(first posted 6/29/2013. I still want one more than ever) There’s been a lot of consideration given on these pages the past few days about the joys of big old coupes, what with their nice soft ride and roomy cushy seats and some genuine style. Now it’s totally naturally that us older guys (or old at heart) would gravitate to something like that; I can relate, just not with the actual choices. I’m supposed to chose between a Gran Torino Elite, a ’77 Thunderbird and a ’74 Monte Carlo? Sir, would you prefer hemlock, cyanide or arsenic? Not wanting to be a party pooper, I kept my mouth shut. But that’s not enough hereabouts; I need to present a viable alternative, and after careful consideration, I’ve found the perfect big used coupe for me.
I obviously love tall and boxy cars, for the lack of cranial constriction, massive leg room, and the ability to haul four adults wearing high hats in sit-up comfort. Hence I drive a gen1 Xb. But it’s obnoxiously noisy on the freeway, never mind the equally-brutal harsh ride. Now that I’m sixty, I could really use something a bit plusher, quieter, and commodious. The Avantime is the only logical successor.
In our mild climate, I like driving with the windows open, and the Avantime has anything beat in this regard: a genuine hardtop coupe, but in a van format. Brilliant! Who came up with this crazy-cool idea anyway?
One Philippe Guédon, head of the automotive division of Renault affiliate Matra. His rationale: “(I) believed that the children of Espace owners remained loyal to the car even after they had grown up and left home. As a result, the renowned MPV was gaining a generation of new drivers.” (The Espace was of course the trend-setting Renault minivan that came out about the same time as the Chrysler minivan). How about former minivan drivers, instead of their children? I miss my Grand Caravan, sometimes, but not its vomit- stained seats. This is the perfect solution, eh? A minivan for grown ups; no kids allowed!
The Avantime’s name supposedly is the combination of the French “avant” and the English “time”, and pronounced accordingly, as per Renault at its introduction. But I’ve always thought of the name as “A-Van-Time”, so as to get that key word “van” in there. And of course, the Avantime did come out right in the heart of the great Van Wave that swept over Europe at the time. But maybe this one was a van too far (out). You probably already know that it was a royal bust; the Edsel of vans. But please note its double-parallel kinematic door hinge, to maximize ingress and egress for the rear passengers even in parking lots. Take that, Monte Carlo!
It turns out the kids who grew up in the back seats of Espaces really only want a BMW or Audi, or such. Kids nowadays just have no imagination; what a herd of lemmings. When we were young, we wanted something totally different than our parents’ cars…ah…well, you get the idea; at least an old VW bus wasn’t a status symbol….uh. Well; never mind.
Well, I really did want something different, and if a Citroen Ami had come my way back then, I would have gladly grabbed it by its cantilevered rear roof.
The Avantime may look a bit too avant-garde for some of you more used to Cordobas and such, but we don’t judge people by their outward appearances, right? Same with cars, and the Avantime’s soul is a beautiful one. Tall thrones for four; leg room galore, a giant sun roof. Isn’t that what real luxury is?
I’m already accustomed to a high central IP in my Xbox, which I have come to like quite well. That is closer to where one’s eyes are, when they’re on the road like they should be. It almost feels odd now to have to look way down in the Subaru.
And a stick shift; a six-speed no less, to maximize the short bursts of torque from the 2.2 L dCi turbo-diesel. A gas engine four and the 3.0 L V6 were also available, but I’m ready to finally take the diesel plunge and get up to 40 mpg. No nine mpg Mark V for me; thank you.
For what it’s worth the Avantime was one of only three cars ever that all three of the Top Gear entertainers liked. They modified one in 2008 to make it a track terror, but that’s not exactly my thing.
Now that I’ve worked up my desire into a lather, the trick is to find one. Here’s a couple of 2.0 L petrol RHD versions listed for £2800 and £2995 (ca $4500). Not bad, for what was once a pretty pricy car. Good luck finding a low mileage Elite for less. Maybe an excuse for a return trip to Paris?
Since only 8,557 Avantimes were ever built, the selection probably isn’t great. But there’s probably more of them to be had than nice 1977 Thunderbirds. Of course there’s that little hurdle of Federal regs to clear, but others seem to be able to manage that on a fairly regular basis; if there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s A…van…time.
A hat tip to Nat Carter
Take a bunch of design traits that would appear to be the antithesis of each other – van body, two door hardtop – and with a bit of mixing and stirring, create this uniquely appealing, funky, and novel van / car / crossover / vehicle.
