TEST DRIVE: Steve Sharpe drives Renault’s Scenic XMOD

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It was nearly 20 years ago, way back in 1996, that Renault’s Scenic made its debut, a pioneer of the compact MPV concept.

It was right there at the start of the people carrier era, when we all decided that cars which specialised in transporting people deserved their own sector.

It hit the spot for those who wanted a load more interior space combined with all the versatility of a family car.

The Scenic picked up the Car of the Year award the year after it was introduced and helped change the way people viewed the family motor.

Since that time the Scenic has consistently ranked as Europe’s most popular people carrier, and total sales have now topped the 3.3 million mark.

Renault introduced the second generation model, Scenic II, in 2003, which then offered a compact MPV in two versions with different lengths - the standard five-seat Scenic II being joined within a year by the seven-seat Grand Scenic.Various revisions have taken place since then, and the engine line-up now includes an efficient 1.5 dCi Stop & Start and the brand new 1.2 TCe 115 petrol unit.

The range has been simplified to a single grade – Dynamique TomTom – with new features such as Hill Start Assist, LED running lights and rear parking sensors as standard.

Then finally last year, both versions of Scenic received a modern facelift, bringing them in line with the recently introduced Clio and Captur models, showing off the new Renault brand identity.

Last year also saw the debut of the XMOD version, the Scenic’s dalliance into the crossover market.

The XMOD differs from the Scenic in a number of ways.

Ground clearance has been raised, there are special alloys, front and rear bumpers, sill guards and chrome-finish roof bars across the range.

The new front end has also been tweaked, to incorporate Renault’s new family look and signature LED daytime running lights.

Soft-touch materials are in abundance and the A-pillars being positioned further back has created better visibility through the front. The wheelbase is longer by 20mm compared to Scenic II, which allows second row passengers to enjoy best-in-class kneeroom.

The individual rear seats have folding seatbacks or can be fully folded, or removed altogether.

So what does all this mean in real terms?

For a start, it means the XMOD stands out from the standard Scenic.

It bears a definite likeness to Renault’s Captur, the funky looking crossover that has recently appeared.

It has some extra aluminium coloured body kit bolted on, giving the Scenic an altogether more chunky appearance.

Inside the cabin things are still very MPV. The dashboard sweeps across in front, with the media/satnav screen sharing a space with the digital speed readout and rev counter right in the centre, shielded from the sunlight by a hood.

The stereo and heating controls are placed below, just above the gearstick.

It’s all a bit of a mixed bag really. The quality is top notch, with unusual spongy materials used for the dash, and soft touch fabrics used in the upper parts of the cabin, with stitching making it look even better.

The five individual seats are extremely comfortable and supportive, with suede sections adding to the style, and can be moved independently.

However, I found the controls very difficult to get the hand of on the move.

The old fashioned radio controls are difficult to see in bright sunlight, and the heating controls underneath use small buttons indistinctly marked and positioned close together.

There’s also a rotary control positioned between the front seats which takes some working out as well.

The satnav screen itself is on the small side and is split to show the music / CD etc. All of these controls would become familiar over time but at first it’s tricky to operate.

On the whole, though, it’s a smart place to travel in, and has a load of space. The roof looms way above your head and there is more than enough legroom for all five passengers.

The boot’s a good size and the load space can be increased by hauling out the individual rear seats.

There are also 40 or so cubby holes dotted around the cabin for bits and bobs, including useful underseat trays.

Out on the road the 1.6 diesel XMOD I drove turned in a good, family-friendly, all-round performance.

It’s the first vehicle in the Renault range to feature the all-new Grip Xtend system, a traction control system which enables the driver to select a driving mode best suited to the conditions – mud, sand and fresh snow etc.

Manually activating the rotary control positioned on the centre console, the driver can choose from three types of assistance.

In Expert mode, Grip Xtend manages the braking system, while leaving the driver in full control of the engine torque.

The Road mode offers conventional traction control settings, and this mode automatically reconnects at speeds of over 40kph.

The Loose Ground mode optimises braking control and engine torque control as a function of available grip.

It’ll come in useful when the weather turns nasty, but driving on Wearside in early September gave me little opportunity to use it.

Along with the improved ground clearance, it’s a distinct nod towards a car that can handle itself, although the XMOD is still, like the Scenic, two wheel drive.

But during normal driving conditions, the XMOD acquits itself well.

The 1.6 diesel is the swiftest in the range, capable of reaching 121mph and hitting 0 to 60mph in 10.3 seconds.

In real terms it accelerates smoothly, with maximum pull in higher revs, and keeping the revs high provides a good, all-round performance.

It’s smooth when motorway cruising, with noise from the engine well isolated and only a little wind and road noise coming in until you get to high speeds. It’s easy to manoeuvre around town, too, with good visibility from the front, although the getting a view out of the rear demands a little neck stretching and the use of the rear camera.

Take the XMOD into the country and it deals with twisty lanes decently.

Tackle a sharp bend too fast and you’ll find yourself sliding sideways in your seat but only on the sharpest bends. For a tall car it’s remarkable sure-footed, gripping in and out of corners.

This new Scenic variation proves itself more than capable in all situations.

With its chunkier looks and extra capabilities in bad weather, the XMOD should prove to be a proper alternative to those looking for an MPV.

For a start, it’s priced in the same range as the standard Scenic.

It comes in one trim level but with a load of good stuff as standard, including alloys, Bluetooth , cruise control, automatic lights and wipers and TomTom satellite navigation.

The Renault’s also packed with safety gear and a four-year warranty that includes free servicing and roadside assistance for the same period is also thrown in.

But what might swing it is that the new 1.6 dCi 130 Stop & Start offers 64.2 mpg (combined cycle) and low CO2 of only 114g/km.

The XMOD doesn’t claim to be a rugged off-roader but it is an easy-driving family car with a little extra in its locker for when the conditions turn nasty.

Comfortable and roomy, with solid performance and a really smart interior, it’s a worthy addition to the Scenic range and definitely worth considering.

FAct file

Renault Scenic XMOD

Engine: 1.6litre diesel

Transmission: Six-speed manual.

0-62: 10.3 seconds.

Top Speed: 121mph.

Economy: Avg 64.2mpg

Price: £22,195.