Think ‘Renault Scenic’ today and what does it conjure up? Mum stuck in traffic on the school run. Jammy-fingered kids staring wistfully out of the window. Dad pootling down to the seaside with the whole clan seething inside it. There are so many cars like the Scenic on the road today, it’s easy to forget how radical it was when it was the first of the compact, family MPVs to appear in 1996.
While the Scenic is an unlikely pioneer, its success means it’s a car that means a lot to Renault. But is its third incarnation worthy of its place in the Scenic story? Time to find out.
Wow! I bet the new Scenic goes like an, hmmmmm, MPV!
First off, a caveat. Renault’s 1.5-litre common rail diesel lump is a solid, competent engine which appears in a number of power options across its model range. Unfortunately, the version we drove on test – a manual version that has been tweaked to produce 110bhp – won’t be available in the UK until 2010, when it will appear alongside a dual-clutch model. It’s because the new Euro 5 emission regulations don’t come in until the tail end of this year.
For now, the nearest alternative to it when the Scenic arrives in showrooms in mid-July is the 106bhp model. There are some eight different engines – split equally between diesel and petrol – available at launch. There’s enough evidence from other Renault models to suggest the 1.5 dCi diesel in 106bhp form will be the plum choice for now. The 110 version performed well on our brief B-road/motorway test route. Punchy even at low revs (max torque of 177lb ft is delivered at 1750rpm), it's quiet and willing and unlikely to be shamed by its bigger diesel brothers, like the 2.0-litre dCi 160 further up the range. As it produces 130 g/km of CO2, it comes under Renault’s Eco 2 banner too.
Time will tell, but the 16v 1.6 petrol engine may prove to be the best option for those who eschew oil-burners. Indeed, if you are only going to use the Scenic for school runs and the occasional longer trip, it may be the better option. In Dynamique trim, at £16,195 it’s some £1500 cheaper than the 1.5 dCi 106. That’s a more than tidy differential when it’ll be around £60 to tank it.
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Tall dimensions mean it’s going to wobble and yaw like a Saturday night drunk, isn’t it?
Despite being on the new Mégane platform, the loftier proportions of the Scenic don’t have a detrimental effect on its driving character. Suspension has been stiffened although dampers have been tuned to afford it a smooth-ish ride. There’s a new power steering system too which means the Scenic is swift and precise in that department.
Despite the suspension tweaks, it felt comfortable and poised on our shortish jaunt. Mind you, that was on carefully selected marble-smooth French roads. Who knows what the outcome will be on our pothole-strewn network? All in all, it may not revel in the driving dynamics of a C-Max, but it’s not embarrassed.
Although they say it’s what’s on the inside that really counts…
The Scenic is a frumpy-looking thing from the outside, testimony to Renault’s conservative outlook for the new Mégane. The Citroën C4 Picasso could be from another planet in comparison. The most interesting thing about it – in a Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis kinda way – is Renault’s new rear light clusters. The metallic inserts around the indicators and brakelights give it a Japanese flavour, just as they do on the new Mégane Sport Tourer, set to appear a month after the Scenic.
Exterior design-wise, it’s not a car to have you salivating, although it’s likely to get a five-star Euro NCAP rating, which should get some family types excited.
Instead, they’ve saved the tricknology for the inside. Our test car, which came in Privilege trim, featured the incongruously-named ‘comfort package’, consisting of a very good and very large integrated Carminat Tom Tom sat-nav and panoramic sunroof. It’s a £900 option, however. Available on all but the two lowest spec Extreme models in the range is a neat and clear dashboard display. A colourful, high-res landscape-sized screen displays all the normal functions, including tacho, revs, etc. It elevates the interior to something approaching premium level.
As you’d expect, it feels light and airy inside, helped by our model’s idiosyncratic but actually rather handsome choc 'n’ cream colour scheme, which wrapped across the tactile soft-touch rubber of the dash. You want stowage? There are more hiding places than Hogwarts in the new Scenic thanks to a combination of underfloor compartments, underseat drawers, six map pockets (maps? What are they?) and the usual glovebox and centre console efforts.
The boot space is up 10% from the Scenic II to 555 cubic litres (or an extra small suitcase’s-worth) and with back seats flattened it opens out to a whopping 1637 litres – a tad bigger than the Ford C-Max but not as spacious as the Citroën C4 Picasso. It also boasts, says Renault, the largest legroom for rear passengers in its class. Not so much of a consideration if your passengers are chair-kicking under-12s, we grant you.
Let’s face it – you don’t buy a Scenic because you really, really want to. You buy one because you have to. With a startling 27 different engine and trim combos, there’s enough choice to satisfy even the most demanding of needs. We’ll have to wait to see if Renault’s recent mediocre reliability record is improved by the new Scenic. But if you’ve got precious goods to carry, it’s a safe option.