The Renault Scenic did for mid-sized MPVs what the Espace did for full sized versions. It led the market for several years before other manufacturers realised the benefits of adapting their C-segment platforms to accommodate more space. Now in its third generation, Renault's expertise is evident. It ticks all the boxes required for an MPV - space, practicality, robust build quality and value for money.
The seats are comfortable in a functional sense, and there is no end of storage space dotted around. It's a shame the sliding centre unit is a redundant gimmick, and removing the rear seats proves almost as inconvenient as mining coal, but otherwise it's hard to find fault inside. There's a wide range of trim levels to choose from, but all have a generous amount of kit.
Three petrol and two diesel engines are offered, with the 1.5 and 1.6-litre diesels the champions when it comes to cost of running, if not initial purchase cost. The 1.5dCi engine develops 109bhp and 177lb ft, making it good for a 12.4sec 0-62, while the 128bhp 1.6 makes 236lb ft for a 10.3sec 0-62 time. Renault's new 1.6-litre diesel replaces the old 1.9-litre unit, which includes a range of fuel-saving features, including stop-start, a variable displacement oil pump, a double water jacket in the head (which improves cooling efficiency, allowing the use of a smaller water pump) and low-friction, F1-derived, UFLEX piston rings.
To illustrate how much reducing consumption is an incremental task, the Energy dCi's stop-start system reduces CO2 output by just three per cent and the new oil pump by just one per cent.
The 1.6dCi makes good use of the car's surprisingly competent chassis in particular. With well controlled body roll and decently weighted steering, the Scenic will tackle B-road bends with unexpected relish, running out of puff long before it runs out of grip. The excellent 1.4TCe was the star of the petrol line-up, with a 0-62mph time a tenth quicker than the most powerful diesel. However, it and the 2.0-litre petrol unit have been dropped by Renault as part of its downsizing, and replaced by a 1.2TCe. While its small capacity and lowly 113bhp output may seem too puny to motivate the Scenic, it counters with a solid 140lb ft of torque, with 90 per cent of that available from 1500rpm.
The fact that the Scenic is so nice to drive is a pleasant surprise, of course, but the car's real job is to cart people and things, something it does with aplomb. The five-seater is only 216mm shorter than the Grand Scenic, so there's plenty of space. The three individual rear seats slide back and forth to increase legroom or boot space, but they only tumble and lift out, rather than folding into the floor, meaning they need to be stored when not used.
That small problem aside, the Scenic is a fine car, even if it gives a fraction of ground dynamically to the Ford C-Max. Its safety credentials and practicality make it a fine family car.