| First Drive | Paris, France | Renault Scenic |
Renault loves a good people carrier. It can't get enough; where there are people, Renault will provide just the carrier for them. This is the smallest one, the bog standard five-seat Scenic. We've already driven the Grand Scenic
and we enjoyed how well it went about the business of carrying, so this one should be a no brainer, right?
In the Metal
It's very difficult to make a people carrier interesting visually because of the almost inescapable requirement to make it a tall, two-box shape. Therefore, the details are paramount, which thankfully on this occasion Renault has done a decent job with. The family DNA gets an outing via the loosely triangular shapes flanking the lower grille, coloured silver, and raked headlights that manage to make the car look lower and more athletic from the front. The way the taillights frame the rear screen is neat too.
But it's inside that really counts with these cars, because let's face it, no MPV will ever win a beauty contest (unless it's a 'prettiest MPV' one). And on that front the new Scenic does its job admirably. There's plenty of room to move in the cabin, as you'd expect, and there's a big boot (albeit hampered slightly by a high lip and smallish aperture), as well as lots of spaces in which to misplace things in the cabin.
Quality wise it's as per a modern Renault: much better than what went before. Renault is getting used to the squidgy dashboard thing now, and the Scenic - like the rest of the Mégane range - takes a tangible quality leap upwards, though it's arguably a little insipid. There are a couple of ergonomic gripes, too: the electronic handbrake switch is randomly placed behind the gearstick; the driving position is a little 'long arm/short leg'; and the digital speed readout is obscured if you're driving with hands at the precise ten and three o'clock positions - as we always are, no matter what, at all times, without fail, definitely.
What you get for your Money
Apart from the thrill of owning a people carrier, you get to pick from a 28-strong range that's divided in largely the same way as the rest of the Mégane line-up. Five trim levels and eight engines (three petrol and five diesel) are available, three of them brand new units for good measure: a 1.4-litre turbocharged TCe petrol lump, a 2.0-litre VVT petrol unit mated to a CVT gearbox and a 158bhp dCi FAP diesel (which we tested in the Mégane Sport Tourer
the same day and is very agreeable indeed).
It all starts at £13,595 for a 1.6-litre petrol Extreme model, which gets air conditioning, ESP and front to rear curtain airbags as standard; it ends with a dCi 150 FAP automatic Privilege at £22,295 - though it can be taken well into German money with options, obviously. But, Renault has gone all benevolent and dropped the Scenic's price by around £2,000 across the range, which, it points out, means the entry level car is over £2k cheaper than the entry level Ford Focus C-Max. Jeepers.
Oddly, Renault thought it would be a good idea to have the entire press launch fleet comprise of one model, a dCi 110 Privilege (top spec) - which would be fine but for one little thing: it's not coming to the UK until next year. And even when it does, it's not going to have the manual 'box that was in situ, but instead a dual-clutch automatic. Doh.
But Renault's engine range is entirely familiar anyway; you'll pick the one that best balances performance against your budget, obviously. Any one of the dCi units will suit the family-towing task that the Scenic is charged with admirably. Based on our drive, which covered a variety of roads including a disproportionately high amount of motorway, the Scenic is a car that will prove a trusty and relatively enjoyable family runabout - but there are a couple of notable shortcomings. The main one being wind noise: at anything above 50mph, the whooshing from the A-pillars is annoying. It's also prone to ride agitation around town - nothing major, because it's mostly settled (much better than the Renault Koleos
, for example), but still showing the undulating hallmarks of soft springs on less than smooth roads.
The Scenic is the third Renault (after the Clio and the Grand Scenic) to get the Carminat TomTom satnav, which the maker is trumpeting as something of a coup in the proliferation of the whole digital map thing, basically because it's comparable in price to a handheld system, at £450, but it's fully integrated into the dash.
Nice move, except that the satnav in our Scenic had a predilection for taking us the wrong way, then ordering us to 'make a legal u-turn' and taking us back exactly the opposite way. It also seemed a bit slow to instruct. But all was forgiven when I came home to discover that TomTom has just started offering Homer Simpson as a downloadable route guidance voice for its systems. So, in conclusion, the Scenic has the best satnav ever.
Like the rest of the Mégane range, the Scenic is a feat of functional blandness, which is weird for a Renault - and some might lament the maker's change of direction. That said, the Scenic was never an interesting car, was it? It's practical, good in the quality stakes, comfortable and decent to drive; ultimately, there's no real reason to reject it if this is the type of thing you're after. And that's good enough.
First drive: Renault Grand Scenic
First drive: Renault Mégane Sport Tourer
Predecessor road test: Renault Scenic
Rival first drive: Citroen C3 Picasso
Rival road test: Ford C-Max
Rival road test: Honda FR-V
Rival road test: Mazda5
Rival road test: SEAT Altea XL
Rival first drive: Toyota Verso