I’ve driven a few vehicles around demanding Castle Combe race track, from 100 mph lap record holding Sierra Cosworth to double decker Routemaster. Yet fromthedrivingseat’s Renault Avantime took us into another dimension, courtesy of owner and i-Wizard Peter Osborne. Which dimension? Judge that yourself from the You Tube 10 minute sequence on our Videos page .
This spacious 3-door coupe is a rarer sight on our roads than many exotic supercars, built for just three years and under 9000 examples, of which only a handful survive in Britain to enchant those who know a financial folly when they see it. First challenge is to open the elongated doors, which weigh 56 kg each. But..but it was worth the struggle.
Driving position is commanding, between luxury 4x4 and Vanman, with the comfortable seats you expect of a French product and all controls handy, although the manual gear change does have a way to travel in selecting 6 forward ratios. The instrumentation is dominated by blinking orange readouts under heavy cowls, necessary is uncharacteristic strong British sunshine.
As aerospace and Formula 1 racers Matra made the largely composite exterior panels (just the bonnet is steel), you hope for decent performance. Peter’s 165 horse turbo petrol example is rated at 9.6 seconds for the 0-60 mph benchmark, despite a 1641 kg kerb weight and some prominent weighty fittings, including panoramic glass sunroof.
On Castle Combe’s combination of fast swerves, tricky off-balance cambers and two tight chicanes, the turbo 2-litres are notable for their mid range pulling power rather than top end pace. A front drive layout delivered consistent cornering with heavyish loads at the comparatively small steering wheel rim to tell you that grip was being maintained. Refreshed 4-wheel disc brakes coped well, but they also grumbled about their workload slowing 1.6 tonnes from 70 mph to 35’sh on the way into chicanery. There was some rumbling from the road surfaces and the occasional kerb, but none of the wind whistle reported at launch time as journalists blamed hectares of frameless side glass.
“The Avantime is possibly the most magnificent automotive folly so far this century, its existence driven by Renault’s attempts to invent a new kind of luxury, a counter-point to the monochromatic, autobahn-honed executive saloons from Munich and Stuttgart,” wrote Richard Bremner in January 2018 Autocar. Agreed, but it has provided Peter, his family and friends endless fun since it was bought very reasonably in 2013. Add in an exotic appearance for a fraction of the cost of more prestigious pedigree vehicles and it all makes Francophile sense. Bravo!
AVANTIME ON TRACK
Jeremy Walton sees how the rare French coupé handles around Castle Combe