You are starting to challenge my paradigms, Herr Niedermeyer, but it’s missing one fundamental ingredient: Where the hell is the vinyl top?
The aluminum top is a bit sparse. And maybe some landau bars…
I have always thought this car was beautiful. The design takes risks that others have tried but it all seems to work on this vehicle.
The Avantime and the Vel Satis had short lives which is unfortunate.
I remember working with a company from France back in the early 2000’s. After one meeting we got to talking about cars and I brought up how beautiful I thought the Avantime was. They were surprised that I knew about it but agreed it was a wonderful car. I also noticed their pronunciation of “Time” as “Team.”
You are definitely right about former minivan drivers wanting something similar, “a minivan for grownups”. That’s why compact crossovers are so popular. Car-based, high seating position, versatility minus all the passenger space, ability to get high-end features for under $30k.
On the Avantime: I LOVE THIS CAR! I don’t know if I’d ever buy a French car, but their designs are so unique from anything for sale in the U.S. I could stare at them for hours. I personally like the Citroën C6.
I like it! As a long-wheelbase dude I’ll take all the head and legroom I can get. It has that EPCOT vibe, like, “This was how the future was supposed to look, until it didn’t.”
My remaining lousy high school French insists that it’s avan-TEEM. 🙂
Same here. I’m pretty sure ah-vahn-teem is the proper French pronunciation of that made up word… If the Academie Francaise had an opinion on the matter surely that would be their rule.
The French may (rightly) pronounce it avan-TEEM; but at its introduction Renault made a point of calling it avan-TIME. Let’snot forget that most Europeans are not unfamiliar with English.
Ah, interesting, weird the official version would be mangled “Franglais”. I’ve ignored automakers “official” pronunciation before though. Ford saying Taurus “Show”, instead of S-H-O, in the new commercials is like nails on a chalkboard to me.
I’m French and we say Avan-TIME. Never heard anyone say avan-TEEM.
Great car, I sat in one once, a V6 manual and I’ll always remember that beige leather interior with all the light coming from the panoramic roof. 🙂
Hey! Didn’t Renault’s designers and engineers make this a 2-door pillarless HT to please Zackman?
Diesel, manual and a Quirkiness Factor of “eleven?”
Count me in!
This was definitely a pretty cool car ! When it came out i was amazed by the hardtop coupe/minivan concept, too bad it turned out to be a devastating flop…
So, this and the Bugatti Veyron are what we have to look forward to seeing at Pebble Beach in fifty years? I doubt that.
Well the Avantime is the last vehicle I ever expected to see on CC…but as a huge fan of them, I’m absolutely delighted that it’s been featured! I fell in love with the concept when they were launched, and still admire Renault for having the guts to actually make it. I’ve only ever seen one on the roads here, it was going the other way and was gone before I had the time to register what it was. What a superb piece of pure design, simply awesome! Can you do the Vel Satis next? I saw 3-4 in Brussels last month, what great looking cars.
I liked these when they where new and I still like them now. only a few moee years and I could leagally import one into Canada(2001). I would have one in that blue with the diesel and six speed(dynamique). One touch of a button opens all widows and the sliding roof. It looks loks like a good place to spend time chewing up miles. I wounder how much shipping from the UK to the port in Halifax Nova Scotia would run me?
Came across your other posts on the 205 GTI. I have a UK spec 1.6 205 GTI in Ontario. Imported, Ontario licenced, ready to go. All original with 43k miles. If you are interested please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org
Brain fart; should have said shipping from France. then the steering would be on the proper side for us N/A people.
Well done Paul and it comes with french roadholding and comfort I had a feeling you’d like these I ran an eyeball over a ToyotaBB like you drive I see where your at, My car came in minivan too the Piccasso I’ll stick with my hatch it can run rings around anything german in comfort at 48mpg
Now this is a Paul car! Would want to see the picture of this one cruising down Coralville Road on the next Curbside Classic Reunion. I love the profile, and now understand where they got the design for the last gen. Nissan Versa hatch. When you recover from your reverie (it’s OK, I lost a good bit of a day this week figuring out just how I would outfit an ’82 Malibu Wagon), have you considered a Mazda 5? You can get them with a stick, though only in the base model. Nephew has one, and it is pretty cool. No way this cool, but not a minivan vibe, either.
