The MPV has suffered at the hands of the SUV and crossover. Where once the people-carrier seemed your best bet for transporting families and all the paraphernalia that goes with them, buyers have since been seduced by the rugged image of the faux by four. The Renault Scenic hasn’t been able to avoid this shift. Indeed, these days you’re much more likely to see a Kadjar instead. With that in mind, Renault has been rather bold with this, its fourth-generation Scenic.
Elements of SUV have crept into the new Scenic’s design: there’s a 40mm increase in ground clearance, more muscle to the bodywork and a shift to big, 20in wheels. That’s not just for glitzy models, either, because even entry-level Expression + Scenics are rollin’ on 20s, as they say. You might expect that to result in ride comfort only marginally better than that of a shopping trolley being pushed over corrugated iron, but the tyres have a taller profile than those fitted to most smaller-wheeled competitors. They’re relatively narrow, too, helping to keep costs down and CO2 emissions in check. The new Scenic is also more spacious than before and comes with plenty of safety kit. So it all looks very impressive on paper, but is it enough to tempt people out of their SUVs and back into an MPV?
First impressions are good. The Scenic is an attractive thing in the metal and much more imposing than its rivals. Getting behind the wheel, a tech-laden feel to our high-spec test car was immediately apparent. Analogue dials have been banished and replaced by TFT displays for speed, engine temperature and fuel level. Scrolling through the five drive modes changes the centre display and the priority of the information shown. It looks attractive enough but doesn’t show the variety of data of Volkswagen’s Active Info Display. Dynamique S Nav and top Signature Nav trims receive a colour head-up display to project speed, navigation information and other data. It looks good at a standstill but jiggles slightly on the move. It also seems an awfully long way down the expansive dashboard.
The top two trims also get R-Link 2, Renault’s 8.7in portrait-orientated infotainment system. You get plenty of functionality, including the ability to fold the rear seats down at the touch of a button. Unfortunately,
the menus can be confusing to navigate and slow to respond. The cabin is practical, though.
The generous glovebox pops open like a filing cabinet, and between the seats is a cavernous centre console that can be slid backwards and forwards. Quality is also pretty good. There are cheaper materials, but they’re largely in areas you won’t touch that often.
There are two USB ports and a 12V socket in the cubby under the front armrest, and the same again on the unit’s rear for those in the back. It’s handy, but sliding the unit to where it works best as an armrest hides the cupholders for those in the front.
Throw in underfloor storage, rear picnic tables for most models and a class-leading boot and it’s certainly family-ready, although three adults will face a squeeze to get on the rear bench and even two relatively tall adults may struggle for rear leg room. To drive, the turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine of our test car provides adequate performance two up but must be worked hard to cope with overtaking.
It does at least remain smooth, even at high revs, and is barely audible at a cruise. Despite its 20in wheels, the Scenic’s ride is no worse than that of most 17in or 18in-shod rivals. It’s no paragon of comfort, though. Pockmarked urban roads are certainly felt, although the ride becomes more settled at speed. Of course, French roads are far smoother than ours, so our definitive verdict will have to wait until later in the year when we get a right-hand-drive car on UK roads.
As for handling, the steering feels precise, with little correction required to keep the Scenic in a straight line. You’ll also find it’s easy to work out how much lock you need to get around a corner. There’s no need to take a couple of bites on every turn. But is it communicative or fun? No, not at all. There’s a fair amount of body roll and the non-switchable traction and stability controls will prevent anything from getting too lairy.
The styling may look exciting, but the driving experience will be familiar to most MPV buyers across Europe: safe but ultimately dull. If you’re after a distinctive yet practical family holdall, the Scenic should definitely be on your shortlist. It may not be fun to drive, but it’s perfectly pleasant and surprisingly comfortable, given its 20in wheels. We would be more tempted by one of the diesel engines, though. In something like this, the promise of cheaper running costs and a bit more low-end shove makes more sense.