► Scenic vs 3008 vs Ateca
► Cool crossover MPVs tested
► Which wins our triple test?
There used to be a time when transporting a family came with few ambitions: get them all in, keep them all in one piece and get them there was pretty much it. Brands like Seat, Peugeot and Renault were good at doing it at a decent price in their big old buses. And that was about it.
Now, all those things are still relevant, but in an age where fascinating humblebragged lives are projected from every corner you turn, it seems impossible to do such things in such a workmanlike fashion aboard an MPV. The perfect tool for the job, it has been pushed to the brink of extinction because everyone feels they need to look like Ben Fogle on a quest, even though they’re just taking their daughter to her ballet lesson.
Hence why Seat now has a crossover in the shape of the Ateca, its great hope to finally break into seriously profitable sales, and why Peugeot’s new 3008 now looks like an SUV, rather than a butch people carrier as the last one did. Even Renault’s new Scenic is a last throw of the dice at the end of an era, an MPV which its designer Laurens van den Acker reckons injects some sex appeal back into the messy, exhausting, stressful result of actual sex appeal.
The cheapest of the three cars, the Scenic Dynamique S Nav dCi 110 costs £25,445, while the Ateca, based on the same MQB platform as the Volkswagen Tiguan and Leon, is a couple of grand more expensive in our fully loaded Xcellence trim, and has four-wheel drive and 148bhp from its 2.0-litre TDI engine.
The Peugeot here is the swanky GT 180 version with the infamous EAT (Efficient Automatic Transmission) auto gearbox, and costs a hefty £32,995. The slightly cheaper GT Line model would be a better comparison here, but the 3008 is so new, no other variant was available in time for this test. GT Line loses our test car’s panoramic sunroof, full leather, and some of the front seats’ best tricks but keeps much of its character.
You know what I’m going to say about the Ateca. It’s VW Group by numbers stuff, cut-and-paste carbuilding, standard last-gen tech, design that won’t offend and, helpfully, will work solidly. Slightly sharper creases, slightly worse plastics. Job done. And it comes loaded with lots of kit for the price. Now, for an actual buyer in the real world of hassle and commuting and real money, not a journo looking to make a load of jokes and keen observations while spending theoretical cash, this is a good thing in lots of ways.
About the only option on this particular car is the £1210 Xcellence pack, which adds a top-view camera, Park Assist and one of those boots you can open by kicking thin air – called ‘Virtual Pedal’ – the addition of which also brings wireless charging for your phone, although how the two things are related I’m not entirely sure. There’s a lot to like if you are gambling your hard-earned. And yet.
Alongside the wild 3008 and handsome Scenic, the Ateca is smaller and more conservative. It’s by no means ugly, offering up all the usual chunky crossover tropes, and what you see here is what you’ll get on the used market in three or four years’ time. This is a safe bet.
Peugeot has gone mad
God knows what a 3008 will look like on the used market. God knows what it looks like now, really. The French don’t like to make things simple, preferring wherever possible to overcomplicate and embellish and the 3008 is a perfectly wonderful example of this. It is the foie gras of pâtés, a tube stuffed down its gullet and every creative idea stuffed and packed in, then tamped down with a few more when it seemingly couldn’t possibly fit another morsel.
The result is an incredibly rich concoction that is variously sublime yet also overburdened, design quirks lathered on in thick layers. Chrome flashes across the bodywork like meteorites in a night sky; there’s barely a surface not struck through with the shiny stuff, and the studded front grille looks a bit anguished and angry.
I also wonder if Peugeot is concerned about attacks from U-boat squadrons on its cars, because our 3008 is optioned with £1300 paint that owes much to the ‘Dazzle’ camouflage invented in the First World War by marine artist Norman Wilkinson, intended to confuse the enemy’s range-, speed- and heading calculations using a series of geometric paint patterns. Obviously the 3008’s bonkers brown and black paintjob is 100 years too late to be of value in the Battle of the North Atlantic, but perhaps Peugeot fancies it might confuse a speed camera or two.
