It's a curious thing but suddenly estate cars seem to have come back from the dead.A market sector which had almost disappeared into the mists of time with the demise of ''shooting brakes'' has suddenly been revitalized. Perhaps, in part, this revival has been brought about by the remarkable European success of MPV's, but in this downsized for those who don't need quite the size or adaptability of the larger vehicles but still require, either for family or business use, a vehicle combining a family car with a good load carrying ability, and, in the case of the ingenious Savanna, 7 seats in 3 rows for the larger family.

The aptly named Savanna - apt, considering the wide open spaces internally - has been in the vanguard of this renaissance of estate cars and this interest has largely centred around the possible seven seat configuration, which is achievable with the family pack option of two further seats in a third row, and it was this which I tested.

The addition of the the third row of seats does of course lead to some restriction in legroom to both of the rear sets of passenger seats but the Savanna is such a long vehicle that the restriction is fairly minimal. This length of wheelbase has other effects of which more later.

A fairly straight forward and attractive design, the car feels and is very spacious, even with all seats occupied there is both good visibility and a high level of passenger comfort.All of the seats are comfortable and supportive although obviously the rear most seats are a little smaller and thinner padded, they are perfectly adequate for children and still comfortable for adults with sufficient, if not huge, amounts of legroom remaining to all seats.Access to the rear seat is via the middle row tilting completely forward.

There is still a very reasonable load area remaining with all rows fitted, accessible via a large tailgate which lifts well out of the way. The middle row of seats being 60/40 split and both rear rows folding up simply to give a very large load area.

The dash and internal fittings are standard Renault 21, all very well designed and practical, the cabin being well trimmed in a durable cloth and well equipped with power steering, central locking, electric front windows and a good 4 speaker stereo, controlled, as is Renault's norm, from a stalk on the steering column, a feature which should be a standard on all cars.

The dash is clear and logical with most switchgear well to hand although the minor switches are a bit of a stretch, notably the rear wiper switch.

With some 65 bhp available, the 1721 cc engine offers a fair compromise between performance - which is quite reasonable -, and fuel economy- which is good- and the car is quite lively, pulls well and cruises comfortably at all speeds.The 5 speed gearbox is light and precise and offers ratios which well complement the engine.

Handling is better than might be expected for such a long wheelbase vehicle, with fairly minimal body roll and good levels of grip and control from the front end although, the rear end feels a little vague when travelling unloaded, no doubt due to the stronger rear springs.Like the majority of estate cars they handle at their best with some weight in the rear.

Braking is very firm although the pedal is perhaps a little soft and uncommunicative.The power steering is well weighted, a trifle heavier than some but that is the way I prefer it to be.

So, all considered, a very impressive family car for the larger family or, equally, a capaciuos and very competent load lugger for business use, with many combinations of seating and load carrying. A good all rounder.

  • PRICE AS TESTED £12,790
  • TOP SPEED 113 mph
  • 0-60 11.5 seconds
  • FUEL CONSUMPTION 29.4 [urban cycle]
  • 51.4 [constant 56 mph]


First Published 1992 - Article © Graham Benge 2007

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