Renault's Scenic is the fourth generation of the firm's popular mini-MPV. Tom Wiltshire tests it out, in intriguing Hybrid Assist form.
What is it?
The Renault Scenic was perhaps the original mini-MPV. This is the fourth-generation model, which comes at a time when family buyers are leaving the sector in their droves in favour of crossovers and SUVs.
The new Scenic aims to halt this by mixing elements from both classes and providing the practicality of an MPV in a stylish body that will appeal to SUV buyers. But are savvy shoppers likely to be fooled?
This Scenic is all-new, sharing its underpinnings – and a great deal of its interior – with the new Megane hatch. It has a new look, with its boxy shape disguised by clever detailing. At a glance, it looks much smaller than it is, which is much more appealing than its predecessor's bulbous styling.
The engine line-up is largely shared with the Megane, but Renault offers the Scenic with the brand's first ever mild hybrid system – more on that later.
What's under the bonnet?
You can have the Scenic with a choice of small-capacity turbocharged petrol engines, 1.5-litre or 1.6-litre diesels. Our car was fitted with perhaps the most interesting of the bunch, though – the 1.5-litre diesel mated to Renault's first ever hybrid system.
Named Hybrid Assist, it adds a 13bhp electric motor to the diesel engine, combined with a 48-volt battery under the rear seats. It improves torque and heightens the sensation of engine braking thanks to its capabilities as a generator – but the real win comes in fuel economy. Renault claims an amazing 80.7mpg and while we saw nowhere near that, close to 60mpg should be possible on a run.
It's also a fairly quiet and refined engine, especially at cruising speed, while performance is more than adequate. However, we wonder if the paltry 108bhp would struggle with a full load, particularly in the seven-seat Grand Scenic.
What's it like to drive?
You wouldn't expect a practical MPV to be the last word in driver involvement – and true to form, the Scenic is remarkably mediocre. The handling is inert, the steering lifeless and even 'Sport' mode doesn't encourage swift progress. The problem is, other MPVs have a cushioned ride to back this up – but Renault's decision to offer the Scenic exclusively on 20-inch wheels means that the car fidgets over rough roads and crashes into potholes.
While it's fine on the motorway, around town the Scenic is less comfortable than many much more engaging family cars – including Renault's own Kadjar.
How does it look?
The biggest change over the last generation of Scenic is a serious style upgrade. Renault's entire line-up looks good right now, and even a supposedly boxy MPV fits right in.
The front end features a vast and eye-catching Renault badge, while the side cladding makes the car seem smaller than it really is. It's remarkably sleek, too, and even the bigger Grand Scenic isn't too bad.
The Renault badge is improving in image, too – a slew of awards for dealer service, plus a good-looking and dynamically capable model lineup means you're unlikely to be ridiculed for driving the Scenic, even if you park it next to your friend's SUVs.
What's it like inside?
Inside, the Scenic is virtually identical to the Megane, and shares its pros and cons. While we like the overall layout – everything is close to hand, especially the high-mounted gearlever, it's not perfect.
The infotainment system is slow to respond, while the digital dials are ugly and hard to read. More irritating is the sheer amount of seemingly pointless features, such as the movable centre console. It allows you to choose between cupholders and rear legroom, but quite frankly, we'd like both. Other MPVs, such as the Volkswagen Touran, offer a far more solid and practical interior.
Storage isn't the best, either. Door bins are only average, while the glovebox is taken up largely by the fuse box. While there's an enormous storage compartment in the centre console, it's far too deep to be usable – somewhat of a bottomless pit.
At least the Scenic is roomy, with a class-leading boot and space for four adults. Plus, there's just about room for three child seats side-by-side on the rear bench.
What's the spec like?
Our test car was loaded with equipment including LCD dials and a heads-up display, but there were some notable omissions. Heated front seats would have been useful, as would electric operation for the driver's seat. The rear seats can be electrically moved, though – a press of a button sees them retract in a second.
The central infotainment screen is feature-loaded, but it's so convoluted and unresponsive that it could be dangerous to use on the move. It also contains most of the climate controls, which we're not fans of – a couple of dials would have been neater and far easier to use when underway.
For the scores of buyers who simply want a practical, efficient and good-looking family car, the Scenic has a lot going for it. But we think there are better alternatives at a similar price. Renault's design-led decisions have put form over function in a variety of places, especially the interior, and the Scenic suffers for it. We'd rather have Renault's own Kadjar crossover, or a similar MPV alternative such as the Citroen C4 Picasso.
Model as tested: Renault Scenic 1.6 dCi Hybrid Assist Dynamique S
Engine: 1.5-litre diesel with electric motor
Torque (Nm): 260Nm
Max speed (mph): 114mph
Emissions (g/km): 94g/km