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Renault has unveiled its latest vision for future mobility: the EZ-Ultimo concept. The star of Renault’s stand at the 2018 Paris Motor Show, it’s described by the company as a “premium and shared robo-vehicle”. In reality, that makes it something like an autonomous first-class train carriage for the road.
What is the Renault EZ-Ultimo?
Renault says it wants to “re-invent life on board”, turning the car into a place for work, rest, play or relaxation. Anything we might do at home or the office should be possible on the move. We’re already getting others to do the driving for us, reckons the company, with the rise of lift-hailing apps and services.
“As consumer trends change and people are enjoying ride-hailing services more and more, a new paradigm for mobility will emerge,” said Laurens van den Acker, SVP of corporate design at Renault.
The EZ Ultimo is the next logical step. It sounds very similar to Volvo’s vision of an autonomous pod, the 360c concept, which was pitched as a threat to the short-haul airline industry.
Funky French styling
Similar in ethos to the 360c, the EZ-Ultimo is also similar in silhouette. It’s very much a carriage rather than a traditional car, but futuristic wheels, angular flourishes and artistic lighting liven up the design. While the Volvo’s clean-cut Scandinavian lines are appealing, the Renault enjoys flashes of French flair.
“Inspired by contemporary architecture, and completely integrated in future smart cities, EZ-Ultimo will provide an exclusive experience for all. With autonomous, electric and connected cars, we are entering a new exciting era in automotive design,” says Renault.
A luxurious office on wheels
When the doors slide to one side, you get your first view of the cabin. It shares more with the living space of a modern apartment than a car. It’s high-class, too, utilising wood, leather and even marble for a “relaxing and enjoyable drive”.
By comparison with the Volvo, it does seem less versatile. There’s no bed for cross-continental overnight hauls, for example. Instead, you have office-style seating and workspaces. That, together with its new Augmented Editorial Experience (AEX), is how Renault aims to “re-invent travel time”.
AEX is what Renault calls a “realist immersive experience which combines personal premium content, multi-media experiences and mobility”. We take that to mean big screens for working and watching on the go.
Overall, the EZ-Ultimo is a curious take on a future we’re still uneasy about. Nevertheless, such new types of car are giving designers freedoms many before couldn’t have dreamed about, and yielding interesting results.
A survey of 2,000 UK motorists by Citnow has uncovered the 10 best-loved features owners found in their cars.
These range from interior ‘easter eggs’ that surprise and delight, to genuinely useful features that we’re surprised aren’t seen more widely.
Let’s look at the list…
Volkswagen Golf GTI: golf ball gearknob
‘GTI’ is one of the most prestigious names in hot hatchery and by extension, one of the most revered badges on the road. Today, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is the perfect double act of genuine class-beating competency and fun throwbacks to GTIs of old. One example of the latter is the golf ball on the gearknob, which heads the list of best-loved features .
Volkswagen Beetle: flower vase
If you thought the golf ball shifter was a fun trinket, the Volkswagen Beetle and its dashboard vase will appeal. The ‘New Beetle’, when it arrived in 1997, aimed to distil the cultural phenomenon of the original in a contemporary package. Yes, even down to some flower power… Motoring meets botany, resulting in perhaps the weirdest feature of any car from the last 20 years. It makes number two on the list.
Vauxhall Corsa: Flexfix integrated bike rack
The Beetle’s vase can be best described as a gimmick that’s most useful when you’re without a place to store your pens. The Flexfix slide-out bike rack on the Corsa (available as far back as 2000) is of rather more use to more people. Clever packaging makes it third on the best-loved list.
Skoda: integrated umbrella
This one, especially for Brits, is a no-brainer, and somthing you’ll find in both a Rolls-Royce and a Skoda Superb. The door-stored umbrella has to be a godsend whenever you park up in wet weather. The challenge is remembering that it’s tucked away there.
Mini: ambient lighting
In the coolness stakes, this is close to the top. Ambient lighting has proliferated throughout the car market, but the playful implementation in the Mini is rated one of the best-loved features by buyers.
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Honda: Magic Seats
Heading the list of practical but not necessarily cool quirks are Honda’s ‘Magic Seats’. These flip-up rear seats, which create a floor-to-ceiling storage space, debuted on the Jazz in the early 2000s and eventually made their way onto the Civic. Unlike a lot of what’s on this list, they are a genuinely useful feature if your Jazz or Civic is thus equipped!
