Espace was unveiled to the Press in April 1984 as a 110hp 2.0 litre petrol model, and this initial version was followed up towards the end of 1984 by an 88hp turbo-charged diesel model. On sale in France from July 1984, sales at the start were slow as people struggled with the look of a high roof ‘one box’ car. Sales climbed in 1985, and demand soon outstripped production at the Matra Romorantin plant, leading to the need for extra manufacturing capacity at the Renault Dieppe plant in 1987.
With sales topping 192,000, the first-generation Espace underwent a major facelift in January 1988; all versions got a new front end, and a Quadra version was introduced with four-wheel drive. Release of Espace II at the Geneva Motor Show in 1991 marked Renault's strong determination to push its MPV concept even further forward. Modularity was upgraded with design alterations to the second and third rows of seats, a more sophisticated climate control system was introduced, and the A pillars were slimmed down by 40% to improve visibility.
In 1994, Renault showcased the Espace F1, a remarkable demonstration car powered by the V10 RS5 engine that had excelled in the previous year's Formula 1 World Championship. Espace II production from 1991 to 1996 reached 316,518 with total production across the first two generations topping the half-million mark in July 1996.
The third-generation Espace, unveiled in October 1996, brought an upmarket shift to keep it ahead of the competition. The dashboard featured a central digital display for improved legibility, and to meet the needs of customers looking for an even more spacious vehicle, Renault launched a longer wheelbase version (27 cm longer) of Espace III in January 1998, called Grand Espace. By the end of 2001, Espace III held an 18.5% share of the upmarket MPV market. Overall production of this third-generation Espace went on to top 365,200 units.