GRAN TURISMO CAR REVIEWS

2002 Renault Avantime

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purple_avantime.jpg


Year Represented: 2002
Country of Origin: France

Class: MPV 
Type: 3-door hatchback
Host: GT4 & GT5

GT5 Mileage: 18,818.7

Price: $52,570 (GT4), $44,656 (GT5)
 
Construction: galvanized steel, composite body panels, brushed aluminum
Length: 182.75" // Width: 72.24" // Height: 64.1"
Wheelbase: 106.4"
Overhang: @6 feet 4 inches
Track: 60.9" [F] // 61.3" [R]
Ground Clearance: 5.5"
Weight: 3,837 pounds
Layout: Front Engine / Front Drive
Tires: 225/55R-16
F. Suspension: MacPherson struts, coils, anti-roll bar
R. Suspension: panhard rods, torsion bars
Brakes: vented disc [F] // solid discs [R]

Both cars (GT4 and GT5) were given oil changes for all specs & testing below. GT5 Avantime was not given engine rebuild 

Engine: 3.0 liter DOHC V6
Aspiration: normal
Fuel System: SMPFi
Valves / Cyl: 4
Bore x Stroke: 3.43 x 3.25"
Compression: 10.9:1
 
                            GT4                             GT5
Final BHP:```` 215 @ 6,000 rpms         203 @ 6,000
Fnl. Torque:
221 @ 3,750 rpms          203 @ 4,000
 
Credits per BHP: $244.51                          $219.56
Pounds per BHP: 17.84                              18.60
BHP per Liter: ````72.98                               68.9
 
 
GT4 Idle: 750 // Redline: 6,300 // RPM Limit: 7,000
GT5 Idle: 800 // Redline: 6,250 // RPM Limit: NA

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

TRACK TESTING performed with N2 tires (simulating all-season radials) in GT4, and Soft Comforts in GT5

0-60 mph: 9.000 seconds                7.992 secs
0-100mph: 21.300 seconds             21.065
 
400 M: 17.031 @ 88 mph             16.268 @ 88 mph
1 KM:
29.992 @ 113 mph             29.427 @ 111 mph

Test Track: 2:46.666                       1:08.077 (Daytona)
100-zero mph: 4.43 seconds             5.566  

Top Gear RPM @ 60 mph: 2,600

Top Speed at Redline
1st: 29 mph
2nd: 54 mph
3rd: 68 mph
4th: 83 mph
5th: 106 mph
6th: 141.3 mph @ 6,150 rpms 
       137.2 mph @ 6,100 rpm (GT5)
 

 

avantime_profile.jpg

 
----------------------EXTERIOR / HISTORY---------------------

The Renault Avantime. Every once in a while, you'll get a vehicle like this one. An oddball.
While attending concept auto shows, many of us have seen a car that grabbed our attention, right? Perhaps we then thought or spoke....

....“now that car looks pretty cool. Wonder if they'll ever build it, though”.

....And usually they don't.

Shows that feature such concepts are typically used to gauge reaction; they are merely a way of "showing off" to the public, and in many cases, the manufacturer doesn't actually intend to build what they're showcasing for whatever reason. If they do start production on a concept model, in many cases the final product has been "dumbed down"....and doesn't look as wild and dramatic as the original concept. There are a number of reasons for this.

Cost is usually at the top of the list. There's also availability of manufacturing tools and/or locations. And finally, there's always the speculation car-makers intuit that taking a large chance on something new usually doesn't work. Once their amazing concept vehicle is in production, the public simply might not buy it.

Look at the DeLorean, for instance. Despite previous enthusiasm seen at the shows and thru marketing results, sometimes the big hype becomes the latest big flop. There are many cases throughout the years we can make an example of, besides the DeLorean DMC-12. 

In the 1930s, Chrysler's Airflow series employed new, aerodynamic designs not seen on other autos of the time; and nowadays more car-makers aspire for sleekness because it is fuel-efficient as well as sporty, yet Airflows didn't sell, despite the millions Chrysler spent to manufacture and advertize them.

Another example: In 1958, Ford brought out their famous Edsel, which many agree was an ugly design, but just look at some of the Edsel's competition, some of which was arguably just as ugly. Another example: In the late '90s Pontiac produced the Aztec, a large MPV, during a time which MPVs and SUVs were becoming popular, yet the Aztec not only sold poorly but became a recent joke. I could site more examples, but that should be plenty. You get the idea.

All of these were flops....financial disasters which in some cases should have seen better days, but didn't.