Mini Convertible: Openometer
Aaaaaand… we’re back to the gimmicks. It doesn’t get much sillier than the Mini Convetible’s ‘Openometer’. This gauge records the amount of time you have spent travelling with the roof down. At least you can say with the utmost certainty how much sunshine you’ve got, before deciding whether to buy another drop-top.
Nissan: curry hook
As unknown features go, this is about as middle-of-the-road as they get. How many cars do you know of with a hook specifically for takeaways? Er, none? Well, there is one. From 1996, the Nissan Almera came equipped with this feature, which you can now find in the boots of many new cars.
Renault Modus: Boot Chute
This is a feature that was absolutely infamous at the time, mostly among journalists. The boot chute is one of those great ideas that simply didn’t catch on (the name surely didn’t help, although this was, remember, the company that also gave us the Renault Wind).
Too close to a car or a wall behind you? Need to load shopping? No problem! The lower part of the tailgate opened to create a ‘Boot Chute’. It provided excellent access for luggage in confined spaces. Bring it back, Renault!
DS 3: perfume dispenser
The last item on the list is the DS 3’s perfume dispenser. Of course, it’s not actually exclusive to the DS. Many cars are now getting integrated fragrances, but it remains a laughable hidden feature.
Or is it? Plenty of us fit our own air fresheners, so why should a built-in one seem weird? Regardless, it rounds off the top 10 hidden features that buyers love.
Thierry Henry will star in new TV idents as part of Renault’s sponsorship of Premier League football on Sky Sports, as the former Arsenal man returns as brand ambassador.
The Frenchman – capped 123 times by his country – signed for Renault in 2002 to create the famous ‘Va Va Voom’ adverts, with the phrase added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary.
— Thierry Henry (@ThierryHenry) January 9, 2018
The new idents, which will carry the not-quite-as-catchy-hashtag #withyoualltheway will feature Premier League fans as they experience the ups and downs of a football season. Henry will showcase several Renault cars, including the Clio, Captur and Megane RS.
Thierry Henry said: “It feels great to reignite my long-stating ‘liaison’ with Renault, especially as I’m returning to the team during its first journey into football. Having played in stadiums across the world I know first-hand the passion fans have for both life and their favourite sport.
“I’m looking forward to helping Renault publicly celebrate this passion over the course of the Premier League season, while injecting some ‘Va Va Voom’ back into British football.”
Vincent Tourette, managing director, Renault UK, added: “We’re delighted to welcome Thierry back to Renault to lead the line in our new TV idents on Sky Sports.
“We’ve just enjoyed an amazing World Cup summer in which we were reminded of football’s power to bring out the best in us all, and we can’t wait to carry that on into the Premier League season with Thierry at the helm as we explore a sport that links very strongly with Renault’s ‘Passion for Life’ ethos.”
Give Henry a big hand
Henry scored 228 goals in 376 games for Arsenal, where he is remembered as a club legend and a footballing hero. Needless to say, the ‘Gooners’ will enjoy watching their man in the Renault ads.
Republic of Ireland fans might be less welcoming, as Henry was as at the centre of a handball controversy in 2009, with the Frenchman handling the ball twice to send France to the 2010 World Cup at the expense of Ireland.
You have to hand it to Henry, though. He knows a lucrative deal when he sees one. Bobby, what’s French for ‘Va Va Voom’?
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The original Renault Espace was so revolutionary that the design was passed around between car manufacturers before anyone had the gumption to build it. And when Renault did – six years after the car was first designed by Chrysler UK – sales were sluggish. And by ‘sluggish’ we mean single figures in the first month. Ouch.
It was 1985 before the Matra-built Espace arrived in the UK, with a fibreglass body on top of a galvanised steel chassis and a genuinely lounge-like interior. Today, Mk1 Renault Espaces are rare. A life of hard use by families means few have survived, although at least two still exist within Renault’s incredible heritage collection.
Driving the Mk1 Espace today, it feels a shame that the old-fashioned MPV category is all but dead. There’s an incredible amount of room inside – a flat floor aids practicality, while the seats swivel around to allow passengers to enjoy a meeting, or even a family meal in comfort. No modern-day four-wheel-drive can do that.
