Review: Power to the Renault people carrier

The Scenic stays faithful to its designer's innovative concept, yet the roomier seven-seater is as practical as its forebears
The Scenic stays faithful to its designer's innovative concept, yet the roomier seven-seater is as practical as its forebears
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To launch the Scenic and Grand Scenic, Renault UK has set up a base at a manor house hotel in the Cotswolds. Aka, the sort of location where few motoring “journalists” can afford a house and where a stay at the spa hotel would bash family finances.

Most of us still give honest appraisals. But big PR budgets secure more media coverage. Many of the cars you buy have been launched to the media in more exotic locations than Gloucestershire. As I write, a German SUV is being assessed by the UK media jet set in southern California. Utah is the mooted venue for an English rival’s media blooding this spring.

Sometimes, indeed often, there is no relevant link between car and location. However, a two-day drive though the Rubicon Trail in a Jeep was the toughest I’ve done. Land Rover presented its Discovery Sport two years ago in an Icelandic winter – as bleak as Scandi Noir.

Now I am pleased to tell you about the new Renault Scenic and the roomier seven-seat Grand Scenic, as they felt in the wintry Cotswolds. The 1996 Scenic started a significant trend for mid-size “people carriers” or multipurpose vehicles – the MPV was immediately voted car of the year. It followed Renault’s larger Espace – the MPV pioneer in Europe but no longer sold in Britain, withdrawn when Renault sales dived. The famous French company is now bouncing back. Britain is ranked seventh in its sales regions: sales are up 13.5 per cent this year and will pass 80,000 in 2016.

Imitation is the price pioneers pay. The Scenic was joined by rivals – bulkier than normal hatchbacks, these days called cross-overs or sport cross-overs or SUVs or whatever’s in vogue. Distinguishing the genres is much to do with this marketing hype. The automotive Mad Men will choose the most appealing term. So, the so-called Cross-Over SUVs are booming. Renault is in there with its Kadjar and a new Koleos is coming.

This means that Family Person, who 10 years ago would have bought a Scenic or Zafira, is now driving a Mokka or a Kadjar. The SUV implies not just practicality but fun. The younger members of the household will give it their vote. The higher stance is assuring and less stressful in heavy traffic. Audi’s fashionable Q range and BMW’s X models wallow in this desire.

This fourth Scenic range is up against more rivals than ever. There’s also the Kia Niro Hybrid, SEAT’s Ateca and, with seven berths, the Skoda Kodiaq.

The Scenic is arguably the sexiest looking in the sector. It has the shaping seen in the Kadjar, the swooping face, the undulating flanks.

In a Cotswold lounge we heard that the designer stipulated one wheel size, a 20-inch rim, a unique decision. All concept cars – the artist’s vision of a new car – are drawn using oversized wheels. In life the production car sits on smaller wheels and loses the dreamy panel styling.

The new Scenic stays closer to the vision. Those big wheels avoid the visually annoying gap between tyre and wheel arch when a smaller wheel is offered. They are also useful for chassis design. They impose no compromise in ride comfort and handling when a variety of wheel sizes are offered. All use a 195/55 tyre – narrow enough for economy, deep enough for decent shock absorption and cheapish. A replacement costs £107. Three-spoke designs are offered, with one, called Exception, available with switchable coloured inserts.

So, Renault has given us a people carrier which steps away from the box and into the world of fashion. The Scenic remains practical but looks sensuous.

Prices start at £21,445 for the 1.2-litre 114bhp Petrol Expression+ (£23,375 in the Grand Scenic). The diesel entry model, the dCi 110, uses the same trim and a high torque 1.6-litre 109bhp diesel, at £22,445, and is worth the premium for better economy if your annual mileage is high – but there’s an eco alert following.

A one-hour drive in the Dynamique S Nav using this engine and reckoned to be in high demand (£25,445 and £27,245) was enough to make me want more power and pay an extra £1,200 for the 1.6-litre 128bhp diesel, the dCi 130. However, the European cities of Paris, Athens and Madrid say they are banning diesel cars by 2025 because of toxic exhaust gases. Others will follow. If you want an automatic Scenic it will have to be diesel. The eco conscious city driver will be in a petrol or hybrid car. Diesel Scenics will be offered with hybrid assistance and sub 100g carbon fall-out in spring.

Verdict: Family favourite is still a winner, now with catwalk looks.