Anyways, my basic point is this: many cars on the road today are boring designs. Let's face it. And it's not just "family" cars that are boring, it's even some top sellers: luxury cars, coupes that are supposed to attract a "sporty" segment of the population, and so on. These can be dull, too. What I mean by "dull" is: these designs don't stand out from one another. A Lexus resembles a Mercedes that resembles a Ford that resembles a Honda. And why is this?

Because, everyone is afraid to take a chance. The folks in charge of production are afraid that if they let their designers have too much liberty, perhaps their precious product will not sell once it's on the market. And they will wind up trying to push another Edsel. Another Aztec. Going out on a limb may be fun in theory..but...you get the point, right?

Which leads to this review. Here is what I gathered as I read some websites on this fruit-cakey model.

The Renault Avantime was released with usual auto-show fanfare it seems. It was not a typical design with its two VERY large doors, glassy cabin, and odd surface angles. Renault was adamant with their description of the Avantime as a "coupe". In my opinion, it's actually closer to being a multi-purpose vehicle.

The Avantime is like the Subaru SVX because it's challenging to define what exactly the Avantime is supposed to be? What is its purpose? Who's going to buy it? Its name actually lends us a clue. "Avant" is the French word for "ahead", and Avant is followed by "time". The English word "time" is self-explanatory. Renault (and original Avantime designer Matra) thought they had a futuristic product, basically. One that in press-releases "forward-thinking, maverick types who go against the grain" (my words) would buy.

As it turns out, there apparently aren't as many of these sort of people out there as Reanault / Matra hoped! Over the course of two years, the Avantime sold just 8,545 examples before being canned. A little background now on the full story.

Years earlier, Renault employed Matra to design their Espace vans, which were sucessfully sold for a number of years. The Espace (like the Avantime) features a steel bodyshell covered with composite panels....an unusual design that nonetheless worked structurally and sales-wise. As the '90s ended, Renault wanted to replace the Espace with something roomy, but also wanted it to be semi-luxurious; hence the 50-grand pricetag in our game.

And as it turns out, the Avantime is just loaded with features. Matra needed work, so Renault put them in charge. With the release and subsequent poor sales of the Avantime, Matra is either out of business or headed that way (depends on which website you visit). And so it goes...

In our game, the Avantime is both a novelty and a joke. As a car enthusiast, I couldn't wait to race this silly machine around, but I also am aware of the general opinion of other gamers; most of who ignore the Avantime. Or ridicule it! And I can't blame them, honestly. I mean think about it: does such a vehicle really belong in a racing simulation? Do people really RACE Avantimes in the streets of Paris? Has anyone ever OWNED another wannabe hipster/drag-racer in an Avantime? Think about it! Think of how ludicrous a concept this is, and then perhaps you'll start to wonder as I did...why exactly is the Avantime in my racing game??

My theory? It's just like the Prius as it appears in GT2. When GT2 was released in late '99, the Prius was a new model. It had never been proven on the race-tracks, and (as a hybrid) hadn't even proven itself in sales yet, but this didn't stop Toyota from making sure the Prius got in the game! You can't race it, but it's in the game! What is going on here?

Well forget the Prius. You couldn't do much with it in GT2, but you can win some races in GT4 or GT5 driving an Avantime. My theory is: these cars are in the fourth game as a sort of "promotion". Perhaps Renault was desperate for better Avantime sales in 2002-2003 as GT4 was being developed. And therefore, Renault pushed it into the game in hopes the gaming public would soon translate into the buying public, see?

But you know what? I don't care. I'm interested in the Avantime. I'm curious about it! Perhaps I am one of those odd customers Renault was hoping to target, right? So let's find out if there's anything of value here.

First of all, I gotta give Renault & Matra props for at least believing in their design. I'd rather see someone take a chance with something radical, instead of offering yet another boring design. This is why I'm writing about the Avantime tonight instead of the bread & butter CitroŽn Xsara VTS I drove earlier this evening.

Second of all, this may be a head-turner in our game and on the streets, but as a racing vehicle it's got a few issues. 3,800 of them, matter of fact; as in 3,800 pounds. It's front-wheel drive, as well....and arguably any MPV that's gonna see track-time (God willing) should be all-wheel drive in my opinion, which is just a more stable design to start with. Also, the Avantime is (as I said earlier) expensive...both in initial cost as well as later on when you're buying parts and trying your best to make this heavy, clumsy oaf BEHAVE just a little bit! 

