Find of the Week: 2002 Renault Avantime

This Find of the Week is something really special because it's not a vehicle that was ever sold here. It's a French MPV that's out of this world even by the high standard set by the designers from France's best automakers. It's a 2002 Renault Avantime: A four-seat, pillarless, grand touring car with the body of a minivan and style that could only come from Renault.

Renault and Citroen have long traded shots in the battle for who can build the most outrageously styled car that's also mass-produced and affordable. Cars like the 2CV, the DS, the R5 Turbo, and the Multipla would boggle minds on Canadian roads but were just another car in their home markets. The Avantime fits perfectly into that mould because you will never see another vehicle that resembles it.

The Avantime was designed and built by Matra, then affiliated closely with Renault and known not just for building vehicles like the Matra Bagheera and Rancho, but also for their defence arm that builds a range of missiles and bombs. The styling was handled by Renault design boss Patrick Le Quément, whose fingerprints are also on cars like the Twingo, Kangoo, and Vel Satis. All excellent designs that look like nothing on Canadian roads.

It was a design intended to shock passers-by. At the time, project manager Theirry Metroz said that "we wanted someone walking around the car to be continually astonished. When you look at the front, you can't imagine what the back will be like, and vice versa." Which is a very bold goal to set for a vehicle, though the company seems to have executed it well here. The company wanted buyers, who were migrating to the German luxury brands in worrying numbers, to take a fresh new look at Renault, and then hopefully decide that it was a brand they wanted in their driveways.

Matra designed the Avantime to sit on the platform of the Espace, a much more conventionally styled minivan. Cutting the rear doors (and significant length) from the Espace meant that a B-pillar wasn't needed, allowing a glass space mostly unencumbered by structure with the windows rolled down. It's the same elegant look you'd see in something like the current Mercedes-Benz E and S-Class coupes. The roof was a full panoramic glass piece, with a large opening front panel.

It sat just four passengers, but the two in the rear enjoyed seats clad in leather from the same company used by Rolls-Royce, and the rear seats were higher than the fronts to allow better visibility from the theatre-style arrangement. The side windows would lower automatically, allowing easier access to those seats through the long front doors and the opening where the window would normally reside.

While it was a styling success, the Avantime was not a sales success. Launched in 2001, production ended in 2003 and took Matra out of the auto business with it. The company sold just 8,557 in that time.

Renault offered three engines in the Avantime, two gas and one diesel. This comes with the larger of the gas engines, a 3.0L V6 (badged 3.0 but really 2.9) that produced 204 hp. While a five-speed automatic transmission was offered, this one came with the six-speed stick, a box much more in tune with the car's grand touring ambitions.

With styling like this, made in numbers as small as this, you're not likely to see another Avantime on the road anytime soon. But this one, for sale in Lévis, PQ, comes with fewer than 80,000 km on the odometer and is ready to impress everywhere you go. So get ready to go touring with grandness, style, and hatchback practicality.

Ahead of any time 1/29/2020 4:30:00 PM