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First drive: Renault Grand Scenic. Image by Renault.

First drive: Renault Grand Scenic
Can Renault make the big MPV sexy again with its Grand Scenic?

   



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Renault Grand Scenic

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Renault adds dollops of sex appeal to its new Scenic MPV, but will it be enough to draw people away from crossovers?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Renault Grand Scenic 1.6 dCi EDC Signature Nav
Pricing: starts at circa 19,000
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door, seven-seat MPV
CO2 emissions: 116g/km (VED Band C, 30 per annum)
Combined economy: 62mpg (4.5 litres/100km)
Top speed: 190km/h
0-100km/h: 11.4 seconds
Power: 130hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 310Nm at 1,750rpm
Boot space: 233 litres (all seats up) to 596 litres (third row down)

What's this?

It's the latest Renault Scenic and Grand Scenic, the fourth generation of the French company's ground-breaking compact people carrier, and the scion of a 1996 original that turned the motoring world on its head. It's also, it seems, a car arriving at a crucial point for the MPV in general. As buyers desert sensible, egg-shaped people carriers for bulky, but ostensibly cooler, SUVs, does the traditional MPV have a future?

Well, Renault certainly thinks it does for now, and has va-va-voomed the Scenic up with a whole lot more sex appeal to try and underline that assumption. Chief designer Laurens van den Acker even speaks of the old Scenic III looking like a car where "the parents have fallen out of love with each other, it was too platonic." The brief for the new Scenic was the make an MPV that looked as if mummy and daddy still have the hots for one another.

Well, that job has certainly succeeded. Ironically, at a time when rivals such as Peugeot (with its new 5008) and Vauxhall (which is likely to replace the current Zafira with a much more SUV-looking vehicle) are abandoning traditional people carriers, Renault has made the Scenic look more appealing by making it look more like an MPV - the windscreen has been stretched forward and the cabin now makes up as much as 80 per cent of the total vehicle volume. The design team lead by van den Acker have made the car look visually lower and sleeker, though, and even in a range that also includes the Clio, Megane, Kadjar and Captur, we reckon that this is their best work.

There's the inestimable benefit that it does ride on 20-inch wheels of course, but for once that statement doesn't come with the caveat of this being a blinged-up press demo - all Scenic models, from the lowliest on up, will come with twenties under the arches, a decision that the design department fought tooth and nail for. Renault is attempting to calm us by saying that it has worked with major tyre suppliers to ensure that replacement rubber won't cost the Earth, and that the suspension has been tuned to retain a decent ride quality, but it's certainly daring.

The cabin is a little daring too, in its own way. That dramatic upsweep of centre console is striking, and gives the car a touch of Volvo-esque glamour. You do need to have the maxed-out eight-inch touchscreen for it to look right though, and we suspect that more basic models with a five-inch screen are simply not going to look as impressive.

Still, overall build quality looks and feels good, and the seats are just fantastic - taken more or less directly from the bigger, grander Espace they are truly wonderful, with just the right levels of squish and support.

There are some let-downs inside though. While the sliding centre console is a nice touch, as it has always been, it does feel a little flimsy and the rear seats are no longer three individual chairs, but a split-fold bench. Now, that bench is shaped as three individual positions, so three child safety car seats should fit comfortably, but there's definitely been a drop-off in total practicality. You also need to upgrade to the seven-seat Grand Scenic for proper rear legroom, as the standard five-seat model feels a little tight on space in the back. It would seem that what has happened is that many standard five-door hatchbacks have increased in rear seat space and practicality, and the Scenic has not sufficiently upped its own game in that regard to maintain a convincing lead.

How does it drive?

If you've come here for driver engagement, you're in the wrong place. Renault makes much of having improved driver involvement and vehicle dynamics, and of the benefits of having suspension tuned for one specific wheel size, but it all falls a bit flat on the road.

The steering is the primary culprit - it's just so light and so utterly removed from what's happening below, that you end up lurching into corners in a series of jerky, uncertain movements at first. With a little acclimatisation and the firming up effects of selecting Sport mode, this does improve, but the Scenic is just never especially enjoyable to drive.

The ride quality we simply can't tell yet. You would be concerned, with all models having those big 20-inch wheels, that it's just going to be too jittery (and indeed that those jitters will lead to horrendous cabin rattles and squeaks down the line), but we were testing these cars on smooth, wonderful French tarmac in and around Bordeaux. So most of the time, the ride seemed fine and even speed bumps around town were dealt with cleanly. That said, there were a couple of incidents where the wheels thumped, unruly, into rough surfaces and a sense of fidget on some roads that leave us with some reservations.

On the engine front, you'll have a choice between 1.2-litre turbo petrol (which on a brief run in the 130hp version just seemed too noisy, although it will doubtless have a distinct price advantage over the diesels) and two diesel engines - 1.5 and 1.6. The newer 1.6 dCi with 130hp should be the natural choice, really, but here we're marking it down. Tested in the Grand Scenic it impressed with its punchy 380Nm and pokey performance, but it was just too noisy and too grumbly, even making its presence felt at motorway speeds (noise that's not helped by too much wind rustle around the mirrors). It also combined very poorly with the optional seven-speed EDC automatic dual-clutch transmission, which probably made the noise seem even worse.

Much better was the 1.5 dCi diesel with the mild hybrid assist. While it won't let you cruise around on silent electric power, the addition of a compact 40-volt battery and electric motor does boost the engine's torque, usefully, at low speeds and although the six-speed manual gearbox has a long, vague shift quality it feels like a more natural fit for the car. A little quieter than the 1.6, the mild hybrid also really impressed with its economy - 53mpg on a mostly urban route.

Verdict

In spite of some flaws, it's very hard not to like the new Scenic. Those looks alone would guarantee it a place in all but the hardest of hearts, and its interior practicality and flexibility make it, still after 20 years, one of the most rational cars around. There are some big question marks though. Will those 20-inch wheels ruin the ride on British roads? Will the new price tags try to move the model too upmarket, too quickly? Will the cabin look and feel as good in a hard-used three-year-old example? And, most crucially, does anyone still really want an MPV? The new Scenic is an impressive MPV, in almost all respects, and certainly is the best looking of its species right now, but has the crossover train left the MPV standing in the station?

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

5 5 5 5 5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Neil Briscoe - 12 Sep 2016



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2016 Renault Grand Scenic. Image by Renault.2016 Renault Grand Scenic. Image by Renault.2016 Renault Grand Scenic. Image by Renault.2016 Renault Grand Scenic. Image by Renault.2016 Renault Grand Scenic. Image by Renault.








 

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