First DriveBody styling add-ons and new traction system aim to turn MPV into a crossover rival; and there's no price penalty for choosing it over a standard Scenic
First DriveGenerous space and a comprehensive specification, with a wide and elegantly styled cabin
What is it?
This is the new Renault Scenic, launched in the UK after its debut in Europe last month. Now in its third generation, the car remains a vital part of Renault's range, not least because the original Scenic pioneered the compact MPV class and sold over two million units.
Predictably, the new Scenic appears with all the standard manufacturer promises about increased comfort and performance, but clearest evidence of Renault's intent is apparent in the range's keen pricing.
As we expected after we saw the car on the Continent last month, UK prices will be up to £2000 cheaper than current models, which means the car undercuts many of its direct rivals, including Ford's C-Max.
The Scenic launches with five trim levels: Extreme, Expression, Dynamique, TomTom Edition and Privilege. All feature a generous amount of kit, but the Dynamique we tested added cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers and a USB port for iPod compatibility.
Under the bonnet was the familiar 106bhp common-rail diesel mated to a six-speed manual. Ultimately, the Scenic will get a line-up of eight engines - three petrol and five diesel, including a new, downsized 128bhp 1.4 turbo petrol unit.
What's it like?
Very competent. The Scenic ticks off all the requirements of a compact MPV with studied precision. Practicality, spaciousness, robust build quality and value for money are what make cars such as this a success, and sitting in the new Scenic it's not hard to see Renault's two decades of experience at work.
The cabin is spacious and, thanks to the optional panoramic sunroof, very airy. It benefits from Renault's now-familiar soft-plastic sweeping dashboard design, and everything feels solidly put together. 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.
Things aren't too bad behind the wheel, either. The ride quality that impressed on the polished roads of the Continent translates reasonably well onto the UK's patchy highways. Despite crashing over the occasional pothole, the Scenic does a decent job of smoothing imperfect surfacing into an acceptable ride. That said, things do get a little choppy if you push on with too much intent.
The old 1.5 diesel engine delivers competent, predictable performance without ever being especially likeable. Its case is not helped by disappointing hesitancy below 1750rpm, but once into its stride the 177lb ft of torque does at least permit satisfactorily brisk progress and it should be good for 57mpg.
That there is little power to be found beyond the engine's modest comfort zone is a shame, partly because overtaking can become a nerve-wrackingly drawn-out affair and partly because the Scenic's handling is surprisingly good. 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.
Should I buy one?
If you're in the market for a compact MPV, the new Scenic deserves serious consideration. If you can't wait until next year for the new, punchier 1.5 dCi, you might think about the excellent 1.4 TCe if you can bear the drop in economy that inevitably comes with the petrol engine.
While the Scenic never quite makes it to the top of its class, Renault has succeeded in delivering an MPV that's better equipped, more comfortable, safer and certainly better to drive than before. And though it arguably lacks the dynamic polish of its closest rivals, there is no doubt that its aggressive price tag offers impressive value for money.