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MOTORS: WACKY RACES; The bizarre looking car that makes you stop and stare.

Byline: PAUL MALLEY

IS it an MPV? Is it a coup? Is it a cabriolet? Well, to be honest, I'm not quite sure what the Renault Avantime is classed as.

But bizarre and wacky are just two adjectives which could be used to describe this one-off motor.

MPV, coup and cabriolet features are all available in the Avantime and the reaction it received from the public in Monaco on a recent press launch was amazing.

Astonished onlookers couldn't help but stop and stare as the vehicle, which wouldn't look out of place in a sci-fi movie, glided by.

It was like being part of a freak show. While sat in a traffic jam, one bloke actually crossed the road and pressed his face against the darkened back window to peer inside.

Not only that, but he then beckoned others to join him. Thankfully traffic started to move before they could jump in for a ride around town!

The exterior of the Avantime is an ultra-modern take on the traditional MPV shape - it's based on the Espace platform - or at least the first two-thirds of the vehicle are.

The rear looks very strange. A regular sloping window meets a boot which juts out at a very sharp angle.

The manufacturer's blurb sums it up well when it says 'looking at the front gives no clue about the back'. Too true.

The front end is of a fairly thrusting nature helping it appear sporty and aggressive.

Inside, the vehicle is blessed with plenty of interior space - it could seat four in comfort. The roomy feeling is accentuated by the large expanse of glass in the cabin.

That big sloping windscreen and a long stretch of side windows are complemented by the biggest sunroof you can imagine.

And when the panoramic sunroof is fully open and all the side windows are down, it's not unlike being in a cabriolet.

If the sun becomes too much and you're at risk of being fried in what effectively could be a greenhouse on wheels, the sunroof can be completely obscured by blinds. Trim levels in the Avantime are of a high standard with leather armchair style seats providing plenty of comfort for driver and passengers.

I wasn't keen, however, on the large electronic display screen which sits at the top centre of dashboard, digitally showing driving information.

On many occasions I found myself looking for the conventional speedo and rev dials only to remember that the Avantime is so trendy, it's done away with them.

Out and about, the Avantime's driving position provides a fantastic view of the road.

In terms of powertrain, the Privilege version of the Avantime is fitted with a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine which comes either as a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.

The 'executive coup', as Renault have labelled it, is no slouch but its handling and road-holding was much more MPV-style.

A problem with my test car was that while driving, you heard a number of squeaks and rattles in the cabin.

For daring to be innovative, however, the Avantime is certainly worth a look. Just don't do it when an unsuspecting driver's stuck in a city centre traffic jam!

paul_malley@mrn.co.ukTHE FACTS

WHAT IS IT? Renault Avantime HOW MUCH? pounds 24,000 to

pounds 28,450 on the road HOW QUICK? 3.0 V6 manual reaches 62 mph in 8.6 secs and a top speed of 138 mph HOW THIRSTY? 24.9 mpg combined CO 2 ? 266g/km
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 26, 2002
Words:585
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