GT5 describes this one as being "peculiar" and a "specialty car", but makes no mention of the Avantime's sad existence. GT5's description also describes the interior as "roomy" and lets us know that with those large windows rolled down and the sunroof open, this Renault feels like a convertible going down the road, simply because there is now so much air being blown into the cabin. We can't experience this in GT5, but this one does have rather a lot of glass--better to help us see around us. The rear window, however, is so far back that it's rather useless. What is needed is a better look out this small van's side windows. But, mirrors are useful, and the horn neither annoying nor too quiet. As we'll see during the next section, we've actually got some horsepower to work with, too.   


 

-------------------ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN -----------------------

In the first section, we encountered the story of a vehicle that is somewhat disturbing, to say the least. Well, all is not as it seems, so keep an open mind for these next couple sections.

Mechanically, the Avantime is actually a decently solid machine. It does have potential as a race car! The 3.0 liter DOHC V6 isn't the most powerful unit ever used in a front-drive, but it's mated to a great front-end.

While I drove this so-called "coupe" thru the five FF Challenge races, the engine was near stock. With just an oil change, power now sat at 218 bhp; and at this level, power gets doled out reliably, even in tighter corners, with no wheelspin. But it's not completely dull either. There are some really cool moments of front-wheel chirping, mixed with very few "I just lost it all" moments.

Of course, it helps that there's roughly 2,300 pounds of material over those front tires. This keeps them from wanting to spin. Only as I launched the Avantime from a standing-start at Mid-Field Raceway, Suzuka East, and Grand Valley East did I see potential for major wheelspin. But such front-end madness is easily tamed by slightly backing-off the throttle.

And for those serious about taking an Avantime thru some Professional-level events, there are three stages of natural tuning available on the aftermarket which raise the bar to 370 bhp all told...far more than many front-drives will ever see in our game. With this much power, the Avantime did not become the Great God of Understeer I was expecting.

It's only once we've got some real power to speak of (at least Stage 3) along with a Stage 3 weight-class reduction that the Avantime becomes more problematic. Wheelspin has a habit of lashing out now at points when the Avantime was previously tame, till it's safely in 3rd gear. You WILL need a limited-slip. You WILL need to modulate and feather that throttle just as you would in the majority of lighter FWDs.

So to summarize: not super-speedy at first, but competent, willing and able. Renault offers extras after you've bought the van and wish to have more 'go', but these extras come at a cost. That's all good. What's screwy is the transmission.

We've got a 6-speed gearbox here that was offered both as a manual and an automatic in real-life. As it cruises thru its first 4 gears, you might think you've got a rather paranoid close-ratio box down there, which seesaws from close to closer to REALLY close back up to taller! 5th gear lags a bit.... but then it finally makes to 6th, which is (all the sudden) a SUPER-tall cruising gear.

At this point, the Avantime still has lots of life to give, since it's only pushing 106 mph. At full steam, it was making slightly over 140 for my track testing. With full Stage 3 tuning, it can manage 158 mph down Fuji's long straight. That tall 6th comes in handy here, since at this speed the Avantime still hadn't heavily redlined. ++

But to give some indication on how odd the gearing is, check out these stats below. Here's how it works. How much mph does each gear dole out per 1,000 rpms, with redline (which happens to be 6,250 rpms) as the max-point? Let's all take a moment to geek out with our calculators and see...

1st: 4.64 mph per 1000 rpms...
2nd: 4.00 mph per 1000 rpms.
3rd: 2.24 mph " " "
4th: 2.40 mph " " "
5th: 3.68 mph
6th: 5.74 mph!

Does that seem odd to you? It does to me. Like it could be yet another Polyphony screw-up, eh? But I can't say conclusively, I wasn't able to find out the Avantime's real-life gearing on any website (French or English). Gearing specs are difficult to find on the internet, even on popular makes that aren't dropped after just two years of production & market-time, so I dropped my investigation after about two minutes.

Well anyways, it doesn't matter. The Avantime gets around many courses with its stock gearbox...it just shifts and lurches at points that seem quirky. In the short run nothing gets hurt, and this is still a safe car to race thru such events as the FF Challenge, Clubman, and some others.

 

---------------------CHASSIS / HANDLING--------------------

So here's the deal. I've driven some front-drives in my time and what I expected from the Avantime wasn't what I found.

My expectations: this heavy model would have great braking capabilities, but other than this would be an understeery, incompetent mess on wheels.

The truth: braking capability is great. But the good things don't stop there.

