Cohort Classic: 2001 Renault Avantime – Renault Builds a Citroen.

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Not too long ago Citroen announced, much to the chagrin of everyone that loves their cars comfortable, that they would stop producing and developing their world-famous Hydropneumatic suspension. Citroen CEO Linda Jackson told the media that this was because it is “old technology”; you know, like springs made out of steel. Really, the thing reeks of bean counterism to me. Not to mention yet another blow to Citroen’s quirky individuality, which seems to be surviving only on the exterior design of some models and their DS sub-brand (Oh, and the Cactus). They’ve had it rough on that front, so rough in fact that Renault actually out-citroen’d them with two cars back in the early ‘00s.

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The Avantime was first shown to the world as a concept on the 1999 Geneva motor show, another inspired design by Patrick Le Quément, he who brought us the Jellymold Ford Sierra and the innovative Renault Twingo I. Clearly, the man was not afraid of taking his own approach to design and so, he penned a one-box 2+2 hardtop coupé. People gasped in wonderment. Even more so when Renault announced it would go into production in September of that year.
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Although it’s not the focus of this article, it’s also worth mentioning that around this time he was also penning this: the Vel Satis. A 5-door luxury-oriented tall hatchback of unique design that was supposedly competing with the BMW 5-Series. Unsurprisingly with those credentials it wasn’t you’d call a monumental success. The President of France got one, few else did. It wasn’t even that bad-looking. Although it does seem like the front and the back were from two entirely different cars.

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Styling is subjective of course, but personally, I love it. That’s not to say that it isn’t without its faults though. I’m not particularly fond of the tailights for one; but overall the design manages to work. Underneath the design sat the underpinnings of the Renault Espace. The sole engine offering at the time of launch was a 2.9-liter V6 developing 204 Horsepower, although a diesel and a smaller 2.0-liter gasoline engine would follow. This were connected to either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.
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Unlike the Espace’s utilitarian appeal, the Avantime was supposed to be the halo car for Renault at the time and as such was much more luxuriously appointed. I could gush about this interior for some time so, you know, I will. The four thrones you got were covered in magnificent Bridge of Weir leather. The same stuff they used on the UK-built Model T and more recently on any number of opulent vehicles from Aston Martins to Infinitis to the Range Rover.

The back seats were positioned higher up than the front seats to create what was called “Theater sitting”. Best of all because of the low beltline, glass roof and large windows it was an extremely airy car. And you could experience that to the fullest if you engaged “Grand Air Mode” Push a button and all the windows go down as the glass roof slides out of the way to enjoy the ultimate open roof motoring experience this side of a convertible. Unfortunately, it does have central-mounted instruments, a constraint by the Espace platform and a pet-peeve of mine.

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Another point of note are the doube-hinged doors or “Double kinematic” in Renault-speak. I tried to find out how do they work, I really did, but I couldn’t. So I don’t know what sorcery they use to make an extremely large door usable in narrow spaces.
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This mildly modified example was uploaded to the cohort by Yohai Rodin. The rims may be a bit tacky but overall I think the look works. Even the yellow brake calipers somehow don’t destroy the image and it seems to have a very tasteful body kit. Overall and despite all the clever workings the Avantime wasn’t a big seller and only 8,557 of them were sold. But if I were a betting man I’d wager on it not being supposed to be a big seller. Where do you stand on the love/hate scale on this one? We already know how Paul feels about it.