Visibility is amazing thanks to thin pillars and a low beltline, meaning kids shouldn’t get travel sick as much as they would in an (arguably more stylish) SUV. And it’s perfectly fine to drive, too. The late Turbo DX model we tried, powered by a 2.1-litre turbodiesel engine, surprised us with its levels of refinement. You’re not going to punt it around for fun, but it lollops along quite happily and body-roll doesn’t become too intrusive. Unless you drive like an idiot.
Production of the original Espace finished not long after this example was produced, with the second-generation model arriving in 1991. Not as revolutionary as its ancestor, Renault still managed to make it exciting by launching the Espace F1 in 1995. Created by Matra, it used a lightweight carbon fibre chassis and a 3.5-litre V10 producing 800hp.
Unfortunately, you couldn’t go along to your nearest Renault dealer and place an order for the Espace F1. A one-off show car, the F1 was launched to celebrate 10 years of the Espace and, incidentally, 10 years of the Renault’s involvement in Formula One. If – like me – you’re of the Playstation generation, you may have fond memories of driving the Espace F1 on Gran Turismo 2.
Today, the Espace continues to prove that MPVs can be cool. Now into its fifth generation, the latest Espace puts comfort before driving dynamics, just like the original did more than 30 years earlier. And you’d be hard-pushed to argue that it’s not a looker; it’s crossover-esque appearance makes it a real stand-out in a declining sector.
It’s a shame, then, that Renault axed the Espace in the UK in 2011, and has no plans to make the latest model available in right-hand drive. Personally, I think it’s much cooler than the majority of SUVs on the market.
Launched in 1961, the Renault 4 could be used for work during the week and take the family away at the weekend
French car manufacturer Renault is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. The firm – which is headquartered in Paris – has quite the heritage to celebrate, which explains why it has no fewer than 750 classic cars in its collection.
While the cars are dotted around France, a purpose-built garage has recently opened at its Flins factory to house a small part of the collection. Open only to members of staff, we were allowed inside for a sneak peek as part of the brand’s anniversary celebrations.
Renault Type A
The story goes that Renault was founded on Christmas Eve 1898, when aspiring engineer Louis Renault drove his first car, a Type A voiturette, up the incredibly steep Rue Lepic in Paris. The assembled audience was so impressed that 12 deposits were received, giving the 21-year-old the funds to acquire a factory.
Renault Type B
Many of Louis Renault’s early customers were friends and family, so he was keen to listen to any feedback and demands they had. The main thing buyers wanted that the Type A didn’t satisfy was comfort. Working with coachbuilder Labourdette, Renault designed a closed body that appeared on the Type B in 1899.
Renault six-wheel type MH
When you think of expedition by motor car, a Land Rover might spring to mind. But the French were doing it years before the British. In 1923, Renault revealed the Six-Roues – a powerful truck with six wheels and low-pressure tyres, along with two-axle drive to provide off-road capability. A number of expeditions followed, including numerous trips across the Sahara.
In the wake of the Great Depression, manufacturers were looking at building cheaper cars that were within reach of normal men and women. Louis Renault was adamant that this wasn’t the right approach and, during a time before the middle class emerged, Renault continued to build high-quality cars for affluent families. The Primaquatre of 1937 was a four-seat family car, 3.7 metres long and capable of 105km/h (65mph). It had a start price of 19,500 francs.
In contrast to Louis Renault’s beliefs that the firm should concentrate on premium cars for affluent motorists, the firm quietly worked on an affordable small car during the Second World War. The 4CV, as it went on to be named, was France’s answer to the Volkswagen Beetle. More than one million were produced before it was replaced by the Renault 4 in 1961.
Think 4×4 pickups are a relatively recent thing? Think again. In 1946, Renault began considering a ‘station wagon for the countryside’. The result was the Colorale range, with a number of utilitarian and family versions introduced between 1950 and 1951. They were fairly old-fashioned from a technical point of view, with a truck-like chassis and a tractor engine.
Based on the Renault Dauphine (we’ll come onto that in a minute), the Caravelle was also known as the Floride. That’s because the idea was initially conceived by US dealers at a convention held in Florida, who said a coupe/cabriolet model would improve the brand’s image in the States. However, Renault was concerned that naming it after a US state would exclude buyers elsewhere, hence the Caravelle name.