Actually, there is some understeer just like in any other FWD, but I was surprised to find it doesn't show up immediately, nor does it stick around like an annoying pest 100% of the time. There wasn't much torque-steer, either. In fact, the Avantime is incredibly grippy if it's pointed out of tight corners, and has a habit of chomping down on that road like an Integra or a Prelude as it lays some rubber to the mother. The front-end feels relatively accurate and easy to control under power, as well (even full Stage 3 power).

Honestly, I was expecting Taurus SHO-ish torque-steer which would need to be seriously tamed with constant throttle-babying, since both the SHO and the Avantime share similar power & torque, but this simply wasn't the case.

At worst, the Avantime has a habit of rocking to and fro under power, as its stiff rear torsion-bar suspension does its job. This results in a bit of "chirping" from those front tires as they nearly lose traction and quickly regain it several times per second. .....Which I happen to think is really COOL!

All this noise and momentum makes the Avantime a rather exciting vehicle to pilot around, yet it manages to keep things under control most of the time. It's simply a well-balanced FWD while power is near-stock, what else can I say?

Of course, things don't stay this way. As power gets pushed with upgrades, the Avantime will suffer more understeer and some torque-steer. Assuming the need for weight reductions, the Avantime also starts to lose its anchor-like head, as well. As full power is released, wheelspin in 1st and 2nd gear becomes more of an issue, too.

GT5
Yes, I drove this monstrosity in the 5th game, too, but it's currently August of 2013, so it's obvious it took quite a while to get to the Avantime.

Just as in GT4, I equipped my red Renault with some medium radial tires. In GT5, it actually comes with soft radials, but I wanted to compare GT4 to GT5. I drove this MPV around Suzuka East for a few laps, and have plans to race it in the Clubman Cup later on. I'll use hard or medium sport tires for those races, but for now let's concentrate on the Avantime on some cheapies.

First thing that's evident, oh yeah, there's some understeer. Suzuka is famous for its rather large curves, and this means that if there's a bit too much speed carried into any of these, before long my 'maverick' is now bouncing over some grass, or slogging through some sand. Give any amount of gas while this car is at or anywhere near its limits, and it's "game over dude". Unlike GT4, I haven't even raced my Avantime yet, but it seems to be offering up some limits and saying "hey! PAY ATTENTION to this! I suck with cornering if you're going to drive me on these tires! Merde!"

Well okay. Let's put some softer tires on. Geez. 

With these tires (soft comforts) this MPV is now "OE", which means it's got its "original equipment" instead of some cheap knock-offs. Yokohama or Bridgestone tires instead of Kellys or Runways. As the Avantime corners, and my lap times get chopped down 2 or 3 seconds with ease, this feels as its described in GT4: it's got a surprising safety zone for a front-drive that's so heavy.

I found myself really diving into that first turn at Suzuka, for instance--braking rather late and then still finding some ability to steer-in as this curve swoops inwards. After several laps, I found myself with a bit of confidence, and tried braking even later!  The Avantime trail-brakes effectively. Just as during my GT4 days, I was rather surprised by all of this in GT5. The Avantime holds a solid line, too. The only thing that messes up this line (occasionally) is the throttle. Although I could find some safety as gas was re-introduced, if I went just a little too far, the Renault was now understeering once again. And this understeer did not just go away after a simple throttle-release.

On the other hand, once I got to dancin' with this heavy machine (on its original tires), I realized that throttle can be played with mid-turn. Often, it's like you've pulled up to a beggar, and are trying to decide how many coins to give him. Should I go with a half-dollar? No, that seems too much. A quarter? Yeah, that's cool, but maybe I'll insult him. A quarter and a dime? .. Perfect! I can afford this!  The Avantime's throttle can be played with, in other words. Half-throttle here, a quarter or three-quarters there. Find that limit? Just tame throttle a bit; give that beggar a couple of dimes for now. 

I also raced this car in the Tous France Championnat, so yes, this vehicle is still useful in GT5. At Sarthe, I encountered something I haven't seen in a GT game in a while: genuine body-sway oversteer. In GT and GT2, this sort of action happened more often for larger front-drives, but here in 5, this is one of the only instances I've experienced body-sway. The Avantime got a bit sideways (rear tires overheating as well as the fronts) as I tried to brake too late into the first Mulsanne chicane.

The Avantime also understeered rather heavily during some of the Porsche Curve areas (unlike the GT4 version). Since there is more tarmac to work with here (unlike Suzuka), it never got so bad that I was forced off-track. I did notice also a bit of severe torque-steering as I hauled the Avantime out of the sharp right at the end of the Mulsanne, but most of the time this sort of action is not so evident.

