Renault’s top-selling MPV more practical than ever
- Sharp-suited elegant design
- Much improved interior styling
- One-touch rear-seat folding
- Generous equipment levels
- Hybrid addition to engine range
- Rear seating not as flexible
- Complex touchscreen multimedia slow to react
- Excessive door mirror wind noise
- Lumpy low-speed ride quality
What's in a name? Those today struggling to indentify the difference between a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), a crossover and a Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV); you’re not alone. Indeed, with sales of the first two niches currently burgeoning, you'd forgive the fourth-generation Renault Scenic – a car that pretty much invented the compact MPV segment some 20 years ago – for suffering something of an identity crisis en route to the launch pad.
Especially since it's equally hard to pigeonhole the new Scenic's rivals, such as Citroen's C4 Picasso, the Ford C-Max, the Peugeot 3008 and, perchance, Renault's own Kadjar, and even posher totty such as Volkswagen's Golf SV and the Mercedes-Benz B-Class.
Larger cabin, sharper styling
Surely, though, for any Multi-Purpose Vehicle to genuinely merit the moniker, the cabin space – replete with legion seats that flop about with all the alacrity of a freshly landed flounder – must, above all, be truly flexible.
A distinct whiff of SUV has certainly crept into the new Scenic's design. It is 20mm wider and 40mm longer than its predecessor, with a 32mm longer wheelbase. Though lower in the roofline, it also sports a 40mm increase in ground clearance. The exterior is hallmarked by Renault's increasingly badge-centric frontal graphic, a straightforward SUV rump, and a pleasing profile with a steeply raked windscreen flowing seamlessly into a blacked-out roofline, more usually associated with crossover styling.
All Renault Scenics get 20-inch alloys
Seen from any angle, save for dead ahead or full astern, the Scenic pulls off the neat trick of simultaneously looking both sharp-suited and somewhat voluptuous. Twenty-inch wheels fitted, as standard, across the entire model range further bolster the appeal of the silhouette, if not ride quality.
On board, the business end of the cabin takes a giant stride forward. Gone are the smirking appliqué panels that once identified Renault instrument panels the brand over, replaced by a new dashboard console styled on Kermit the Frog's mouth announcing a guest star, set in a sea of somewhat dark but well-made and soft-to-the-touch materials. The console houses a seven- or 8.7-inch touchscreen for control of Renault's R-Link 2 infotainment system.
Despite the fact that the cabin occupies an entirely MPV-like 80 percent of the bodyshell volume, the rear seating is not as flexible as that found in the outgoing model. No longer removable with the aid of a hernia truss, the sliding seats are now split just 60:40 instead of into three. Shame that; being able to slide the centre seat out of line was the best way of easing shoulder rub with three adults abreast.
Offering merely adequate legroom, the seats may be lowered at the touch of a loadspace wall-mounted button, or via one of the multimedia system's endless menus, to give a flat floor. Loadspace, however, is bigger than before and – at 572 litres – claimed to be class-leading.
Generous range of engines including manual hybrid
Six engines will be available from day one; two turbocharged petrol, three turbodiesels and, built around the least powerful diesel, a Hybrid Assist engine. This latter is interesting not only for offering an 8-10 percent reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions over the standard diesel, but also because, to our knowledge, it's the first hybrid powertrain out there mated to a manual transmission. More of which later.
These powertrains complement a 21-version model line-up, based on four trim levels: Expression+, Dynamique Nav, Dynamique S Nav and Signature Nav. Standard specification levels seem generous, and all versions are loaded to the gunwales with sufficient safety technology to garner a five-star Euro NCAP rating.
Pricing for the UK market remains unconfirmed at the time of writing, though we can expect the range to start from £19,000-20,000, rising in £1,500 increments through the trim levels.
We sampled a manual transmission version of the more powerful, 128bhp turbo petrol unit, the beefiest, 158bhp turbodiesel mated to an automatic gearbox, and the Hybrid Assist engine. Everything we drove was presented in kitchen-sink Signature Nav trim level, and price guesstimates suggest under £25,000 for the petrol version, and about £30,000 for the diesel.
The petrol unit is smooth, refined and willing, but struggles in a car of this size. The hybrid's electric motor provides useful low-speed torque for urban work but, of the three, the diesel alone provides sufficient oomph to get the Scenic moving with any real eagerness.
Lots to like about Renault’s new MPV
With precise, accurate steering that doesn't offer over-much communication the Scenic is at its best loafing through rather than leaping at corners. Moreover, the undercarriage struggles to remain supple at low speeds, crashing over obstacles of the kind that blight British roads. Fortunately it does settle down as speeds rise, making the Scenic happiest ambling in a cruise, the quietness of which is rudely interrupted by a deal of wind noise from the door mirrors at higher velocities.
In all, there's much to admire here; the new Scenic's a striking yet practical effort which, though slightly adrift of the modularity and flexibility of its predecessor, melds the characteristics of MPV, SUV and crossover sufficiently adroitly that a segment nomenclature reassessment may be in order.