Ho hum… Another day, another compact family MPV. Only this time we really should sit up and pay attention at the back. After all, Renault started the whole boiling with the first Scenic back in … oh, 1873, and three generations on - and having finally found sufficient brand confidence to drop the Megane moniker - you’d expect Renault to have pretty much got everything absolutely right.
And has Renault got it rigth with this new Grand Scenic?
Largely, yes. It’s a relatively simple formula; cram the most flexible seating possible for up to seven into a box with wheels, add 27 cupholders, and style it. Yet it’s amazing how many cock-ups still make it to the launch pad: Nissan’s Qashqai+2, for instance, boasts third row seats into which you can’t load children without mithering between doors and tailgate, whilst sporting the anatomical properties of Kali to boot. This is what happens when you leave engineers alone in darkened rooms for too long, like mushrooms…
Happily, Renault appears to have given the Grand Scenic job to engineers who have actually emerged from their moist compost for long enough to have families. Third row seats flail merrily up and down like a hermit’s fist with a simple tug of a cheery red strap and, even if the headrest doesn’t quite reach the required height, there’s adult headroom here.
Three independent, equal sized second row seats slide to and fro through 170mm to allow rugby prop forward shoulders to overlap, and the backs adjust for rake. A simple, one-tug lever folds each one flat, and then forwards, for third row access. Perfectly comfortable despite added narrowness, each seat can be removed altogether without recourse to a hernia truss. Though the resultant loadspace isn’t fully flat due to sensible third row footwell requirements, its volume does expand from 564 to a cavernous 2063 litres. Finally, fold the front passenger seat forwards for the successful stowage of record marlin, even after rigor mortis has set in.
The new Grand Scenic is predictable awash with ‘storage solutions’, said to number 42 in all. Most, such as both front and rear floor bins, under seat drawers, a chilled, 11 litre glovebox and a sliding centre console, are wholesome. But there’s too little phone, fags and femininity stowage round the gear lever, where you actually want it, the front door pockets have been so stylised that an embossed diagram is required to show you how to insert even a water bottle (honest), and one particular tray (No. 41?) adjacent to the instrument binnacle is barely big enough to house your prize marble.
>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Renault Grand Scenic first drive
And what about the poor bloke who has to drive, with a stick of celery in each ear to neutralise the din coming from astern?
He does just fine. The seat’s entirely comfortable, and now sports an elaborate, winged headrest to cosset the bonce in the manner of an over-amorous Dover sole, ensuring the head doesn’t loll embarrassingly if you nod off behind the wheel.
Ample steering reach and rake adjustment gang up with 70mm seat height adjustment to guarantee a fine driving position for all. Sit as low as I like to, however, and the top edge of the dashtop, fresh-scalpel-wound instrument binnacle begins to impair the view ahead. This is pity because, whilst Citroen focuses on modelling their MPV windscreen glazing on a succession of World War II bombers, Renault has gone the other way; the screen’s both perceptibly wider and taller than its predecessor, and the view out exemplary, even through bends.
It is worth mentioning, however, that the clap-hands windscreen wipers have come over all Jeremy Beadle. The passenger side wiper is tiny by comparison to its sibling, and leaves too much of the upper glazing untrammelled. Let’s hope the wipers are properly handed in right-hard drive conversion.
Oh and, whilst we’re on that subject, Renault has contrived to place the electronic handbrake switch where you can’t actually reach it without clumsy circumnavigation of the gear lever. However, because this panel won’t be handed for the UK, the French have inadvertently contrived something of a first here; a right-hand drive conversion that actually benefits Blighty. Wonders, etc…
So much for accommodation. You mentioned styling….
Not, in truth, quite so keen. Externally, the pronounced, Grenadier Guard’s busby chin-strap that hallmarks new Megane is all but residual here, and I can’t help feeling the bows would look a little more purposeful with the grille - currently looking ready to receive a barbeque sausage - properly blacked-out. In profile, the eye is drawn nowhere but to a boomerang tail lamp cluster which, interestingly, is far more prominent when viewed from dead astern.
Styling the hind quarters of a car is infinitely harder than bonnet blister and headlamp housing horse-play, and it’s a pity that, having done such a spiffing job of the previous Megane range - including the Scenic - Renault has taken something of a backward step here. I know the car has to appeal to Mr and Mrs Oven-Chip the land over, but the new Grand Scenic’s couture still merits a ‘See Me Afterwards’ at the bottom of the paper.
On board, the dominant feature is a speedometer which, as highlighted by our own GBU, continues to rove the dashboard like a randy mongrel. Only it’s no longer a humble LED speedo (unless you opt for the entry level, Extreme specification), it’s now something called a Thin Film Transistor screen. Incorporating a digital speedometer and a faux analogue rev counter, this Supermarionation-wide screen offers endless vehicle information permutations in a limited choice of colour schemes. It’s clever enough, but I do wish it looked a little snappier.
An adjacent sat nav screen features a new partnership with TomTom. This system, by contrast, looks fine but isn’t clever enough to allow you to hear the bewildering array of dash-bitch voice options (we shunned ‘Mandy’ from the USA in favour of ‘Ken’ from Australia) without having the radio volume turned up simultaneously. A glitch which Renault, despite protestations to the contrary, needs to sort.
>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Renault Grand Scenic first drive
Er, isn’t it about time to go for a drive?
Sorry. Yes. The Grand Scenic will offer a choice of three petrol and four diesel engines at launch on May 15th, including debuts of two new engines; a 1.4-litre, 130bhp turbocharged petrol unit and a 160bhp 1.9-litre turbodiesel. I drove both and, surprisingly, found favour with the petrol powerplant.
Though it may indeed struggle a tad with seven people on board, with just two up the 1.4 TCe unit is smooth, refined, quiet and pleasingly eager. Via a six-speed manual transmission which gives no cause for complaint, the little turbo hustles the Grand Scenic along with an aplomb which belies merely modest performance figures of 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds and the full George of 118mph. The secret lies in the delivery of maximum torque, albeit a relatively humble 140lb. ft, at only 2250rpm; all but turbodiesel territory…
Superior ride quality has always been something of a Renault USP, and that remains the case here, despite perceptible efforts to imbue the MPV with improved dynamic abilities. Though - courtesy of MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear undercarriage allied to light, accurate electric power steering - the Grand Scenic is indeed nicely composed when cornering, it would be wrong of Renault to push the boat out any further in the quest for unwarranted handling prowess; that’s not what a family MPV is about and, as evinced by the 2.0-litre turbodiesel variant, there’s a serious danger of leaving your paddle ashore.
The 1.9 dCi 160 may well gain extra urge but, on identical 17in rubber, the spring and damper modifications needed to compensate for the presence of a whopping 200 extra bags of sugar in the bows have properly compromised the straight line composure we’ve come to expect from a Grand Scenic. For that reason alone, I’d opt for the smaller petrol unit every time.
Styling issues aside, the new Grand Scenic does everything you’d expect of it with the usual Gallic flair, combining proper MPV flexibility and practicality with high comfort levels and respectable driving dynamics. Have a care, however, over model choice to ensure that, firstly, the ride quality’s up to scratch and, secondly, you get enough toys.
Though the range is priced from only £14,995, entry level models don’t benefit from that instrument binnacle TFT screen. Specification levels become more interesting from £16,595, but even the sliding centre console doesn’t make the grade below £19,795, and TomTom navigation remains but an option throughout.