Lead Us To The Fifth Empire, Oh Sovereign Sebastian

Extremely recently I noticed a Renault Grand Scenic. It’s a big and imposing car. So is the Espace. Is there any real difference between them apart from the price tag and the Espace’s motorized glove drawer?

2081 Renualt Espace: Renault Germany

Maybe the Espace is simply an advanced form of brougham, much like the poor old Opel Senator: a Rekord with a different nose and tail. If the similarity of the Megane Scenic to the Espace is too small maybe people simply must re-assses the cars. But let us not leap over the gun. We must look at the facts.

2018 Renault Grand Scenic: source

Renault launched the Espace in 2015 and it is based on the CMF-CD platform. The Grand Scenic appeared in 2016 and also sits comfortably on the very same CMF-CD platform. Similarity 1 – difference 0. The Grand Espace costs from 25,000 while the Espace costs almost 40,000. That is quite some difference.


The Espace can be had with one petrol engine (165 kW) and two strengths of diesel (96 kW and 116 kW). Meanwhile the Grand Scenic has this core set of engines: the petrols TCe 115 GPF, TCe 140 GPF, TCe 160 GPF and the two diesels Blue dCi 120 and Blue dCi 150. That’s a pretty horrible lump of alphanumeric text, isn’t it?. Since you skipped it like a stone skimming over a lake’s placid surface I will digest for you what you wilfully chose to ignore: a range of engines from 85 kW to 117 kW (so far as I can make out from Renault Germany’s rather disorientating technical specification website).

So, the Espace trumps the Scenic in offering a meatier engine at the top but the rest of the engines overlap. Remember that 40,00 base price does not include the most blasty engine available.

2018 Renault Espace rear interior. Aaargh! : source


Now let’s see how much metal you get for your extra fifteen grand. Starting with width, the Espace is 1.3 cm wider than the Grand Scenic’s 186.5 cm. The Espace is 1.5 cm higher than the Grand Espace’s 166 cm. Finally, length. 24.4 cm is the Espace’s advantage over its cheaper sister who measures 463.4 cm. Is that much? Not a great deal given the huge price differential. They do, however look different, so much that you won’t mistake one for the other. That can’t be said for the Ford Mondeo and its Vignale relative.  Interestingly, the Koleos costs a good five thousand euros less than the Espace. I haven’t figured that into the calculation.


The Megane Scénic comes with an accent as standard and the Espace does not.


The next point of differentiation is the equipment levels. To be honest, I did not have the spinal rigidity or energy to go through the standard and cost-options on both cars to see how they compared. I should not have to and nor should any other actual customer. If I did I would be lost in the intestines of a really awkward website.

The bodywork ought to be a good heuristic for equipment content such that I should expect there to be features apart from the self-closing drawer that my €15,000 gain access to. I think Renault is counting on most people not to do this boring work and it remains anyway a value judgement as to whether the probable minor points of difference are worth the extra cash.

I went looking for the Initiale Paris version to see what luxuries are denied the Megane customer. Eventually I found it, buried in the wrong place at the website. Do they want to sell these? The Initiale Paris is distinguished by its big motor and the nappa leather but no rear centre arm-rest. 48,000 euros.

2018 Renault Scenic interior – aargh!: source


I still think that despite the lack of the rear centre arm-rest, the Renault Initiale Paris is a top-dog motor car for people who want comfort and elegance. It’s only competitor is the Volvo S90. Personally, the German big three have strayed too far from their roots as purveyors of austere good taste. Their cars are stacked with technology and are certainly way better at Nurburgringology than the Initiale but so is a Formula 1 car.

They have overshot. The Maserati QP is far too baroque and suggests too much of the air of organised crime. Maybe the mid-sized Jaguar saloon is a competitor as well. It has that arm-rest but perhaps the V6 engines are way over the top. The Megane Scenic is for families and that’s fine; it’s in another market but by dint of product semantics rather than objective geometrical distinction.

I declare then that the Espace  amounts to a very clever way to sell the Grand Scenic hardware for a lot more money. In the old days when your choice lay between a Laguna and a Safrane, there was substance to the difference as with Sierra’n’Scorpio,  Vectra et Omega and so on. Even a base model Scorpio was better than a top-spec Sierra. More space. More heft. Substance as well as style.

At the lower end of the spectrum, minus the hide seats, special wheels and oomphy engine, the case for the Espace is less clear. For your fifteen grand you get a more classical DLO and a chrome flash on the D-pillar on the Espace. The Espace is more on the elegant side than the swoopier Megane Scenic so Renault have pitched the styling smartly. If you don’t mind the family image the Grand Megane probably does as much as the Initiale, so long as you don’t mind pushing the glove box closed yourself.