This can be its only attribute, because it is a genuinely monstrous look, the result of which is being stared at, mouths agape, by numerous lookers-on who must be wondering if the front half and back half painting robots have had a massive, inconsolable falling out. It also means you must engage in a spot of brain training, to try and look beyond the camouflage to the car beneath, and not judge it on something that ultimately will, hopefully, spend most of its life on the pages of a 3008 brochure, and not its flanks.
A Scenic detour
As for the Renault, not since Ford Explorers set out on exploding Firestones two decades ago have tyres been the subject of so much excitement in the family-car market, for the Renault comes only on 20-inch rubber, with a thin cross-section of 195 and 55-high sidewalls. Unique.
The choice of such large wheels is indicative that this Scenic is Renault’s last throw of the dice in the MPV market. Sod the practicalities, ride comfort or running costs (although deals have been negotiated with tyremakers to supply these at an acceptable market price), Renault has decided that the Scenic is going to look its Sunday best no matter what the spec.4 Not in the UK, but in some markets, you might find yourself in a rental Scenic on 20-inch steels with hubcaps. Now that’s commitment to a philosophy.
Does it work? Well, to a point, yes. The Scenic is by some considerable margin the best-looking MPV you can buy. In fact, if you squint a bit it could pass for a crossover, with that lovely stepped windowline that rises to the C-pillar and meets the sweeping chrome strip that has the elegant tension of a fishing road under load. But from the front, the large windscreen and snub nose can’t hide the fact it’s a practical mumbus, an effect enhanced once you get behind the wheel.
Two long, spindly A-pillars like baby antelopes’ legs stretch forward across a vista of plastic dash and cinematic screen while the seat squabs tip you forward into a position akin to a mother slogging a pram uphill in the pouring rain.
There’s more noise around the A-pillars and mirrors than the other two cars, and the tyres have a noticeable effect: the Scenic feels firm. Despite the fact that the sidewalls are as high as on usual 18-inch rubber it still seems to hit knobbly bits in the road without much sympathy, although it couldn’t be called crashy; it’s more a solid whack.
But allied to this firmness is the softer body control of an MPV, which means that when you turn the wheel there’s a delay, and the dip and settle of a large, high body changing course, before it turns.
Take a Seat
The Ateca is incredibly nimble by comparison with well-controlled body movements, partly thanks to rear multi-link suspension on our all-wheel-drive example replacing lesser models’ torsion bars, an effective yet rumbly diesel and slightly malnourished braking.
Couple that with all the usual VW Group traits of accurate manual gearbox, smooth, unflustered steering and a selection of steady working infotainment, all encased in mid-level plastics produced to a budget dictated by accountants in Germany.
Behind the wheel
The 3008 is a much bigger car in character and dimension, which although suffering from a high degree of road noise, slightly slurry gearbox and dieselly roar under acceleration, is much quicker to turn and less prone to roll than the Scenic. As always though, there’s that divisive little steering wheel, which might seem sporty in a smaller, more agile car but feels under-endowed in the 3008. Shaped like an octagon in Bob Holness’s Blockbuster board, I found myself steering as though I was using a pallet-truck handle, with my hand on its flat top.
There’s also the counter-intuitive aspect of a fairly standard steering ratio, which feels much faster than it is due to the lesser circumferential distance your hands travel. It’s not my cup of tea, but at least you can see the speed you’re doing, unlike some other Peugeots.
You can also see when you are going to die. The 3008 boasts an infotainment package of such visual splendour that it makes the fourth of July in Las Vegas seem understated, and as you get close to other vehicles the digital rev counter is blown up in a ball of orange flame that warns of impending collision. Fabulous, if a little over-dramatic. The 3008 has so many options and modes, I searched to find if there was an accompanying ka-boom to g0 with it, but disappointingly found no such toggle.
The driver can also change the dial graphics to numbers, or rotors such as those found in an Enigma machine, as well as change the smell of the car. I started with Aerodrive but due to a cold couldn’t tell whether Cosmic Cuir or Harmony Wood were any different. However, on this ‘Multi-Sensory Ambience’ section of the display I could change the massaging function from a fairly standard roll to ‘Cat Paw’, which was rather like having Eartha Kitt padding up and down your back while you drive. Groovy.
