The Renault Avantime is a shooting-brake marketed by the French manufacturer Renault, designed and manufactured by Matra, between 2001 and 2003. As a one-box design without B-pillars, styled by Patrick Le Quément, the Avantime combined the space of an estate with the style of a 2+2 coupé.
The name is a portmanteau of the French word "Avant" (meaning "ahead") and the English word "time" — with the latter using the English /taɪm/ rather than French pronunciation /tiːm/.
The Avantime was designed and developed in-house by Renault affiliate Matra and was conceived by Philippe Guédon, head of the automotive division at Matra, who "believed that the children of Espace owners remained loyal to the car even after they had grown up and left home. As a result, the renowned estate was gaining a generation of new drivers."
Styled by Patrick Le Quément, the Avantime was intended to combine the space of an estate with four-place pillarless qualities of a coupé. Regarding the styling, Thierry Metroz, design project manager, said, "We wanted someone walking around the car to be continually astonished." Anthony Grade, Renault´s vice-president of design said "The exterior and interior had to be coherent. Using the Espace as a base, for instance, meant we had the central instrument display, but that´s part of the innovative character of the whole vehicle". Car magazine described the interior as architectural and luxurious.
The one-box design eliminated B-pillars and featured an aluminium structure, aluminium panels for the greenhouse and a full sunroof of strengthened heat-reflecting glass. The interior featured four seats each with built-in seatbelts and Bridge of Weir leather. To facilitate access to the rear seats, two long doors featured a double parallel-opening hinge system (marketed as "double-kinematic") that maximized access with minimal outswing of the doors. Front side windows lowered automatically when either of the front seats folded forward to further facilitate entry to the rear two seats. Windows featured power-deployable sunshades, and the H-points of the rear two seats were higher than the forward two seats, giving the Avantime "theater seating." The luggage compartment featured a retaining system using retractable straps, and all Avantimes featured a two-tone look created by the exposed aluminium of the greenhouse. The windows and panoramic sunroof could open automatically via a single, headliner mounted control, to give the Avantime an 'open air' mode.
The design borrowed the automotive space frame of the first generation Renault Espace (load bearing galvanized structure with non-load bearing composite panels) utilizing Renault's 24 valve, 207 hp (152 kW) 3.0L V6 engine, which was coupled to a 6-speed manual transmission or 5-speed automatic transmission.
The Avantime was first shown in February 1999 in concept form at a press launch in the Louvre, and one month later to the public at the Geneva Auto Show — where it was referred to as a "Coupéspace" — and went into production two years later, after the subsequent engineering of the pillarless roof to meet safety standards.
The Avantime's sales were poor. The car's fortunes were not helped by the introduction of the Renault Vel Satis (another large, upmarket Renault) around the same time. When Matra decided to pull out of the automotive production business in 2003 (partly as a result of the financial loss incurred by the poor sales of the Avantime), Renault chose to discontinue the Avantime rather than move its production elsewhere. 8,557 were built from 2001 to 2003.
In 2002, Automobile Magazine said "Le Quement is clearly an outside-the-box thinker, and the product of his vision is a fascinating exercise, but American buyers' utilitarian expectations of the one-box shape just don't jibe with the decadence and frivolity of a grand-touring coupe."
In 2008, the Avantime was featured on the British motoring show Top Gear, where the presenters modified the performance of a used Avantime, attempting to lap the test track faster than an Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. The Avantime was recognized as one of the few cars that all three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May liked, along with the Ford Mondeo and Subaru Legacy.