What is it?
As well as taking the trouble to facelift the Scenic, Renault has added a new model to the popular MPV lineup: the rufty-tufty XMOD, a peculiar creation intended to gatecrash the crossover sales bonanza.
Although it may be papering over the hole where a proper SUV-shaped contender would sit (Dacia gets that), the car does have notable antecedents - not least the short-lived and four-wheel-drive Scenic RX4.
Update: Fourth generation Renault Scenic unveiled at the 2016 Geneva Motorshow, with the aim of redefining the MPV sector
For the sake of cost, the XMOD doesn’t send power beyond the front axle. Instead it receives a new traction control system roughly comparable to Peugeot’s 'Grip Control'. Dubbed Grip Xtend, Renault’s version comes with three operating modes - Road, Loose Ground and Expert - assigned to a similar centre console selector. Like the recently reviewed 2008, the ASR’s revised software code is backed up by a set of Continental mud and snow tyres.
To help it live up to its rugged billing, Renault has clad the XMOD in extraneous off-road flippery, including beefier body mouldings, modified front and rear bumpers and black roof bars. Underneath it shares the Scenic’s revised engine range, comprising three petrol engines — most notably the new 1.2-litre TCe — and two versions of the familiar 1.5-litre diesel lump. In 108bhp format, tested here, the Dynamique TomTom model is reportedly capable of 68.9mpg and emits a lowly 105g/km CO2.
What's it like?
Testing the XMOD’s ability in the sticky stuff obviously means finding some sticky stuff to put it in. Therein lies a problem: playing Scott of the Antarctic on a Surrey byway is probably asking a bit much of the Scenic - Renault isn’t claiming proper mud-conquering ability - while tackling less tricky ground is always undermined by the nagging suspicion that any old MPV would generate sufficient traction to see you back onto tarmac.
Certainly that’s the impression with only wet grass or a gravel track underfoot. Here the XMOD romps along without even troubling the Grip Xtend system - nothing less than we’d expect from a Mégane, frankly. It takes a few inches of mud for the software to even hint at its wider benefit. Without engaging the ‘loose ground’ setting, the Scenic tends to bog down as the on-road ASR kills the power it thinks is solely responsible for spinning up the front wheels.
Turning the Xtend dial duly turns the hinderance into helper. Renault insists this is thanks to a judicious juggling of brake and torque delivery, but behind the wheel the end result seems less than subtle - more often than not it feels like you’ve just been given free reign to throw more throttle at the problem (making the difference between ‘loose ground’ and brake effect-only ‘Expert’ virtually indistinguishable). Either way, it’s ultimately left to the Continentals to get you free from the dirt.
Their capacity for doing so is real enough. The car’s modest ground clearance helps keep ambitions realistic, and in the toughest conditions we could find on a summer’s day the XMOD valiantly struggled rather than surrendered. An unkind observer might argue that fitting mud and snow tyres to a standard Scenic with switchable traction control (Renault’s usual dash-mounted button is deleted on this model) would render a comparable level of ability. That’s as may be, but at least the XMOD’s mouthier presence can lay claim to some length of trouser.
Back on the road, it’s much like the Scenic of memory. Which is to say a decent, if slightly lumpy mum-mobile. The slow speed ride could be more civilised, and the lower-powered 1.5 dCI is incapable of anything other than leisurely progress, but it remains a practical, economical piece of kit (there are three individual, collapsible and adjustable seats in the rear) and as much as 555 litres of space can be had from the boot.
One foot note: with the mud and snow tyres purchase on the tarmac being somewhat less robust than the standard boots, the XMOD’s handling — particularly the tenacity of its rear-end — is moderately (and somewhat amusingly) compromised.
Should I buy one?
Well, Renault has ensured that there is no financial penalty for doing so — the XMOD is no more costly than its road-only range siblings. In fact (and in affirmation of how aggressively the car is likely to be marketed) because it appears in entry-level Expression+ format and the standard Scenic doesn’t, the likely favoured 1.5 dCI 110 car (minus stop/start) actually kicks off £1350 cheaper.
For MPV buyers generally, and Scenic fans specifically, that should make the XMOD a more appealing sight in the dealership than it might otherwise have been. The addition of a modicum of extra kit and associated ability for no extra money will likely tempt a pragmatic Renault customer, even if it’s hard to imagine Ford C-Max or Vauxhall Meriva owners working up much envy.
From a broader standpoint - one far enough back to take in the XMOD’s crossover rivals - it's hard to ignore the fact that at £19,745 the base oil burner is still £4k more than the top-spec Duster, a car with the same engine, better looks, a 200kg greater tow limit, far more earthy charm and, enticingly, four-wheel drive as standard. If you can live with a reduction in interior real estate and equipment, we’d heartily recommend Renault’s proper pseudo-SUV over its people-carrying impersonator.
Renault Scenic XMOD
Price £21,095; 0-62mph 12.3sec; Top speed 112mph; Economy 68.9mpg (combined); CO2 105g/km; Kerb weight 1446kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1461cc, turbo, diesel; Power 108bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 192lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual