(first posted 10/15/2015) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A hardtop coupe built off a minivan platform with styling of an Electric from 15 years later. It sounds crazy but I am glad they did it. Modern CAD/CAM was supposed to deliver more choice but instead delivered none of it. It comes down to creative people and the stomach to back them. As time goes on there are fewer and fewer oddballs to admire. I have seen several of these around Europe and am surprised how rare they are. Thanks Gerardo for bringing this to us.
I don’t care for it. Its like a mini van with no back.
all Renaults of that era were outstanding, design-wise. And I mean in a very good way.
I still think the back half of the second gen Megane is the most beautiful and daring car design since, well, a very very long time. Mind: this was not a niche model like the Avantime, but Renault’s bread and butter offering, supposed to sell in millions. To bet the house on an extreme design really was one daring choice. And looking at all Renaults that came later, not one that we will see repeated soon, anywhere in the world of the automotive industry.
Absolutely agree on that Megane generation. Just the rear window and the low, sleek nose. Its successor was the absolute opposite.
I found them really good to drive too, apart from the daft handbrake. For me they had the right balance between handling and ride comfort – the word supple always sprang to mind.
The 1.9DCi was quick and even the 1.5 was enjoyable in its own way, in fact I think I preferred it.
I think it’s a refreshing and inventive design that makes a lot of sense, too. Instead of saying “expendable income” through overlong extremities, it offers elbow room without suggesting utilitarian constraints. The tiered dash eliminates the huge, useless platform that most cars have under the windscreen, and presents a convenient temporary shelf for phones, wallets etc. that might otherwise end up in fumble-for territory between the seats.
That bugaboo of centralized instruments is totally out of place in a luxury car, though. Don’t charge me a lot and then imply to me you are building a car to a cost. It really shouldn’t be all that hard to design a universal left/right cluster with centered ports out of view behind the dash where East or West gauge pods can plug in. For all I know, lots of car companies are already doing it. One has to assume that it’s just a French thing to put them in the middle.
I’m guessing that the view from the rear seats is saved by the higher seating since the C-pillars are designed from the outside in, and, yes, those tail lights look like a cut and rotate puzzle.
But the other details, and the overall package are quite attractive. Even the ’80s Cougar side window treatment doesn’t bother me.
BUT… It’s pillarless, so that’s a big win in my book!
Right there, Zackman. At least all the windows roll down in true hardtop fashion. Or just rear seat passenger comfort.
The first one I ever saw was on Top Gear and I thought it was some kind of dressed up minivan. Now I’m thinking that this is a brougham version of a minivan.
Don’t get me wrong I actually like the thing but four seats and two doors and it looks like a minivan. That’s either alot of wasted interior room or it has enough room in it to ride four NBA players very comfortably.
It is probably smaller than you think – the footprint is about the same as the current BMW 3-series in the other post today. 182″ long on a 106″ wheelbase.
I thought it was a brave attempt by Renault to introduce a paradigm shift away from the BMW sports sedan influence on the luxury sedan/car market, into something more focused on space and comfort, however the market spoke. Partly I think the relatively narrow model range would not have helped, but also such a drastic change takes time and some ‘priming of the pump’ to get people to take it seriously. By which I mean the sort of celebrity endorsements and other cultural-impact promotional efforts that helped make the original Mini popular.
When these cars came out someone at Audi quipped how nice it was for Renault to do Audi’s market research for free (or something to that effect). Interesting, yes but like the Vel Satis a dead end.
Renault have been building Citroëns.
And have taken the lead in pushing design and ‘the’ idea of the automobile into the future.
It started in 1961 with the launch of the Renault 4, the first successfull hatchback that changed the world.
Then in 1964 they launched the 16, again Reanult pushed the boundries in the automotive world.
The Espace followed in 1984, and the Mégane Scenic in 1996, both MPV’s that lead the way in Europe and everybody came with an MPV !
The Twingo, actually only meant to be produced for 2 – 3 years max was the next car we wanted, a mini-MPV, and we are now in the third generation of Twingo ! Ok not as origional as the origional Twingo, but the Twingo idea has been copied, by everybody, as has each and every ground-breaking Renault model I mentioned.
The thing with the Twingo is it was sexless like the origional MIni or 2CV, it was classless designed by one man (Patrick le Quement ) and made to be practical and simple in daily use.
True: Renault did not invent the hatchback, there was a Kaiser Frazer and a Citroën Traction who were first and Renault did not invent the MPV.
Renault are masters in striking at the right time with a new idea or niche as we call ideas today.
Not every idea of Renault is appreciated by the masses as shows the Avantime and the Vel Satis, but I never understood why the VelSatis has never become a success under the taxi-boy, it is a large rather high car, a 2 liter Diesel is economical, and it has a large boot, more then I can say from the laterst Mercedes E class taxi that took me from the airport to LImassol city last week.
