What is it?The MPV has suffered somewhat at the hands of the SUV and crossover. Where once the people carrier seemed your best bet for transporting families and kids and all the paraphernalia that goes with them, buyers have been seduced by the rugged image of the faux by four.
The Renault Scenic hasn’t been able to avoid this shift, despite being an originator of the MPV segment. Indeed, these days you’re much more likely to see a new Kadjar instead. With that in mind, Renault has been rather bold with this, its fourth-generation Scenic.
Elements of SUV have crept into the design: there’s a 40mm increase in ground clearance, more muscle to the bodywork and a shift to big 20in wheels. Interestingly, that’s not just for glitzy models either, because even entry-level Expression + models are rollin’ on 20s, as they say.
While you might expect that to mean ride comfort only marginally better than that of a shopping trolley being pushed over corrugated iron, the tyres have a taller profile than those fitted to the majority of smaller-wheeled competitors. They’re relatively narrow too, helping keep costs down and CO2 emissions in check.
Importantly it’s also more spacious inside and comes with a bigger boot and plenty of kit to help keep your nearest and dearest safe. It all looks very impressive on paper, but is it enough to tempt people out of their SUV and back into an MPV?
What’s it like?
First impressions are good. The Scenic and larger Grand Scenic are both attractive things in the metal and much more imposing than their rivals. There may be hints of SUV about the raised ride height, but the heavily raked screen still screams ‘people carrier’.
Getting behind the wheel, the tech-laden interior of our high-spec test car was immediately apparent. Analogue dials have been banished and replaced with TFT displays for speed, engine temperature and fuel level. Scrolling through the five drive modes changes the centre display and the priority of the information displayed. It looks attractive enough but can’t show the variety of information that Volkswagen’s Active Info Display does.
Dynamique S Nav and top Signature Nav trims receive a colour head-up display to project speed, navigation information and other data. It looks good at a standstill but jiggles slightly on the move. It also seems an awful long way down the expansive dashboard.
The top two trims also get R-Link 2, Renault’s 8.7in portrait-orientated infotainment system. You certainly get plenty of functionality, including the ability to fold the rear seats down at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, the menus can be confusing to navigate and slow to respond – switching songs on a Bluetooth device, for example, takes a painfully long time.
The cabin is undoubtedly practical, however. The generous glovebox pops open like a filing cabinet, while between the seats is a cavernous centre console that can be slid backwards and forwards depending on your passengers’ needs. Quality is also pretty good; there are cheaper materials but they’re largely in areas you won’t touch that much.
There’s a pair of USB ports and a 12V socket in the cubby under the front armrest, plus the same again on the rear of the unit for those in the back. It’s handy, but sliding the unit to where it works best as an armrest also hides the cupholders for front seat passengers.
Throw in underfloor storage, rear picnic tables for most models and a class-leading boot, and it’s certainly family ready, although three adults will face a squeeze to get on the rear bench, and even two relatively tall grown-ups may struggle for rear leg room.
To drive, the dinky 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine of our test car provides adequate performance two-up but needs working hard in order to cope with overtaking. It does at least remain smooth, even at high crank speeds, and is barely audible at a cruise.
Despite the sizable wheels on which it sits, the Scenic is certainly no worse than the majority of 17in or 18in alloy-shod rivals. It’s no paragon of comfort though; pockmarked urban roads are certainly felt, although the ride becomes more settled at speed. Of course, the French are much better at road maintenance than we are, so our definitive verdict will have to wait until later in the year when we get a right-hand-drive example on UK roads.
As far as handling is concerned, the steering feels precise with little correction required to keep the Scenic in a straight line. You’ll also find it’s easy to work out how much lock you need to get round a corner – there’s no need to take a couple of bites on every bend.
But is it communicative or fun? No, not at all. There’s a fair amount of body roll and the non-switchable traction and stability controls will prevent anything from getting too lairy. The styling might look exciting, but the driving experience will be familiar to the majority of MPV buyers across Europe: safe but ultimately dull.
Should I buy one?If you’re after a distinctive yet practical family holdall, then the Scenic should definitely be on your shortlist. It may not be fun to drive, but it’s perfectly pleasant and surprisingly comfortable considering its 20in wheels.
We would be more tempted by one of the diesel engines, though. In something like this, the promise of cheaper running costs and a bit more low-end shove makes more sense.
2016 Renault Scenic TCe 130 Signature Nav
Location France; On sale November; Price £24,500 (est); Engine 4 cyls, 1198cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 128bhp at 5000rpm Torque 151lb ft at 2000rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1430kg; 0-62mph 11.4sec; Top speed 117mph; Economy 48.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 129g/km, 22% Rivals Citroen C4 Picasso, Ford C-Max

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