(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