Introduced in 1959, the Estafette was a genuinely clever van. Front-wheel-drive (a first for Renault), it featured a flat floor and a short turning circle, as well as sliding doors, making it the perfect workhorse for French tradesmen. Production lasted until 1980, by which time more than 533,000 Estafettes had been produced.
As a successor to the Renault 4CV, the Dauphine continued to rebel against Louis Renault’s wish to target the affluent classes. A rear-engined rival to the likes of the Volkswagen Beetle and Morris Minor, the Dauphine was a hit the second it was revealed at the 1955 Paris Motor Show. More than two million were sold during its 11-year lifespan.
The Renault 4 was more than simply a replacement for the 4CV. It’s a symbol of France in the early 1960s. A rural exodus was happening, seeing people shift from the countryside to new suburbs being developed on the edge of urban areas. As such, Renault decided to launch ‘the ultimate versatile automobile’. Capable of serving as a workhorse during the week, the Renault 4 could also double up as a family car at weekends.
Renault 8 Gordini
Although by the 60s Renault primarily catered for people wanting affordable transport, there was still an enthusiastic audience captivated by the likes of the 4CV used in the Monte Carlo Rally. In 1964, Renault brought out the Renault 8 Gordini, with the standard car’s 50hp engine replaced by a 95hp 1,100cc unit. The firm intended to build just 1,000 cars, but 11,600 customers parted with money for the Gordini – despite a price tag close to double that of the standard car.
The world’s first production hatchback, the Renault 16 was launched in 1965 as a bigger, upmarket alternative to the Renault 4. Halfway between a saloon and an estate, buyers and journalists struggled to get their head around this new bodystyle at first, but it soon became a huge success. More than 1.8 million were sold worldwide during its 15 year production run. This example in Renault’s collection was destined for the US, where the 16 was sold in tiny numbers.
Launched in 1972, the Renault 5 was unashamedly a car designed for women. It featured a curvy shape, just two doors (allowing children to stay safe in the back without the threat of them opening a door) and an easy-to-lift hatchback making it convenient for supermarket shopping. Oh, and plastic bumpers were used for the first time, providing protection from minor impacts.
Simple, inexpensive and unbreakable. That was the brief for the Renault 12, revealed at the 1969 Paris Motor Show. Developed with international sales in mind, the 12 would take Renault to new markets, with much of its testing carried out in Brazil. It went on to find a following in Romania, where it was built under licence by the Dacia brand, and Turkey. It was a commercial success, with 2.5 million sold internationally.
Renault’s trademark had become the hatchback since the R16, but it didn’t offer a mid-range hatch. The Renault 14 was introduced in 1976 following a clever advertising campaign that caused it to be known as the ‘pear-shaped’ car. It was the first Renault to be powered by a transversely-mounted powertrain, allowing a roomier cabin and increased luggage space.
Renault had been pushing a ‘car for living’ philosophy with its series of practical cars designed with families in mind – including the Renault 4, 16, 6 and 5. With the launch of its Espace people carrier, it pushed the idea further still, with a revolutionary new vehicle designed by Matra. Although sales were slow to begin with (just nine were sold in its first month on sale), families were soon tempted by the versatility offered by the world’s first MPV.
Described by Renault as having an exterior design that evokes a ‘small, friendly animal’ combined with the interior of a ‘mini passenger van’, the Twingo was launched in 1993 as a quirky yet affordable and practical city car. Initially available with just one trim level and a choice of four colours, “it’s up to you to invent the life that goes with it,” said its launch slogan.
Having gained experience with its larger Espace people carrier, Renault set about launching a car for the late-20th-century family. Following on with the ‘car for living’ philosophy, the Scenic featured a sliding rear seat that could be used as a table, tilting rear side seats, tray tables for passengers and even a bottle rack. The Scenic was so impressive when it was launched in 1996 that it went on to win the 1997 European Car of the Year award.
Renault’s never been afraid of taking risks, and in 1999 it launched a bizarre hybrid of coupe and people carrier. The Avantime ‘embodied the leisure car of the new millenium,’ says Renault, with large windows, an all-glass sunroof and a minimalist centre console. Although reception was generally good, it sold in tiny numbers and production was dropped after just two years on sale.
See more pictures of Renault’s amazing classic car collection:
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