The Mazda 5 is definitely the minivan for people who hate minivans. Kinda like me. My wife drives an ’06 5. It’s like driving a really tall go-kart. The third row is pretty clausterphobic and only suitable for kids, or left folded down to create actual luggage space.
Definitely not an Avantime though. This thing is cool!
Wimper, drool, I want. These are the kinds of cars that make me sad the Renault and Citroen dropped out of the US market years ago. And yes, I keep watching that 25 year limit for importation into North America. Now, if I only had a garage somewhere in France, and the ability to travel back and forth annual to keep the car loose in the interim . . . .
In the interim, I also will live with my Toaster.
Regarding your choice between hemlock, cyanide and arsenic: How fitting. I wish I was that poetic. While you may be too polite to comment when the inevitable broughams come up; never fear. I’ll always be more than happy to continually remind the group what crap and a complete nadir of automotive design they were. Don’t want anyone to get too delusional.
Only 15 years in Canada.
There you go Paul, just a few years off for the Avantime. Buy a bit of property in BC and register it there.
I’m wild about this machine! The French always have had this wonderful futuristic streak, and an almost patriotic urge to do things their own way. Avantime is brilliant and perfectly logical. And it has such 21st century space age style. Vive la France!
Well, it’s prettier and more interesting than a Nissan Cube, I’ll grant that.
All kidding aside, always been a fan of French automotive design independence. Good subject.
I always thought these would be perfect retirement age cars. The natural entry height, no getting up or down, ie why the elderly love minivans and small CUVs, comfortable, and great visibility.
And I know they’re ugly as hell, but I can’t help but think of these as the natural evolution of the Avantime idea, this time with a full folding roof. Coincidence that it’s Renault-Nissan now?
The big complaint about these from the British press was that the ride and handling weren’t well sorted. For a vehicle like this, you expected expected a traditionally French ride, which wasn’t forthcoming. Renault tried to give the Avantime more body control to deal with the high center of gravity, but because of the Avantime’s kinship with the Espace, the suspension was still just MacPherson struts and a twist beam, so making it stiffer and adding fat tires took a bite out of ride compliance; some contemporary British critics thought it was unnecessarily crashy without actually being at all nimble.
Also, a lot of the early cars had the 2,946cc PSA V-6, which had adequate power (210 hp), but was just too big and too thirsty for most European buyers. That really hit the resale values hard; certainly, in the U.K., a used car with a big petrol V-6 tends to be regarded by private buyers much like a “Quarantine” sticker. These cost something like £25K new and then lost around 75% of their value in the first three years. Later, there was a 1,998cc turbo gasoline engine, which had 165 hp, and then the 2.2dCi, which I think had either 145 or 150 hp but a bunch more torque. Since this was a 3,800 lb vehicle, you needed all the help you could get…
There was actually discussion about bringing this into the States as an Infiniti. But then they sobered up.
Amazing car, vehicle, van, whatever you want to call it.
There is a minimum you have to wait in order to import something like this, yes? Is it fifteen years?
25 years, unless its on the Show and Display list. The Renault is not on the eligible, nor ineligible list, so you could go through the nightmare of trying to be the first to have it added.
I keep seeing non-officially imported cars less than 25 years old here with Oregon tags. There are obviously cracks somewhere…but with attendant risks, I assume.
Never seen this before. I love it.
Although certainly not as stylish or luxe as the Avantime, a 2009 or newer Subaru Forester has the tall roof and legroom of the first gen Xb but overcomes its sensory shortcomings. And it can be had with a giant sunroof and a stick.
What an utterly bonkers design. I waffle between loving it and being baffled by it, and usually takes me only a minute or two to flip-flop.
Considering the peculiar tastes of the CC crowd, I’m surprised that we’ve never discussed this vehicle before. Who’d have thought that such a love-fest would be prompted by a modern Renault???
The only major flaw I know of (second-hand, of course) is that the rear seats were cramped because of a lack of toe-space underneath the front seats. Weird, considering how they could’ve easily raised the front seats a couple inches.
Brilliant choice of topic:)
Very quirky car, very rare, unique…. but somehow I managed to see one last week! 🙂 It was 2.0 petrol turbo, probably the best engine (most reliable one definitely!) installed in Avantime.
I’d rather go Peugeot 1007, although it lacks the overall grandeur of the Renault.
I’d also like to point out that it is quite possible to like Renaults and Ford Elites all at the same time. In my dream garage there is a Renaultsport Twingo.
Agreed. I do love Ford Elites….from a safe distance.