3 passengers and one suitcase sitting on my lap !
The other honest thing I have to mention is that Citroën’s third nose DS is greatly inspired (or robbed) from Panhard’s model 24 BT or CT
The doorhandles, the headlights, even the height adjustable frontseats were all introduced by Panhard, some 4 years earlier !
The 24 even had air from the heater transferred through the doors ! to de-mist the rear window
The thing that caught my eye and actually made me take this photo, was not the car itself (not that it’s common, of course). I remember seeing this very car at the same location several years ago, so we’re dealing with a very loyal owner here.
It was actually the body kit- never in a million years would I have thought that someone would manufacture a body kit for an Avantime!
Now, let me see about a body kit with a Vel Satis attached to it…
i got at taxi ride with my family in one of these when we were vacationing in paris about five years ago. the glass roof was incredible. i remember thinking that only the french are civilized enough to offer tourists a view like this from a cab.
Like, an officially licenced Paris taxi? I’m amazed anyone would choose this as a cab, and mildly surprised they’re allowed to.
no it was more of a gypsy cab / car service kind of thing. we were at some tourist site waiting by the curb and he asked us if we needed a taxi. i know that sounds crazy but i’ve done it in new york for so long that i trust my instincts in these situations. i remember being a little concerned that it was a two door thinking that was odd for a professional driver but it ended up being a very nice ride.
Those wheels arent one bit ‘tacky’! Odd choice for the feature car/van/thing. But on a car requiring a FWD offset but with a certain American swagger (think PT Cruiser, Chevy HHR, Pontiac Gran Prix, etc) those would be the right look. When I had my PT, i searched all over for coke bottle mags thatd fit my rinky dink 5×100 bolt pattern. These rollers with the grey centers wouldve been PERFECT.
As much as the stopping of development of Citroen’s famous, “one of a kind”, suspension system may be an attempt to cut costs…..I wonder if it isn’t also a case of “why bother?” I mean, did most potential buyers decide to buy a Citroen just because of the suspension system? My guess is most customers didn’t really care.
About the cars here: the Vel Satis or a BMW 5 series? It’s unfortunate but most buyers want THE badge and could care less about ground breaking styling. Though, if pressed, I’d say the VS looks like a minivan pretending to be a sedan. Renault would beat Chrysler AND Mercedes-Benz to market with this new type of vehicle.
The Avantine? Sort of the same idea as the Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet….but no convertible top or AWD. Interestingly, Renault would be joined to Nissan about this time period.
I think there was a hardcore of “Citroen buyers” who cared about the suspension, but most will have been chased away by Citroen’s Mondeo-ization.
If anyone is buying a Citroen to look “different”, will the fact the cars end up fundamentally the same as everything else eventually erode that image?
Ther is really nothing, nothing comparable to the Citroën hydro penumatic suspension.
All Citroen C6-es that are for sale used ones have passed the 100000 some even the 200000 miles
Big Cits were Always bought by people who eat miles for breakfast, simply because nothing really nothing drives better.
I actually never understood why the whole world did not opt for hydro pneumatic suspension and brakes.
Like driving a magic carpet, ok it takes a few days to get used to,but then a speed bump can be taken at 30 – 40 mph without a problem, while on a spring suspended car your axles are torn off.
Believe me, customers DID care, I had an estate Citroen and with 1500 pounds of cargo, you’d start the darn thing and it would get to its normal ride hight and only lean a bit more in corners because of the weight
“I actually never understood why the whole world did not opt for hydro pneumatic suspension”
Perhaps because you couldn’t buy a German or Japanese car built that way. I might like some Citroens, but I stick to my principles – don’t buy anything made in France unless you can drink it.
Exactly why I like my C5 its extremely comfortable handles far better than anything else and anvil like reliability.Filled it today and with a mixture of city and motorway driving its doing 20kms per litre
Is it “Renault builds a Citroen” or “Renault sells a Matra”?
I had never heard of Bridge of Weir leather and had to google them. (Bridge of Weir is relatively near where I live)
Strangely enough, I also discovered just a few weeks ago (they had an open day but I couldn’t go) that I ride to work past the tannery which makes leather for Lotus.
Only the French would build a halo car on a minivan platform. And I still can’t really answer the “why?” question with anything other than “because we can.”
That having been said I actually really, really like these things. They’re so gloriously weird, yet the weirdness makes sense. Plus the fact that it’s a true hardtop with a huge glass sunroof. Plus the styling details. It’s a shame so few were made, and that it won’t be possible to import one until 11 years from now!
Always loved the Avantime and Vel Satis – even though I’ve never sat inside either of them! One of the last instances of a carmaker doing something a bit different because they thought it was an avenue worth pursuing. The alternatives today appear to be either creating vehicles that could almost come out of the same mould (how much IS there to choose between Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes – honestly?), or pasting some quirkiness on to a bog standard car without addressing the purpose of such activity (hello, Nissan).
