FRANKFURT – Renault SA worked on the all-wheel-drive Egeus concept cross/utility vehicle unveiled at the auto show here for nearly two years.

That is three or four times longer than typical show cars, such as the Ford Iosis or Toyota Endo, which reflects the serious nature of its attempt to make upscale vehicles that sell, the company says. (See related story: Renault to Debut Concepts Big and Small at Frankfurt)

"Making a concept car is an enriching experience," says Patrick le Quement, senior vice president-corporate design. "It's a way to learn the market."

The Egeus has nothing to do with Renault's coming CUV – its first, which will share mechanicals with the next Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. X-Trail.

Renault Egeus Concept

Rather, the Egeus prepares the ground for a luxury vehicle that might come later, perhaps as a replacement for the slow-selling Vel Satis. Its size and character suggest a grand tourer/CUV.

Le Quement calls the Egeus a "sport/utility for town or road," but aside from its size and AWD, the concept vehicle shares little with traditional SUVs. He also says it has aspects of a tall coupe, and that it is the successor to the Fluence, a sexy 4-seat sports coupe concept.

Renault designers made the first sketches of what became Egeus in December 2003, and by the following November it had become a fullsize clay model.

Because Renault has little experience in the AWD world – a variant of the last-generation Scenic is its only attempt so far – it needs to work hard on designs, says le Quement.

"It's like piano. You practice and you get better," he says.

The Egeus is big at 185 ins. (470 cm) and is powered by a 3.0L 250-hp V-6 diesel with a 7-speed automatic transmission, suggesting the kind of powertrain that will be available in future Nissan and Renault CUVs and cars sold in Europe. Power can be sent to each wheel, as necessary.

The exterior is rather simple. A low air intake eliminates the need for a front grille, which normally is the central exterior attribute of a CUV. The sedan-style doors are show-car standards.

Seats move down and swivel as doors open.

"It's the only way to get a photograph of the complete interior," le Quement says. The seats swing out and drop down when the doors are opened, to make entrance and exit easier. They return to a high position when the doors are closed.

The deep blue concept interior is intended to give an undersea atmosphere that goes with the manta-ray shape of the dashboard. Driver controls are further extensions of what Renault calls "Touch Design," an attempt to make a vehicle's buttons and switches more intuitive.

An automated cargo-loading system in back not only slides out for easier access, but also electrically moves up and down, changing the shape of the trunk.

Le Quement admits Renault is late in coming to the SUV and CUV market, but adds that "sometimes we are ahead of the market," referring to Renault's invention of a European-size minivan and compact minivan segments with the Espace and Scenic.

"Our aim is to produce vehicles that have customers," he says, "and there is a trend in the past few years" in the direction of (utility vehicles).

In addition to the Egeus, Renault is showing the Clio Renault Sport Concept here, an accurate preview externally of the Clio Renault Sport coming next year with a new 2.0L engine being co-developed by Renault and Nissan.

The concept has touches such as a leather-covered instrument panel and plentiful interior chrome that are unlikely in the production version. Its 18-in. wheels will become 17-in. in production, which are still bigger than the 16-in. wheels of the existing Clio RS.

Renault also uses the auto show for the official debut of the production Clio III, which already has been introduced to the European press and goes on sale Sept. 16 in France. (See related story: Clio III Bigger, Possibly Pricier)