Well, I am quite surprised to find an Avantime here.
Much more than being the “Edsel of van”, the Avantime is basically the french Edsel.
They did it all wrong at Renault’s.
As you’ve said it, the managers of Renault hoped that Espace’s owners (the Espace being a major seller) or their children would move upmarket and buy a Avantime.
But there was a major flaw in their thinking : the Espace is a comfy people hauler which can carry from 5 to 7 people. Moreover, you can basically rearrange the seats the way you want.
On the opposite, the Avantime has only 4 fixed seats. As a consequence, I doubt that Espace’s owners would buy one of these.cars
Moreover, it didn’t get very good reviews.
First of all, roadholding was not a high point of the Avantime. And, here in France, we are known to build cars with very good roadholding since 1934, the year the “Traction Avant” was launched by Citroën.
Second, the car was too heavy, even by today’s standards, and its engines, even the V6 3.5 liters from Nissan, had trouble moving it.
Third, although the Avantime was sold as a avantgarde luxury coupe, with a price sticker in accordance, built quality was far from the standards of the german builders.
Fourth, if I not mistaken, the Avantime encountered a few reliability problems.
And fifth, it was considered downright ugly by most people.
I remember the sour faces of the workers when they were told that they would build the Avantime instead of the Espace. Their factory was closed in 2003…
Yet, I have duly noted that there seems to be a strong demand for the Avantime accross the Atlantic.
Maybe I should buy one to see if I can trade it in for a classic american sedan (I owned a ’80 Malibu sedan for a few months and I still regret it).
I always very much liked the design. a shame there aren’t more ‘hardtop’ style cars with no pillar between the windows. much too artsy and not nearly Truck-ish enough for this country.
Remember one driving through Hamburg (Germany) in Gauloises livery.
Tres cool car.
Everyone believes that Citroën are THE innovators.
But Renault took over back in the Sixties, first with the R4 and then with the R16.
The R16 actually changed the world.
And with both VelSatis and AnvanTime, they tried to see if they could find a niche in the Benz/BMW/Audi/Lexus and Infinity segment.
Never understood why the VelSatis did not pick up as a Taxi with the small 2.2 Diesel.
And this, this has already become cult.
Like Andy Warhol would own one.
Good heavens, have we finally found the car of universal love (or at least acceptance) on CC? Even I like this car. When a car passes muster with Syke, Bryce, and 73ImpCapn, we have something special going on here. 🙂
I would drive one of these, if I could keep it running in the US. It is disappointing to read that this car lacked the traditional French supple ride. Still, this would certainly stand out.
Here is the current offering in Western Europe: http://www.autoscout24.de/ListGN.aspx?atype=C&make=60&mmvco=1&model=16616&mmvmk0=60&mmvmd0=16616&pricefrom=1000&cy=B%2CD%2CF%2CI%2CNL&ustate=N%2CU
I’ve gotta be honest, I had never even heard of or seen this one… but I love it, think it’s cool as hell, and want it very badly now!!
Are there any Avantime in the USA?
This is undoubtedly the most French car since the Citroen XM. The combination of way out styling and odd features makes it a worthy successor to Citroen’s weirdness and also explains why the Avantime was a prophet without honor (or enigh sales to remain viable), unlike its ancestor the Espace which was the root stock of the Euro style minivan.
Clever and clean design. I like it. One potential downside to the driving experience could be the forward view from the front seat(s). Like the Lumina APV/Trans Sport/Silhouette minivans, the windshield appears so far forward that the immediate dashboard ‘shelf’, windshield, ‘A’ pillars, and ‘A’ pillar windows dominate your immediate forward view. Having driven a Lumina APV, it can take significant getting used to.
I had a TransSport for years. At first it might feel like driving from the back seat, but actually it’s just like any minivan and in fact better forward visibility than the Chrysler minivans from then, or say the current Sienna. It’s just that the windshield is farther away. The thick columns are still back where they belong, and more vertical than the windshield so less in the way than in other vans. The one visibility shortcoming of the plasticvan was the wide column connected to a roll bar structure right behind the driver. A street near me meets a major street at a stop sign and at an angle and that column was right in the way.
Unlike the TranSport, the Avantime has the thick forward pillar as the one farthest away – not the best for visibility. This general concept has also shown up on Citroen vans and the Fiat 500L. (I considered getting a used one of those, of course.)
