2003 Renault Espace Expression 2.0 petrol from UK and Ireland
Is the unreliable reputation justified? Let's see...
The lock button on the infamous keycard has broken off - you can hear it rattling around inside. I must get it repaired, as you need to hold a switch down for 5 seconds inside the car to lock it.
I suspect the dephaser pulley, which controls the variable valve timing, may be stuck as the car doesn't have much punch off the line, particularly bogging down on the 1st-2nd upshift.
General damage all around the interior. MPVs lead hard lives, but the materials Renault use for the headliner and pillar coverings seem to rip easily, while other plastic parts (picnic tables, seat base trim) are missing entirely or are hanging down listlessly due to failed elastic.
Dashboard - the biggest expanse of hard plastic created by man yet - rattles like crazy when accelerating in 1st and 2nd.
Air conditioning compressor did not operate - traced to a corroded wire in the loom under the battery.
For an MPV this is a good looker. I love the "TGV train" face. Although it's 13 years old it still looks fresh. This form over function causes two problems.
Firstly, the legroom in the 2nd and 3rd rows is not particularly good, and headroom is fairly poor right at the back. The Mazda, admittedly a little longer and boxier, could take 7 full-size adults with a little boot space. The Espace, I would say, cannot, although it is bigger than a Zafira back there. Part of the problem are the 'modular' rear seats - sure, you can put them in any slot, but because they have an integrated seatbelt, they are bulky and have no foot room under them.
Secondly, servicing and repair of the engine and ancillaries is hampered by access. Changing the air filter took me over an hour, because you have to do most of it by feel. You can't see most of it because it is buried well under the scuttle.
The driving position is excellent, and the seating and suspension make for an extremely comfortable ride.
The steering is very light, which does not inspire confidence when cornering.
I like the digital dashboard, multiple cubbyholes and gloveboxes, and heating/ventilation controls in the front door panels.
The gear change is a delight, and the engine, despite only having 140bhp and being petrol, is torquey enough to allow 6th gear out of town. So you just lope along, in comfort and tranquility.
This car has a poor reputation for reliability and I did purchase it with some trepidation, as my previous Mazda MPV was incredibly reliable for 2 years and 20k miles, oil consumption and appetite for exhaust components notwithstanding.
I hope I have taken some bullets from the chamber of automotive Russian Roulette by choosing a non-turbo, petrol powered, manual car of fairly low specification. Despite weighing the same as the Mazda, having better aerodynamics and 20 more bhp, it feels slower. It is also less economical. Progress?
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know
Review Date: 28th June, 2016
22nd Dec 2016, 15:03
Shortly after I wrote this review, I discovered the hard way that the "dashboard vibration in 1st and 2nd gear" was, in fact, the rubber damper in the crankshaft pulley breaking up. This caused the pulley to oscillate wildly, which then melted the auxiliary belt, throwing up a "battery charge error" and it then snapped, losing the PAS etc (and generating a huge amount of smoke in the process).
It also melted the lower timing belt cover, and (once I insisted it was checked) the edges of the timing belt. On the plus side, at least that didn't snap.
Replacement of the pulley, auxiliary belt and tensioner, timing belt, tensioners and dephaser pulley, and timing belt cover (with genuine Renault parts) plus the radiator (leaking) and air conditioning condenser (leaking) ran to GBP 1,200 with parts and labour. Just over twice the purchase price of the car.
A couple of months later, during a low-speed parking manouver there was a clunk and I lost the ability to steer. The nearside inner tie rod had pulled out of the steering rack. Both inner and outer tie rods were replaced and the thread on the steering rack repaired. Another GBP 400.
I like the car - it remains very comfortable to drive. But I just wonder what might break next. However, I feel compelled to continue running it, to amortise the current repair costs.
22nd Dec 2016, 22:39
Good luck with the car mate, I like your honest review.
To be honest though Renault's are not known for their reliability. In fact I've noticed people carrier type cars seem to have below average reliability across most manufacturers (Vauxhall Zafira anyone?).
The Espace in particular and the late 90s/early 00s Laguna from this time period are notoriously bad.
However, a family member of mine with a business ran Renault Trafic vans (both 2007 1.9 dCi models) to over 200,000 without serious issues, so Renault can make reliable vehicles when they try.
Generally the only cars you see about from 15-20 years ago are German saloons, or a good looked after Ford or Vauxhall. Not many French (or Italian) cars from that time period still about, but keep us posted on your car, would like to know the long term reliability, especially since all the work you have had done, it should hopefully return with trouble free miles so long as the engine and bodywork are sound.
23rd Dec 2016, 13:27
Thanks, I'm hoping for a few trouble-free miles now! And, of course, for the next car purchase I will add 'stare at the crankshaft pulley with the engine running to make sure it's not oscillating wildly' to my list of checks...!