On balance, the Espace is different but not by as much as you’d hope for. It’s not unlike the Opel Omega “B” or Ford S-Max: variations of other cars and not truly a car in its own right.


The top of the range is the Renault Initial Paris which is not listed with the rest of the models but has its own pull down menu. Left to right the menu bar reads: Renault Espace/Design/Equipment/Engines/Accessories/Prices and Technical Data/Initiale Paris/Configurator/Special models. That makes no sense at all. The Initiale Paris should be listed as first or last of the main range and not between “technical data” and “configurator”. That is a costly ontological mistake.

DTW is the only car site that uses the word “ontological”.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

18 thoughts on “Lead Us To The Fifth Empire, Oh Sovereign Sebastian”

  1. Differentiation of larger vehicles has in fact become more difficult with today’s platform technology. ‘Mainstream’ manufacturers can’t be bothered to have separate platforms for anything in D-segment and above, and everything that’s available in these cars could also be had in a class below.

    Nevertheless, the cars can be made to convey a very different feel. That’s what I experienced when switching between C6 and C5, based on the same underpinnings with only a 10 cm difference in length and wheelbase. But the impression given by the materials and the interior layout really felt like a class difference. Furthermore, a base spec C6 was a very different thing from a base C5: larger engine and a level of equipment like in a C5 of middle or higher spec. I guess (without searching inscrutable configurators) that a similar thing is going on with the Scénic and the Espace, making the actual price difference much smaller than it appears.

    Regarding the centre arm rest: I guess it’s a minivan thing: with their modular, foldaway, interchangeable seats they usually can’t sport this kind of thing. For some vans there exist(ed) upper class ‘lounge’ type specifications, some of them migth include individual armrests on the seats. I don’t know if the ‘Initiale’ has such a thing (maybe as an option).

  2. Our family minivan has three separate rear seats and the middle one comes equipped with a slim armrest. Presumably the Espace’s middle seat flops down on its own to become a de facto armrest?

    In which case, all is fine.

    What is of more concern is that none of those seats look truly adult sized – and this is the biggest problem with such vehicles. What is the point in a ‘people mover’ that cannot carry people in true comfort?

    The Espace also has what must be the least convincing ‘exhaust tip’ trims in the motoring kingdom. Truly awful. They are a silly shape and placed roughly where you might expect rear fog lights to be placed, towards the corners of the rear bumper cover.

  3. A quick look at the Renault.fr website shows there is a poverty spec Espace available for €36,400 – still over €5k more than a top-of-the-range Grand Scenic. I might have a look later to see how they compare – if I have nothing better to do today that is.

    1. I had another look at the renault.fr only to realise that the top-of-the-range Grand Scenic ‘Initiale Paris’ is actually priced only €300 below the entry level Espace (when I realised I was supposed to scroll right to see the rest of the trim levels, which wasn’t obvious at first glance – another poor web design approach).

  4. While I certainly appreciate the appearance of the term “ontological” on a car website I’m asking myself and yourself whether or not the problem you describe isn’t so much in ontology rather than semiotics.

  5. I read your analysis of the website as there being an insufficient correlation between signifier (the menu bar) and signified (Initiale Paris spec). Therefore, while the ontology of the “Initiale Paris” may very well be intact, it appears to be poorly represented on Renault Germany’s website.

    1. Daniel and StE: yes, it’s a sloppy layout at Renault.de.
      I think websites try to reflect ontological relations which is why they are dendritic in structure. A more appropriate branching was to put all the models under one branch node.
      The semantics then follow.

  6. French car buyers nowadays, above a certain level, aren’t as interested in the car’s value for money as making a statement about their creditworthiness, as they’ve mainly got them on finance deals. This is lucky for them as breakdowns are included — and are common.
    Espace trumps most of the rest.


    The Megane Scénic comes with an accent as standard and the Espace does not.”

    That would be because the word ‘espace’ doesn’t have an accent, ever…
    And even if it did, you don’t put accents on capitalised first letters in French.

    1. Correct Laurent. Espace buyers are denied the diacritical mark no matter how much they pay. Citroen have them as standard (not on my keyboard this moment though).

    2. Still, it’s the Citroën customer who is conned into thinking he’s buying the real thing – just saying.

    3. Well for one thing it looks Germanic, and is therefore misleading.

  8. A good read. And I’ve read my daily recommanded allowance of 10-cent words for the day.

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