Good: distinctive design, flexible interior, good economy
Not so good: ride comfort could be better
Evidence would suggest that new car buyers don't want seven-seat people carriers, gravitating instead to the new generation of SUVs that are more a crossbreed between MPV and 4x4. I'm talking about the likes of the new Peugeot 5008 and Skoda Kodiaq, and there are more to come. Bizarrely, there's massive demand in the used market for traditional seven-seat MPVs, necessitating the importation of scores of them from the UK. But the car makers don't develop new models to supply the second-hand market, do they? Which is why it's a rare thing to witness the launch of a brand new seven-seat people carrier, such as the Renault Grand Scenic.
The French company is at least trying to make its new model appealing with a design that truly stands out, and not just in a 'for an MPV' kind of way. True, the five-seat version of the Scenic is considerably more attractive again thanks to its pert rear end, but this Grand Scenic gets more second glances than any sensible family car deserves to, partly due to the standard fitment of unusually proportioned wheels and tyres, where the alloys measure 20 inches in diameter, yet the tyres aren't particularly wide. They combine with the swoopy frontal styling to create a striking MPV that wouldn't look out of place at a motor show with 'concept' after its name.
Step inside, and while it is good-looking and modern, there's nothing drastically daring about the design. Our Dynamique S Nav test car came with the snazziest touchscreen available, an upright 8.7-inch item that looks great, but is quite infuriating to use until you really know your way around it. I guess an owner soon will. There's all manner of customisation and lurid colour schemes of you feel the need, but of far more interest here is the seating layout. After all, you choose a seven-seat car for a very specific reason.
The Grand Scenic is not the largest seven-seater around, in that the rear-most row is for children only, but that's the norm in this mid-size MPV class. Many parents buy cars such as this to accommodate friends of their own children occasionally, and the Grand Scenic is ideal for that, as it has a huge boot when the back two chairs are folded out of the way. The middle row has been designed to accommodate three child seats and it splits and folds away when you need to carry a small wardrobe or washing machine or whatever.
And does the Grand Scenic live up to its sporty appearance on the road? Not really, but will most of its buyers care? We think not. Those large wheels do affect ride comfort around town and over rough surfaces a tad, but not by as much as you might expect, and it's lovely and smooth on the motorway at speed.
The 1.6-litre dCi 130 engine is the perfect partner for the Grand Scenic as it has plenty of effortless low-down pulling power and yet is also quite efficient. We averaged 6.2 litres/100km (45.5mpg) over nearly 600 kilometres of mixed driving on a route where larger people carriers we've tested use closer to 9.0 litres/100km, so it's usefully economical and could no doubt improve on that with a lighter right foot. Few SUVs, even front-drive-only ones, will better that. Will family buyers see past their status-friendly image and welcome a new people carrier back into their midst instead?