At Madrid, I feared my silly frenchmobile would exhibit some really bad handling traits. But it does better with Madrid's lower-speed turns than it does with Sarthe's higher-speed ones. I could brake roughly 25 meters later in the Avantime into the first chicane, for instance, than I could in a Citroen C3 I also drove recently. The C3 demanded I start braking at 100 meters (lest some really mad understeer shows up), while the Avantime felt comfortable with 75M.

The Avantime also could accept more throttle out of the first hairpin, and as long as I kept the transmission in 2nd gear, I could also start this throttle a bit earlier (and heavier) than I could in the lighter C3. The C3's inner-front tire would lose traction just as it did in GT4, causing a bit of lost speed, even if I straighted the front wheels. The Avantime also overheated its front tires occasionally, but (with its heavier weight) these moments were not as disasterous.

I thought that into some of Madrid's tighter areas that the Avantime would not have any options, yet was wrong again. As long as this one could actually fit between a car and a wall, I often had the option to steer it that way, in or out. Granted, this MPV still has its limits, and understeer is still #1 on the list, but the moment of torque-steer I felt at Sarthe simply never happened at Madrid.     

Summary
Overall I have to give some high marks to the Avantime for its maneuverability, traction, braking, and lack of typical FWD issues. It suffers from some of these issues in either game it appears in, but overall I was impressed much more than I was disappointed. Sorry if you were expecting a good car-review bashing, folks, it ain't happening today!

avantime_rear.jpg

PROS--------------------------------------------------------

1). Interesting design. No, it's not for everyone, but it's great to see a car-maker who wants to avoid the "cookie-cutter" approach once in a while.

2). A good (not great) engine that gets the job done in early GT4 races with little (if any) preparation. It does well in some GT5 races too, when it's not overpowering this game's lamer events. 

3). Three levels of naturally-aspirated tuning can be had. The final power (370 horses in GT4) is pretty sweet, rarely found in a production front-drive in our game.

4). The front-end in this bohemian vehicle is also very useful. Grip-under-braking dominates over entry-corner understeer (truer in GT4 than 5). Grip also dominates over FWD's worst enemy: torque-steer.

5). ...Yet the Avantime doesn't feel "boring" to drive, even when it's stock. It's as expressive as any typical pocket-rocket as it lays down that power, but with a lack of pocket-rocket wheelspin.

6). Weight reductions remove a lot of those pounds and are worth buying.

7). Limited-slip devices not needed immediately to escape corners safely, despite over 200 horses of stock power. Suspension tweaking can also be kept at a minimum (at least early on....)

8). A shopper's delight of colors one can have their Avantime delivered with.

9). GT5: as a taller vehicle, this one gives us some rather large pieces of glass to see through.
 

CONS---------------------------------------------------------

1). Pricey.

2). Below-average acceleration (even for a front-drive).

3). Several hundred pounds of this vehicle are devoted to creature comforts, safety equipment, and this MPV's semi-luxurious bent...stuff that has nothing to do with racing, in other words. Remove these pounds, and some of the front-end's trusty grippiness goes with them.

4). As power gets raised, so do negative handling traits like understeer and lower-gear wheelspin. It's shocking (to me) Renault didn't go with an all-wheel drive design (or at least the option of AWD) when they released the Avantime on the market. Perhaps they were concerned about the loss of fuel-efficiency such a design would cause?

5). I would suspect most people do not appreciate the odd design of the Avantime as they game, since it was a poor seller in real-life.

6). One of the strangest stock gearbox configurations you'll ever see. Well-spaced gears followed by closer gears followed by a taller one and then a REALLY super-tall 6th speed. Just weird, man. It works sometimes, except when it doesn't.

7). The average torque this V6 supplies feels warm and reliable, yet really gets tested as you try and heft this 3,800 pound vehicle up some hills.

8). Despite the decent power one can achieve for this FWD, the Avantine still has a rather short career mode. In GT4 we've got Sunday Cup -> FF Challenge -> Clubman Cup -> Tous France Championnat...maybe the NA Cup if you're really really good... In GT5, the Avantime will overpower both the Sunday & Clubman, meaning we won't get to race this one fairly until the Tous France.

9). GT5's interior view may give us a lot of glass to work with, but the passenger side is still mostly a giant blind spot.

 
Published: April 10, 2008
GT5 Info: August 24, 2013

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