicles receive the axe simply because they were ahead of their time.

Renault’s Avantime is one such an example. Built in cooperation with Matra, the coupe-MPV was unlike anything else on the road when it was launched in 2001. Unfortunately, buyers weren’t ready to embrace such a radical vehicle. Ironically, a decade later, oddities like the BMW X6 and Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet are on the verge of becoming trendsetters.

The Avantime’s history dates back to the early 1990s, when Philippe Guédon, head of automotive division at Matra, noted an important change in the customer base of the Espace.

He believed that children of Espace owners remained loyal to the brand even after they grew up, but also wanted Renault to give them something new, with a stronger focus on driving pleasure. This how the CoupéSpace concept came to be, a design study that offered the van’s versatility, clad in a 2+2 coupe body.

A partnership between Renault and Matra was signed in 1998 and the Avantime name was adopted. The chassis came from the Matra-built Espace III, while design guru Patrick Le Quément was responsible for the body and interior.

The key word for the coupe-MPV was innovation. In hindsight, this was an understatement, as the French maker boldly went where no one has gone before. The name, which sounds like “ahead of time”, wasn’t just a cheap pun.

The Avantime featured a “one-box” setup, typical for an MPV, but eliminated the B-pillars to obtain the desired coupe look and had two enormous doors, for easy access. Much of the body was built using galvanized steel and polyester panels, while the upper structure was made from exposed aluminum. This lowered the center of gravity and improved rigidity, allowing engineers to fit the Avantime with a large sunroof.

Despite the very long doors, the Avantime could use a normal parking space without any trouble. It had a never before seen double parallel-opening system (dubbed “double-kinematic”), which minimized outswing.

Inside, the second row of seats was positioned higher, giving passengers a theater-like experience. The panoramic roof improved the sensation of space and, at a push of a button, it could be opened, together with all windows, for an “open air” mode.

The cabin featured four individual seats with incorporated seatbelts and clad in upscale leather. The interior design was minimalistic, but the materials and build quality was above average for the time.

Upon sale, the Avantime boasted a 3.0-liter V6 petrol engine, delivering 207 hp. Just like today, the large displacement scared away most European buyers and the smaller 2.0-liter petrol and 2.2-liter diesel powerplants were offered too late. Thus, Renault was simply unable to avoid the disaster that was shaping up.

In 2003, only two years into its lifecycle and with just 8,557 units sold, the futuristic Avantime was discontinued, in what was to become one of the biggest flops that the French maker had to endure.

However, the Avantime was not a bad car and it’s a prized item among collectors these days. A nice example sells for just £4,500 (€5,377 or US $7,127 at today’s exchange rates) on eBay UK, which is pocket change for such a unique car.

By Csaba Daradics



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