There were a few bold steps around the turn of the century – these Renaults, plus the Megane; the Rover 75; the Citroen C6. Name your choices… None of them was as successful as the blander, more mainstream fare, so it seems as though we are now stuck with minute variations on established themes. Even the Tesla has resolutely same-as-the-rest styling.
Looking forward to the mid-2020s when I can legally import one.
Has anyone else noticed how much these resemble the GM dustbuster minivans of the ’90s? Having said that, the Renaults are much more stylish with way better interiors. Loving that Vel Satis too (what an odd name and hard to pronounce – it just doesn’t roll of the tongue!).
Gerardo, re the doors, they have two hinges and move forward and out at the same time – see pic from Flickr below. Conveniently, YouTube has a handy video of an Avantime door opening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29C5XEcVGAE
I love both the Vel Satis and Avantime – such creative and unique shapes, really challenging the accepted norm. We only ever got the Vel Satis in New Zealand, so it’s all I’ve seen in the metal but I’d love to come face-to-face with an Avantime one day…
Oh so the increased space results from the door moving forwards. Interesting. Thank you very much for sharing!
There was actually a rumor that they were going to bring these to the US as an Infiniti. It would have made an impression. Wouldn’t have sold any, but it would have made an impression.
Another great picture of door hinges.
This is probably original desing, as it has been modified after a year, to make it more solid.
P.S. I have seen both Vel Satis and Avantime in person and I think that Avantime is much more atractive.
However….they do share too many mechanical ans electrical components (with Espace, as well) and their reliability is nothing to write home about. Build quality is actually pretty average and most sub-assemblies (like dashboard, for example) made pretty complicated (and expensive!) to remove or repair…
Best engine, performance/economy/reliability-wise is 2l turbo petrol, but as they don’t take well LPG instalation, so they are not that popular in the Balkans.
Nevertheless, Avantime is future classic and I am actually considering about getting onein about year…;)
Opel Signum… Seat Toledo 3… & Renault Avantime/Vel-Satis.
I absolutely adore Renault, i have been a proud owner of 4 of them. I am also glad USA did not get them, it would happen something like the Alliance fiasco. Personally i think the Avantime is a little too niche, unlike the Megane II that had really different styling from your generic hatchback but kept some versatility. What i can attest is that these cars are really comfortable.
I´ve never driven an Avantime, since it was not sold in México, but i always desired one, i do think its a little top heavy looking comparing to the Megane II which i felt it was a little bottom heavy as far styling is concerned. Reliability is not the problem for me with this cars but repair ease has been, you have to remove so many things to access something!
I wish they integrated the interior angular theme from outside to the Espace derived dash, but those windows! They look awesome! This car up to this day still modern, cool, like an old Citroens use to look. Instant classic.
I just hope the USA understood better what a french car stands for, they would be a lot happier. I know i am. I have a 182 Renault Sport Clio and a first gen Renault 5 TS that put a smile on my face everytime! Wish one day i can own a Avantime or even a Vel Satis.
Not for my taste, but I must confess I like the green house without C pillar.
In the early 90’s Mazda released some cars for its 323 range with a different look for the times, the “4-door coupe” Lantis, the radical 2-doors hatch 323C / Ford Lynx TX3 and the good looking Astina hardtop, with a wavy beltline as in the 70’s cars, those were pretty nice ones, unfortunately Mazda abandoned it in favor of some more discreet and boring for the following 323 cars…
Ok, I realise that this is an old post, but for what its worth I had a chat with a Renault mechanic over here in France recently and asked him about the Avantime. Even though the guy was a hardcore Renault addict he vividly recommended to stay away from that car. It looks appealing from the outside, the built quality from Matra is below usual Renault standards and it seems that there is not a single wiring diagram that is complete and correct.
This car answered the question of what Mohs would have built if they’d still been building cars in Y2K.
Furiousdriving furiously drives an Avantime just two months ago
Hubnut drives a Vel Satis four years ago. He got a haircut since then:
hudsoninbury had an Avantime and did a number of videos about it. He’s been focusing on building a house and sometimes on his dogs lately:
They teasingly brought a LHD one to the Melbourne Motor show in 2001. I sat in it, and I simply did not want to get out. It’s one of the very few times I can recall beholding a brand-new car and wanting one, there and then, totally overtaken by consumerist lust. Just wonderful.
It never came here, despite being made in RHD. It would have been very pricey, and Australians were (and are) pretty conservative in their car tastes. Few would have sold.
I loved it when I saw the press launch photos and often thought about buying one. Last year I gave up thinking and bought one. This is my current daily driver. It’s extremely comfortable and so much fun in the summer with the Roof open and the windows down. I love the attention that it gets even if it’s not to everyone’s taste. It’s hard to find an affordable modern car that doesn5look boring.