You may not need the actual massaging function in the 3008 though, because the seats are so heavily and firmly bolstered anyway, and feel like a leather-clad sack of potatoes under your back and bum. Not that they are uncomfortable, but they lack the deep embrace of the excellent and wipe-clean (handy for kids – and adults) Lycra-type chairs in the Scenic. The 3008 also has some of the hardest headrests I’ve ever experienced on a car, while the Scenic goes for comfy wing-back cushions in which you can sit back, light your pipe and admire your work.
So what the Scenic loses in dynamic ability it claws back in practical application. There are big storage areas under the floor and very solid rubber-covered rear tray tables, a step up from the flimsy crap you usually get in MPVs. Also, and this is manna for those of you with children old enough to spend their entire lives peering into screens, there are two USB ports in the back and more in the front. Never shall tears be shed on a long journey over defunct iPhones or iPads ever again. Worth the price of the car alone, I reckon.
The Ateca is an eminently practical place to be, with everything covered in materials that seem designed to be wipe-clean. It’s also a bit old fashioned compared with the French cars, giving the options of using buttons and dials to operate most things rather than the touchscreen. And it has one huge advantage: any car built off this platform has a vast amount of interior space relative to its size and it’s no different in the Ateca.
The cabin of the 3008 is quite superb. I urge you, next time you are passing a Peugeot dealer to pop in just to have a look at it. Peugeot cabins have been getting better for a while, but the 3008 finally lays to rest that old French-can’t-do-it-like-the-Germans line. Peugeot can do it better, and they haven’t made life easy for themselves either.
The materials are thick and nicely matched, and even the complicated, artful three-dimensional shapes that make up the centre of the dash fit tightly, while the lime-washed wood panelling and brushed metal switchgear is very of the moment too. Being churlish, the top row of expensively assembled buttons are undermined a little by the plastic ones beneath, and because of the curved shape of the gear lever I found myself unable to get the vision of semi-flaccid anatomy out of my head, but these are small quibbles. I’d probably get over it.
Both the Renault and the Peugeot are fighting out for the prize of deepest centre console bin, and it’s a draw. Such are their cavernous qualities, if you filled them both up with everyday detritus you’d need the council to come round and empty them, but the Scenic has one more trick up its sleeve: it can be slid back into the rear passenger area.
Now, I’d assumed this could then convert into a handy table for the kids in the back, but the armrest doesn’t offer anything in the way of a stable platform, so I can only assume that clearing the central tunnel out of the way is to allow for more comfortable front-seat shenanigans. This feature is not explicitly highlighted in the press pack, but as Renault is keen to point out, it is an MPV for those parents who haven’t given up on the more fun things in life.
So which is best? If you’re looking to be sensible, want all those crossovery qualities and aren’t bothered that after about 100 miles you’ll be bereft of any more surprises, then the Ateca is a very good choice.
For getting people about, the Scenic is without doubt the best MPV money can buy, and by some distance too. It’s also superb value for money and looks great. But as the old saying goes, a pig in lipstick and a dress is still a pig, and the Scenic is still an MPV, and for all its many fine attributes for some reason modern families seem to want something a bit less able. I really admire its authenticity, its ability to do the job it’s designed for.
But the 3008 just sparkles that bit more. Wilfully eccentric in many ways, as any good French car should be, backed up with stupendous quality, it will make you chuckle from time to time as well as doing the dull everyday stuff well. Just avoid the daft paint scheme, unless you’re escorting an Atlantic convoy, rather than your family, of course.
First place: Peugeot 3008
Wantonly bonkers at times, the 3008 is as handy as any car here but does so with more character and not a little panache.
Second place: Renault Scenic
If anyone was going to prove the MPV concept still has value, it was Renault. But do enough people still want one?
Third place: Seat Ateca
Even wearing a Spanish hat, this is the most sensible option here by some margin, for good or bad.
Check out more CAR comparison tests here