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The Renault Grand Scenic isn't interesting to drive, but it is pleasurable to sit in and live with

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Renault does not have the distinction of creating the family hatch-sized MPV market segment, but its Scenic and, latterly, the Grand Scenic are undoubtedly responsible for popularising it.

Cars such as the Vauxhall Zafira, Volkswagen Touran and Citroën Picasso owe their existence to the Renault.

The Grand Scenic features some clever practical touches

The original Scenic was a tall hatch with a great deal more practicality than a regular C-segment competitor, and it wasn’t just families that grew to like it. In the UK, initial customer surveys found that just as many empty-nesters as parents with domiciled offspring were buying it.

Since then, the Scenic has developed into a more mature MPV, and none more so than in this latest guise, facelifted as it is for 2013.

The Grand Scenic is a seven-seater variant, with two rear chairs that fold into the boot floor and a middle row with seats that slide individually and can be removed. This bolsters its practicality and makes it an ideal choice for those with large families.

Yet for all their practicality, previous Scenics have failed to deliver on driving appeal – something Renault has attempted to rectify this time, by aiming to give its seven-seat MPV saloon car dynamics.

So has Renault's round of 2013 improvements really served to address the Grand Scenic's lack of engagement, or are they purely cosmetic and practical upgrades? Let's find out.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Renault Grand Scenic rear

The latest Renault Grand Scenic is bigger than the last one – by 62mm in length, 26mm in width and a mere 9mm in height. The wheelbase is up by 34mm, too.

The altered proportions have allowed Renault to endow the car with a more dynamic visual profile than before. The gently sloping roofline towards the rear, with a rising beltline towards the tail-lights, gives the car a more aerodynamic appearance than its predecessor. At the front, Renault design chief Laurens van den Acker's influence can be seen in the larger lozenge logo and glossy Clio-apeing grille.

Dynamique TomTom models come with plenty of kit

The Scenic range still includes a five-seater, but more than ever the long-wheelbase Grand version is its own car. Given the Espace's disappearance from the UK market, it has a bigger sales job to do, too. Just as well, then, that it has grown a bit.

The latest addition to the UK Scenic range, meanwhile, is the XMOD pseudo-crossover. Based on the regular Scenic and priced exactly like it, you get extra equipment here as well as ruggedised styling, mud and snow tyres, unique wheel designs and a special 'Grip Xtend' traction control system in lieu of proper four-wheel drive.

A new petrol engine has been added to the Scenic range as part of the 2013 update: a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol with 128bhp and automatic engine stop-start, which rivals the diesels on CO2-based company car tax. Below that, the engine range consists of two less powerful petrols and two turbodiesels: a 1.5-litre dCi with 108bhp and CO2 emissions of just 105g/km, and a 1.6-litre oil-burner with 128bhp.

For the larger part of Renault's Scenic model range there is only one trim level, Dynamique TomTom. It comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav and parking sensors as standard. An optional Bose+ pack adds 17-inch wheels, an upgraded sounds system and other features such as an electrochromatic rear view mirror.

The Scenic XMOD, however, is offered in a more basic equipment level called 'Expression+', which brings starting prices down to a more accessible point.

INTERIOR

Renault Grand Scenic interior

Here's the Renault Grand Scenic’s raison d’etre. If there’s one thing that will strike you if you’ve ever been inside the previous-generation Renault MPV, it’s how well constructed this new model feels.

In design it’s partly inspired by the latest Mégane. The air vents, stereo and climate controls occupy the same positions as in the hatch, but materials differ in places and feel of a higher quality in the Grand Scenic.

You're not going to be left wanting for space in the Renault

The major dials – speedo, rev counter, fuel gauge and so on – are all sited on a digital screen that has an excellent graphical quality and is easy to read.

Slightly less convincing is the adjacent screen for the satellite navigation system (now standard across the range), although it’s by no means poor and, developed by Carminat TomTom, is relatively easy to use. Its controls nestle on the centre console, and if you want that to slide (which, to unleash the Grand Scenic’s full versatility, you will), you have to pay extra.

The front seats are comfortable, as is the widely adjustable driving position, and the centre and rear rows are as spacious as one can reasonably expect within the confines of this car’s size.

With all seven seats in place, boot space is limited to 208 litres, but there’s a neat storage cubby just inside the boot opening to stow the luggage cover when it’s not in use. With the two rearmost seats folded (they stow separately) you get a rather more useful boot volume, and with the three centre seats removed the load area is a full two metres long and the volume a whopping 2063 litres, turning the Renault Grand Scenic into a small van in all but name.

There are, however, a few interior foibles. There is no shortage of storage cubbies overall, but the two front cupholders are easily obstructed by the sliding console. The three seats in the centre row tumble forwards but would benefit from being capable of folding flat into the floor (as the rearmost pair do) rather than having to be removed, because they are heavy.

The rear doors, as with most rivals, hinge rather than sliding like the Mazda 5’s. And for those who prefer a proper spare wheel to a can of repair foam (as we do), that’s a cost option. And even then it’s a space saver hung beneath the car body.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Renault Grand Scenic rear quarter

As part of Renault's drastic streamlining of its range, the Grand Scenic is only currently available with four engines, two petrol and two diesel. This is down from the seven on offer previously.

The petrols comprise a naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre VVT unit with 109bhp and a turbocharged 1.2 Tce with 113bhp or 128bhp. The diesel choice is between 1.5 or 1.6 litres with 109- and 128bhp respectively.

The Scenic's an adequate performer and relaxing to drive

Our drive of the lower-powered diesel, equipped with stop-start, showed the Grand Scenic to be an adequate performer above low engine speeds. Try and select too high a gear too early and the Scenic reacts lazily at low rpm.

The engine is extremely refined though and, while its 0-62mph time of 13.5sec isn't scintillating, the Grand Scenic covered miles effortlessly over our test route. It also returned more than 50mpg.

We also drove the Grand Scenic's 128bhp 1.2-litre TCe petrol manual, which was very quiet and, for the most part, obliging.

It doesn't take to hard work quite as readily as Ford's Ecoboost three-cylinder, being better suited to laying on torque through the mid-range than fast revving. We also found throttle response on the petrol to be slightly uneven on initial take-up, and the shift quality to be a little notchy.

Renault offers a twin-clutch 'EDC' automatic transmission with the 1.5-litre dCi diesel, but we've yet to test it.

RIDE & HANDLING

Renault Grand Scenic cornering

Based, like all previous Scenics, on the concurrent Megane, the Renault Grand Scenic has a torsion beam rear axle and MacPherson struts at the front attached to what Renault calls a horned subframe. In essence it means a front structure that is more rigidly located than in the previous car, to give a firmer base for the suspension and, more significantly, improve steering precision – something some modern, electrically power-assisted Renaults particularly lack.

Some cars seamlessly blend the two dynamic elements implied by this section’s headline, gliding effortlessly across bumps and rough surfaces yet retaining an impressive composure when asked to pitch into a corner at speed. The Grand Scenic is not one of those cars.

The Grand Scenic doesn't handle as well as a Ford C-Max

Instead, it cuts this section neatly into two. Its ride is very good – pillowy over low-speed lumps and thumps, aided not just by its fulsome kerb weight but also by modestly wide tyres on fairly tall sidewalls. As such, the suspension can be set tightly enough without harming its secondary ride across high-frequency surface imperfections, yet it controls the Scenic's body movements well across large dips and crests.

The suspension is not so tight, however, that the Grand Scenic is immune to the effects of crosswinds, which it is not keen on at all. If you ask a lot of its dynaamic abilities the Grand Scenic does what it can, steering more consistently than many recent Renaults, but there’s still little feedback through the helm and the Grand Scenic finds itself out of its depth more quickly than, say, a Ford C-Max would in the same situation.

However, given the lack of finesse in the ride of some late Renaults, we’ll gladly trade the Grand Scenic’s shortcomings in agility for the comfort it affords its occupants.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Renault Grand Scenic

The great disparity between claimed and real-world MPG continues apace. Renault's figures state a Grand Scenic equipped with the 109bhp 1.5-litre dCi diesel engine is capable of 68.9mpg. Though our test fuel consumption of just over 50mpg is very competitive, it is a long way short of the official figure.

Fortunately, the CO2 figures are set in stone and, for the smallest Grand Scenic diesel, are commendably low. Fitted with stop start, it is rated at 105g/km. Not only does this make it eligible for £20 road tax, it means company users will pay just 16 per cent benefit-in-kind tax.

The Renault Grand Scenic should prove pretty reliable

Equally impressively, you'll only pay 17 per cent BIK on the 128bhp flagship 1.2-litre TCE petrol, so it's an option well worth considering for company car users.

Although the Scenic had things almost to itself back in 1996, the seven-seat MPV market is now a crowded one, but one in which the Grand Scenic still makes a very competitive case for itself.

Its price is keen and equipment levels and option prices are similarly strong; the cost of leather seats and metallic paint, for example, are all at the lower end of the spectrum among its rivals.

Service intervals are long, with 18,000 miles or two years between oil filter changes. 

VERDICT

3.5 star Renault Grand Scenic

Fitness for purpose: that’s the mantra that lies behind all of Autocar’s road tests. Does a car, we ask, do the things it is supposed to do?

In the Grand Scenic’s case the answer is yes – it does them unequivocally and absolutely. The Renault has spaciousness, a perfectly acceptable seating arrangement and the kind of comfort and refinement that buyers in this class will expect. Its interior finish is impressive, too.

The Renault is a sensible family car, albeit not a very interesting one

The Renault also majors in efficiency, making it a viable option for company car users who want something that can serve family as well as business requirements. 

As with all cars, though, there are things the Renault Grand Scenic could do better, things that would elevate it above its rivals.

Just because a car is spacious, for example, there is no reason why it should not also be engaging to drive –  as Ford’s C-Max and the Mazda 5 both prove. 

The task of removing the Renault's seats can also prove tiresome and, even though they can add weight, we like to see the use of more practical sliding rear doors on MPVs. 

Overall, however, these are small foibles. What the Renault Grand Scenic does well, it does very well indeed.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Renault Grand Scenic 2009-2016 First drives