As one review once said about the TranSports you need a sponge mop to clean the inside of the windshield. It was a bit of a stretch to get to the lower part. Also, a lot of square feet. It might have been the first car with 24″ wipers.
I kind of like weird and arty and would love an Avantime. After alI was once one of the few Renault 16 owners in the US. Not to mention the TranSport. I picture the Avantime parked on my block with several people gathered around with WTF question marks hovering over their heads.
Fresh-looking, airy! DIFFERENT in a good way.
Had I seen this in the early-mid 2000s, I’d have wondered why Renault didn’t even TRY. That was an era of imagination in design from which sprang some quirky cars, some of which whose popularity went way beyond the small niche for which they were intended (witness Daimler’s surprise at the runaway sales of the Chrysler PT Cruiser). I’m not saying the Avantime would have taken off like the PT, and then again there was the stigma of the Renault name and of its French heritage.
But hindsight says it failed miserably in Europe, anyway. Okay, maybe it wouldn’t have been such a good idea.
Well, the Renault Megane from then had the same sort of wacky round and vertical rear window, and they sold a lot of those. Renault since then has gone for the mainstream. Very well styled, but mainstream meaning a lot like SUV’s and a lot like other cars.
I’m onboard with everyone else in liking this vehicle. A truly unique, fresh design that’s still cohesive and attractive. This otherwise seems quite a bit like the French Pontiac Aztek.
In fact, the reposting is timely since it reminds (more in spirit than actual appearance) of the upcoming Pacifica-based, Chrysler Portal crossover concept.
Somehow I never saw anything about the Portal. Anyway, it’s wacky in the opposite way from the Avantime. Complicated sculptural shapes all over the place where the Avantime is original but simple. The doors remind me of some supercar concept from maybe the 70’s. I don’t think anything like it will ever be made, but maybe it will inspire something.
Well at sixty I went for comfort roominess near silent ride and French stick shift diesel but not a Avantime instead a C5 Citroen, a later six speed was just out of reach of my pocket then, and since buying it I havent found any reason to replace it yet, the only fault its developed is an intermittant EGR fault which is being cured tomorow I lack the tools to do it here and buying them will cost more than the hours labour my garage estimated so they can do it, the car has done 10,000kms with this problem so it isnt exactly urgent.
The Avantime is an impressive piece of machinery and I like it but they are very rare in this part of the world.
They were very rare in any part of the world even when they were new. I’ve been all over Europe and the UK a bunch of times and never saw one.
A few years back I saw a Citroen C6 from the bus on the dual carriageway going to Oxford. Despite getting CAR magazine from the UK I didn’t know about them but I was pretty sure it was the current high end Citroen. Sadly, the last of the original DS concept. A few years later in Cambridge I walked by an absolutely perfect appearing Citroen XM (even the leather interior) parked on the street in a residential neighborhood among the Dacias and Peugeot econo hatchbacks etc.
OK, not the only reason I like going to the UK/Europe but nice bonuses!
The only 00s Renault not to be in grave danger of going to the junkyard due to electrical/mechanical failures, being worth enough to get fixed.
00s Renaults are the newest stuff I see at Polish wrecking yards, together with Fords, Chryslers and Fiats of the same era. The oldest is mid-80s Audis, and late 80s communist stuff and Benzes.
Just say “AvanTIME”, that’s the way we say here in France, frenglish wich could be translated by “avant l’heure’, “before the right time”…
I’ve always liked these and remain surprised they didn’t sell better, The design looks original and distinctive but not strange, funky, or weird. I particularly like the rounded shape of the glass roof, as seen in the 2nd pic down. The interior would look up to date in a 2019 model if the screen were enlarged.
I had an ’90 Espace with 2 litre carburetted petrol engine.from new. I did 450,000 miles in that car in 9 years on its original engine & gearbox, using it as a van with the 2nd and 3rd row seats removed and loaded to the roof, during the week, and a car at the weekend(except when transporting my prokart inside the carto the track).. I sold it still running well and not using oil.
When lightly loaded it would outhandle any other Minivan then available (it was 400Kg lighter than those metal bodied vehicles due to its galvanized steel frame and sheet moulded composite bodywork).
The Avantime was descibed by no less an authority than.Sedgwick as a wonderful car. Based on my Espace experience, I am not surprised
I just came across this, so I checked if any were available in Canada. Autotrader Canada has one at the Chrysler dealer in Levi Quebec. It is a 2002 with the V6 and a 6-speed. You will have to wait another 7 years in the US. They are asking C$30k.