Long-time industry innovator Renault has a great track record of either creating or popularising genres. It launched the MPV, the mini MPV, the mid engined road-rally car, the utilitarian hatch, the smart supermini, and more recently the viable electric car in the form of the Zoe. But when it launched the Matra-built Avantime two-door MPV coupe in 2002, the industry gazed in bewilderment... and promptly ignored it. But it's become a cult car, with a loyal following.
Torque 206lb ft@3750rpm
Top speed 134mph
Gearbox 5-speed auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
As a rule, the body is fairly rust-resistant. The roof rails are another story though - prone to bubbling and cracking. It's not structural, but it looks a mess. The wheels are Avantime-specific and, while they can be refurbished, the easily-lost centre caps are £50 each. Lubricate that glass sunroof with silicone, or it'll become sticky. Heated screens are no longer available. Check the heater works if you're looking at a Privilege. The radiator support crossbeam is one of the few rust traps on the car, it's not cheap to replace - and that's if you can find one, Check for moisture in the rear lights - the bulb holders rust, and it's only available as a full assembly at £300. And scratched polycarbonate headlamps can be polished out.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
Two engines were available; the 2.0-litre Turbo and a 3.0-litre V6 from the Laguna. The latter was available with a five-speed manual or automatic; the former was manual only. Both need cambelt changes every five years or 72,000 miles. The V6 is a costlier job and more awkward, the the flip-side to this is that there's no turbo to go wrong. If oil changes are neglected, turbos can fail. The biggest issues with V6s are oil leaks and coil failure. The V6's automatic gearbox is stronger than the manual.
Rear wheel bearings are a regular failure, but aren't too expensive to replace with parts from £35. All other suspension components are the same as the Espace MkIII. Ageing CV boots can drop-off on full-lock, releasing the grease, so listen out for CV joint failure. Renault charges £900 for an exhaust, so don't be surprised if you view a car with a custom stainless system.
INTERIOR AND ELECTRICS
Renaults from this era are not renowned for their electrical robustness. The Avantime was fully stocked, but that can cause worry as they age. You get Xenon headlights, a single disc CD player and climate control as standard, with the Privilege model adding full leather, automatic wipers, CD changer, heated seats, electrically folding mirrors, cruise control, and parking sensors. Make sure they all work, and that all the trim is in good condition. Elastic seat folding mechanisms break - you need to strip the seat to mend them. The Velcro supporting the rear headlining can come loose at the back. Also check the footwell carpets. Staining may mean a leaking heater matrix - there's one per side.
CD changers fail frequently, and are Avantime-specific so finding a replacement will be tricky. But the Espace MkIII boot-mounted changer can be used instead. The wiring in the heated seats is frail too - the elements can break under the stress of repeated seat folding, so don't be surprised if these don't work. Check all washers - the rear screen washers suffers from a kinked pipe which can split, can the headlamp washers seize. The bottle needs to be at least one third full for the headlamp washers to work - so don't write them off without checking. The headlamp levelling sensors seize, and the operating arm can snap. And these are an MoT requirement now, so make sure they work. The heater blower speed control can fail, and it's a time consuming and fiddly job. Check it.
Why do you want one? Because you're the sort of person who needs a roomy car that stands out from the crowd, and you have a passion for cult cars. The Avantime ended up being the final car to be built by the eponymous maker of intriguing cars, Matra, so even without its obvious idiosyncracy, this is a car that forms a small, but important footnote in history. For a 10-year-old executive, it's held its price very well indeed, and given its cult status, it's about due a rise. Grab one before they shoot skywards.