Good: spacious, comfy cabin, practical, well equipped.
Not so good: quite pricey, silly stick on 4x4 bits don't make much sense.
Wherever Le Corbusier is buried, and I bet it's in a really simply designed, form-follows-function tomb, he must now be beginning to rotate gently, but with gathering pace. Why? Because Renault is trying to kill the MPV.
Charles-Edouard Jeanneret took the pseudonym Le Corbusier and began to revolutionise modern architecture, abandoning the decorative, ostentatious styles of Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements and instead moving to a rational, clean, uncluttered style. His maxim was that a house should be a machine you live in, with all the implications for practicality and usability that suggests.
And I think he would have been proud of the efforts of his fellow Frenchman (he was born Swiss but naturalised French in 1930) in creating the original Renault Espace. The first true MPV (yes, the Chrysler Town & Country got there first by a few months, but it was really an up-scaled van, while the Espace was car-based), the original Espace was one of the most form-follows-function cars ever made, and I can still see some true beauty in the simple, upright lines.
What followed though was even more revolutionary, because in 1998, Renault produced the first Scenic and with it the whole motoring world changed. Simply by raising the ceiling and installing some clever seats, Renault had shown us just how practical and user-friendly the interior of a car could be. Others followed, seven-seat versions were developed and for a time it seemed that every car would eventually be a high-roof, mono-space design.
Not any more. Not only has Renault confirmed that the next Espace will be as much an SUV as it will be an MPV, so too has it sounded the death knell for the Scenic. The seven-seat Grand Scenic will continue unabated, but the standard five-seat model will be progressively replaced by this new XMOD model, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see that, when the next-generation Scenic arrives, there will only be a seven-seat version. The five-seat model will likely be replaced entirely by a standalone SUV-style car. Thus why I think that Le Corbusier would not approve.
Why not? Because the XMOD has thrown out the form-following-function ideal that all MPVs should cling to. A facelift of the entire Scenic range has brought a new, bolder grille with a huge Renault diamond plonked in the middle and some other exterior and interior tweaks. But the XMOD goes further, with phony undertray bash plates and stick-on grey plastic panels in an attempt to convince you that, yes, it really could go yomping its way across the Serengeti.
It couldn't. It's a front-wheel drive diesel MPV. And the ironic thing is that all of the things that are good about the Scenic XMOD have absolutely nothing to do with the XMOD part. The interior is an obvious strong point. It's spacious, the seats are very comfy and everything looks and feels suitably well built. The all-digital dashboard is nice to use and to look at and the equipment levels are high, including electronic child locks and a kick-ass Bose stereo.
In the back, there are three individually-adjustable seats, which means that you can fit three child car seats abreast in there, a major consideration for families these days. The boot, a 472-litre space, can be enlarged by sliding those rear seats forward a touch.
Added to which there's a sense of airiness and light to the cabin that makes it a very pleasant place to be. By accident, not design, I ended up taking the XMOD on three round trips between Dublin and Galway in the space of a week, and never once felt tired or bored of the car, a fact that speaks wonders for it being a nice thing in which to travel.
The engine plays a big part in that, of course. Renault's long-serving 1.5 dCi diesel has always been a good unit and it's still going strong in the XMOD. It's not exactly serving up staggering power outputs, but it gets out of its own way, cruises quietly and returned a very decent 5.9 litres per 100km in my hands (47.9mpg). Emissions are pegged at 105g/km, so you'll pay just €190 a year in road tax too.
You will pay quite a lot to get into one like this though, as €29k is the sticker price; although a cheaper, less-well equipped petrol XMOD kicks off the line-up at €26k. It does seem a bit pricey for a family car, at a time when few families have money to be splashing around.
Surprisingly, though, the XMOD quite enjoys being chucked around. A bit, anyway. It's not quite got the chassis deportment of the Ford C-Max, but with well-weighted steering and decent body control, it's the better of the likes of the C4 Picasso and the Peugeot 5008. You may not get up early on a Sunday to take it for a thrash, but you won't feel short-changed driving it in normal circumstances.
As a family man, the appeal of the XMOD is undeniable. The cabin, with all that space and adjustability, means it's a doddle to get the kids in and take them off to school or for a weekend away, and the fact that it's decent to drive and has a very good engine adds to the appeal.
But all the XMOD badging and stick-on parts just leave me cold. I accept that MPVs are just not generally seen as desirable cars and that trying to chuck in a bit of SUV glamour might at least draw in a few more customers, which is a good thing. But I'll stick with Le Corbusier's logic and functionality when it comes to my MPVs, cheers.