The new five-seat Renault Scenic looks even sharper than its larger Grand Scenic brother, and the new mild-hybrid system makes a compelling case for itself.
In the Metal:
We've already mentioned, in our review of the seven-seat Renault Grand Scenic, just how gorgeous the new model is, but this five-seat version, with its smaller back end, just looks even better again. This is a seriously good looking thing, so bravo Renault for giving a humble people carrier such visual flair.
On the inside, it's a little less perfect. The cabin looks and feels mostly very well built, and the dramatic upsweep of the centre console is rather cool. But that centre console only looks right if it has the big touch screen, so lesser-spec versions, with the five-inch screen, are simply not going to look as good.
There's also less space in the back than you'll find in the longer Grand Scenic. Yes, it's relatively roomy compared to a regular family hatch, and there is most certainly space enough for three child safety seats to rest side-by-side (a crucial family consideration), but rear legroom is perhaps not compellingly better than you'd find in, for instance, a Megane hatch. The lack of individual rear seats (it's now a 60/40 folding bench seat, which can also slide) is also something of a let-down, as are the cheap-looking instruments.
There are good points though. The Espace-sourced seats are nothing short of terrific, the split A-pillars really do reduce forward blind spots, the driving position is fine (although the pedals did seem a bit offset on the left-hand drive test cars) and in spite of the shallower side glass, the cabin feels roomy and airy (helped here by the optional glass panoramic roof).
Under the short bonnet is the familiar 110hp 1.5-litre diesel dCi engine, but it's been given a fresh lease on life with the addition of a mild-hybrid system. That consists of a compact electric motor fed by a small 48-volt battery stashed under the boot floor. There's no electric-only running here; the system is designed to boost the engine's torque when you're accelerating from low speeds, which is where you tend to burn the most amount of fuel.
The regular Renault Scenic suffers from the same too-detached feeling that you'll get in the Grand Scenic. It's just too light at the steering, too roly-poly in the corners and too fidgety on those big, gorgeous (and standard) 20-inch alloy wheels to ever feel rewarding to drive. Which is a shame.
The engine and the mild hybrid system are very good though. While the diesel engine does get a touch too grumbly at times (and that's not helped by much wind noise around the mirrors at main road speeds), there's a definite improvement in low-end thump from the mild hybrid, which only weighs 49kg so it's not adding more weight than is necessary.
Let the Scenic lug from low speeds in a high gear and while you'll get some vibration, there's a definite sense of quicker pickup. The overall torque figure is only up by 20Nm compared to the standard 1.5 diesel, but at very low engine speeds the difference is greater and the electric motor does its best work at a point where the engine is only starting to climb the torque curve - it can boost grunt by as much as 80Nm at crucial moments.
Around town, it's simply a pleasure. Here you're much less bothered by the too-light steering, so the torquey response of the engine makes for easy and relaxing progress. A shame that the six-speed manual gearbox is both light and long in throw, but you can't have everything.
The crucial thing of course is economy, and this is where the Scenic mild hybrid scores big. OK, so with only a short test route we couldn't put Renault's official 76mpg figure to the acid test, but in mostly low-speed urban driving, the Scenic recorded 53mpg overall. That's not bad, and the 92g/km CO2 rating is genuinely impressive for such a roomy and practical car.
What you get for your Money:
Pricing for the five-seat Renault Scenic starts at €26,000, for the only petrol option in the line-up - a 115hp 1.2-litre TCe model in the lowest trim level, Expression+, with emissions of 129g/km. The 1.5-litre dCi diesel with 110hp is available at the same level for €27,000, or €29,200 with the EDC automatic gearbox, which increases the diesel's emissions from 100g/km to 104g/km. The 1.6-litre dCi diesel, producing 130hp, is solely available with a manual gearbox for the Scenic, emitting 116g/km. The more popular trim levels are likely to be Dynamique Nav, Dynamique S Nav and Signature Nav.
Renault Ireland has confirmed that it will offer the Hybrid Assist technology on the 1.6-litre diesel engine when it becomes available, but hints that it probably won't be popular because of its high price.
The Scenic mild hybrid was our favourite version of the Scenic we tested. Simple, frugal and pleasant to drive around town, it's overall appeal and performance overrode concerns about the driving experience and the likely high price tag.