Rare Rides: The Absolutely Epic 2002 Renault Avantime, a Big Sales Flop

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the absolutely epic 2002 renault avantime a big sales flop

Today’s Rare Ride is one of those that’s always been on the to-do list, but never floated to top of mind. That changed the other day, when this very tidy example was posted on Twitter.

Let’s talk about Privilege.

The Avantime was without predecessor at Renault, or really anywhere across the entire automotive landscape. This all-new type of car was part shooting brake, part van, part hardtop coupe, and part luxury greenhouse. The idea came not from Renault, but from the director of Matra, Philippe Guédon. He thought the descendants of Renault Espace owners (another Matra build) still felt a kinship to the modern, minivan incarnation of the family wagon. And as a result, younger buyers wanted and deserved a grand touring van-coupe. Given Matra was a longtime business partner with Renault, Mr. Guédon took his idea over there. Renault brass said “Let’s do it!” and Avantime was underway.

The project manager at Renault wanted the Avantime’s design to astound from every angle and pulled Patrick Le Quément to pen its shape. Innovative angles formed into an overall one-box design that lacked a b-pillar. For strength and lightness, Avantime’s structure and panels were made of aluminum. Special strengthened glass reflected heat and protected all four passengers inside the sumptuous luxury car interior filled with Bridge of Weir leather. In pleasant conditions, the glass roof and side windows retracted and allowed the desired open-air hardtop coupe van experience. Renault created a unique door hinge system for the Avantime: A double parallel setup which they called double kinematic. The hinges meant the large coupe doors opened wider for passengers to enter the car, but made a smaller horizontal motion. Useful in crowded parking lots.

Avantime shared components and a platform with the more down-to-earth Espace van, a suitable basis for the exciting new car. Power plants were borrowed from Espace as well and included 2.0- and 3.0-liter gasoline engines, and a 2.2-liter diesel. Transmissions were of five speeds if automatic, or six speeds if manual.

Project complete, Renault debuted Avantime at the Louvre in February 1999, where it had its own press conference. The Avantime (called Coupéspace at auto shows) went into production two years later and was built with pride by Matra. Renault introduced another luxury car at the same time in the more traditional Vel Satis, which unfortunately competed with the Avantime for sales. Time proved that customers chose neither Avantime nor Vel Satis, and went to other brands for their luxury coupe and sedan needs. As a result, in its debut year in 2001, Renault shifted just 772 Avantimes. Slow sales continued in 2002 and 2003, at which point Matra went bankrupt after hemorrhaging far too many Avantime-related Euros. Rather than move production to a Renault facility, Renault decided it was easiest to drop the Avantime. Just 8,083 examples were produced before the very unique van slipped from consumer memory, taking with it Matra’s 40-year car building legacy.

Today’s Avantime is in top-spec Privilege trim. It has a V6 engine, manual transmission, and a black leather interior with seats that look fairly Volvo-esque. Yours for $12,000, but it’s only importable by a Canadian at the moment.

[Images: seller; Renault]

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  • Tassos What was the last time we had any good news from Ford? (or GM for that matter?)The last one was probably when Alan Mulally was CEO. Were you even born back then?Fields was a total disaster, then they go hire this clown from Toyota's PR department, the current Ford CEO, Fart-ley or something.He claims to be an auto enthusiast too (unlike Mary Barra who is even worse, but of course always forgiven, as she is the proud owner of a set of female genitals.
  • Tassos I know some would want to own a collectible Mustang. (sure as hell not me. This crappy 'secretary's car' (that was exactly its intended buying demo) was as sophisticated (transl. : CRUDE) as the FLintstone's mobile. Solid Real Axle? Are you effing kidding me?There is a huge number of these around, so they are neither expensive nor valuable.WHen it came out, it was $2,000 or so new. A colleague bought a recent one with the stupid Ecoboost which also promised good fuel economy. He drives a hard bargain and spends time shopping and I remember he paid $37k ( the fool only bought domestic crap, but luckily he is good with his hands and can fix lots of stuff on them).He told me that the alleged fuel economy is obtained only if you drive it like a VERY old lady. WHich defeats the purpose, of course, you might as well buy a used Toyota Yaris (not even a Corolla).
  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
  • Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
  • Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.