Blessed with a relatively clean sheet of paper yet confronting ever burgeoning SUV and crossover sales, Renault design boss Laurens van den Acker must have had an interesting time deciding exactly how much genuine flexibility might be sacrificed within the fourth generation Scenic – an MPV which pretty much invented the compact segment of same some 20 years ago – without the danger of the baby following the bathwater out of the equation.
A distinct whiff of SUV has certainly crept into the design. The new Scenic is 20mm wider and 40mm longer than its predecessor and, though lower in the roofline, sports a 40mm increase in ground clearance. The exterior is hallmarked by Renault’s increasingly badge-centric frontal graphic, a straightforward rump, and a pleasing profile with a steeply raked windscreen flowing seamlessly into a blacked-out roofline.
Seen from any angle save dead ahead or full astern, the Scenic pulls off the neat trick of simultaneously looking both sharp suited and somewhat voluptuous. Massive 20in 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 applique 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 chthonic but well made and soft-to-the-touch materials.
The console houses an 8.7-inch touchscreen for control of Renault’s R-Link 2 infotainment system. Though it shoulders aside the central air vents in somewhat cavalier fashion, the portrait-orientation of the screen is a good thing, allowing you to see more of the road ahead on the map, and less of places drifting invisibly by to left and right.
The system looks good and works adequately, though the vast wealth of menus available can be a little baffling to navigate and occasionally tardy in response. If all else fails, read the instructions. What isn’t yet available, and won’t be until a few months after the November launch, is either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Renault is still working on these systems for universal installation throughout its fleet, and had no intention of delaying the Scenic’s arrival in the interests of providing same to the initial rush of buyers. Nor will a retro fit be offered…
On reflection, given the number of rival manufacturers who bang on at length about the importance of such connectivity in every new offering, it’s refreshing to come across one which recognises the tiny numbers of mobile-obsessed yoof who can actually afford a £25,000 car.
The seats are comfortable, but the driving position benefits from raising the seat as high as possible in order to try – and fail – to locate the car’s front corners. That split A-pillar Heinkel bomber front glazing pushes the windscreen so far forwards that the dash top could readily host a respectable N gauge railway layout. This being an MPV, all that space should not be wasted; could it not, perchance, be glazed in, filled with seawater, and used to transport live crustaceans? Fish, after all, would swim about overmuch and hamper forward visibility.
There are no analogue dials here, and no dash-top central speedometer either; van den Acker doesn’t warm to such devices, so we find a TFT faux analogue binnacle in the usual location, which looks, and functions, well enough. This top-of-the-range Signature Nav specimen also benefits from a head-up display, the content of which all but vanishes if you don polarising sunglasses.
Despite the fact that the cabin occupies an entirely MPV-like 80% 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, with an inevitable loss of comfort and versatility. 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 load- space 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.
There’s bags of storage everywhere, including the floor bins from Scenics of yore, a sliding centre console – which can either mate with the base of the dashboard console, or slide aft to separate warring offspring – and a glovebox that opens like a sprung filing cabinet drawer. Small tables fold from front seat backs, and are attended by a mysterious elastic sling like a catapult, which children will ping relentlessly against the seatback until the parent in front is entirely ropeable.
A choice of five diesel and two petrol powerplants are coming to the UK; we sampled the more powerful, 128bhp version of the 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol unit, mated to a six-speed manual transmission.
This is a reasonably refined engine which doesn’t struggle as much as expected to heft this size of carapace around. It is eager to rev, but even so, performance figures are never going to re-shape your face and it’s happiest ambling in a cruise, the quietness of which is rudely interrupted by a deal of wind noise from the door mirrors as speeds rise.
The acceptable gear change evinces a predictable degree of Renault notchiness, and the steering is precise and accurate enough without offering over-much communication. Though wider front and rear tracks help shackle unwanted body roll to a degree, the Scenic is at its best nonchalantly loafing through rather than leaping at corners.
All of which makes the questionable ride quality somewhat more of a distraction. Despite a tyre wall height boosted to 107mm, the undercarriage struggles to remain supple at low speeds, crashing over obstacles of the kind that blight almost every mile of British road. Happily it does settle down as speeds rise, making the Scenic respectably comfortable in the cruise.
Much to admire here, then; 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.
Engine: 1998 cc 16v 4-cyl, 16v turbo
Power: 128bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque: 151lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 117mph
On sale: Now
Stylish, safe and sensible