The new Renault Scenic has a great cabin and swoopy, gorgeous styling, plus it's practical. That's more important than the fact that it's only average at best to drive, but will buyers ignore it in favour of an SUV anyway?
In the Metal:
You've got to hand it to Renault's head of design, Laurens van den Acker. The Dutch stylist has worked wonders at Renault since he arrived, and has dramatically emboldened the look of a range of cars that had become quite staid in the mid-2000s. The Scenic and Grand Scenic owe obvious homage to both the R-Space concept car and the new Espace (not sold here), and both look the better for it. Yes, it's a monospace, egg-shaped MPV, but van den Acker's team has taken much of the visual bulk out of the car, and made it seem far sleeker, sexier and more appealing than its predecessor.
And it has 20-inch wheels. As standard. Across the range. There is no other wheel option, and van den Acker told us that "I think this is the first time that a production car has had bigger wheels than the concept car. We did the R-Space on 19-inch rims."
van den Acker also says that he wanted to create an MPV where it looked as if "the parents sitting in the front were still in love. I think the old Scenic had become too platonic." In this he has succeeded. By MPV standards, it's gorgeous. Even by any standard, it's pretty striking.
The interior is a little more conventional, save for the dramatic upward slope of the centre console. It works best with the biggest touchscreen possible, an eight-inch unit, but basic models will only have a five-inch screen, which looks nowhere near so impressive. The seats are basically the same as those in the bigger Espace so are enormously comfortable, but the three individual seats in the middle row are actually a 60/40 split bench, so the cabin isn't quite as versatile as it once was. Boot space is excellent though, although the rearmost seats are really not suitable for adults. You can, however, fit the magic three child car seats, side-by-side, in the middle row.
While the Grand Scenic is an appealing car as long as you're travelling in a straight line (aside from too much wind noise around the door mirrors), as soon as the road gets more interesting its case falls apart a bit. The steering is so light as to feel entirely disconnected, and while Renault insists that the suspension has been tuned around the one and only available 20-inch wheel size, there is a good deal of body roll too. Basically, it's no fun in terms of driving enjoyment.
The ride quality we'll have to reserve judgement on. The roads around Bordeaux, where we tested the Grand Scenic, are smooth, mostly straight and well-kept, so offer no analogue to an Irish tarmac surface. Will those big 20s ruin the ride on our home roads? Possibly - the Scenic felt very fidgety and unsettled when the roads did occasionally give way to bumps and ripples, but we'll just have to see. Renault says, by the way, that it has worked with tyre suppliers to keep the cost of replacement rubber down to the same level as the old Scenic's 17-inch wheels, so hopefully a puncture won't mug you.
The 1.6-litre diesel engine is actually a little disappointing. It's quite noisy, even when warmed through properly, and always grumbles and growls when you accelerate hard. Part of that seems to be down to a poorly managed relationship with the seven-speed EDC dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which shifts smoothly, but noisily and which sometimes seems to hold on to a low gear for far, far too long. The six-speed manual, in spite of a long, loose shift quality, is actually a far better combination with the engine. Economy seems fine though, which is all most people actually care about, but we weren't able to match Renault's official 62mpg on our test route.
What you get for your Money:
As expected, the new Renault Grand Scenic is not cheap to buy, starting at €28,000 (and the entry-level 1.5-litre dCi diesel is €29,400). However, it is well-equipped - a touchscreen is standard on all models, for example, as are numerous safety toys including autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection. And of course you get those 20-inch rims thrown in too. Renault is trying to move more upmarket, both to try and give itself fatter profit margins and allow more space for the cheaper Dacia brand to grow.
Trim levels are Expression+, Dynamique Nav, Dynamique S Nav and Signature Nav. The cheapest engine is the 115hp 1.2 TCe petrol unit, while both the 110hp 1.5-litre diesel and 1.6-litre diesels can be optionally specified with Renault's EDC automatic (the 1.6 produces 130hp with a manual gearbox or 160hp with the automatic). Emissions from the petrol version are 136g/km, all variants of the 1.5-litre diesel emit 104g/km and emissions from the 1.6 are rated at 116g/km as a manual or 122g/km with the automatic transmission.
One wonders if Renault is preaching to a congregation long since departed. Has the rush to SUVs and crossovers already left it behind, even if the Scenic is without question one of the best looking, if not the best looking, MPVs around and it hits every mark in terms of practicality, modularity and family-friendliness?