We recently tested Renault’s 1.5-litre diesel engine in the five-seat Scenic and found it to be a rather weak unit that lacked low-down grunt. Thankfully, there are no such problems with the more powerful 128bhp 1.6-litre diesel. With maximum torque achieved at 1750rpm, the motor pulls strongly from low revs and, unlike the 1.5, keeps performing well until it reaches its peak power at 4000rpm. That said, we suspect that if the car is fully loaded, the six-speed manual gearbox will still need to be worked hard (a six-speed automatic is optional), but that shouldn’t be a hardship because the clutch is light and the shift itself is relatively slick.
The same can’t be said for the ride, however. Despite Renault’s claims about specially designed sidewalls and cleverly tweaked suspension, there is simply no way to hide the impact of those whopping 20in wheels. At low speeds the car feels fidgety and unsettled, there's significant bump-thump from potholes and ruts and at high speeds the road noise can become genuinely grating. Ultimately, if you value comfort and refinement, the Grand Picasso is a better-resolved machine.
Not all is lost, however. The boffins at Renault know how to tune a good chassis, and the Scenic has benefited from this expertise. The steering is light and precise, the front end turns in keenly and resists understeer and although the damper settings allow body float over crests, there’s never a point where the chassis feels unstable or loose. Providing you don’t make the kids sick, the Grand Scenic can be genuinely good fun to hustle down a B-road.
Seven-seaters often have limited space in the third row and the Grand Scenic is no exception. The middle row of seats moves forward in one swift movement, making access relatively easy, but once back there you’ll find that leg and head space is at an absolute premium. Unless you have very young children, the rear seats are only suitable for the shortest of journeys. a VW Touran this is not.
The Grand Scenic does offer more in the way of cubbyholes, however. There are four in the floor, a massive sliding centre console on the top three trims and a filing cabinet-style glovebox, plus handy picnic tables on the back of the front seats for most models. It also comes with two USB ports and a central storage bin in the rear, making it ideal for families on the go.
Up front, the Scenic’s interior is equally impressive, feeling just as upmarket as that of its main competitor. The infotainment set-up, with its 8.7in portrait touchscreen display, is a delight to use compared with the previous-generation system and, despite being tricky to operate on the move, shortcut buttons that are physical rather than touch-sensitive make simple operations, such as changing the interior temperature, a relative doddle.