Renault Scenic’s still one of the best

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Steve Sharpe gets behind the wheel of the Renault that pioneered the people carrier class,

THE Renault Scenic was the pioneer of the MPV market back in 1996.

The new sector it helped to create, the people career market, attracted customers wanting more space and practicality in a family motor, and pretty soon all the major manufacturers ran for their drawing boards to bring out their own versions of the MPV.

The Scenic was voted European car of the year in 1997 and continued to be one of the leaders in the market.

A new version was launched in 2003 and a third generation appeared in 2009 but by this time other MPVs had made up considerable ground on the old favourite – and some were edging ahead.

Earlier this year Renault undertook its first revision of the third generation model, most notably revising the powertrain line-up to include the clean and highly efficient 1.5 dCi Stop & Start and, from the spring, the brand new 1.2 TCe 115 petrol unit.

The range was rationalised to a single, highly-specified grade – Dynamique TomTom – with new features such as Hill Start Assist, LED running lights and rear parking sensors made part of the standard package.

On the outside there has been a complete reworking of the front end, with a new bonnet, wings, bumper and headlight arrangement that expresses a stronger, sportier look.

Details include black, high-gloss elements around the grille and the use of chrome trims around the new LED running lights. At the rear, the light clusters also have a new look. It adds up to a nice-looking MPV, albeit still with that slightly awkward appearance that all in the segment seem to share.

The redesigned blunt front end has some nice touches, including the swept back headlight clusters and grille.

Inside, the cabin is smart and functional. Plastics are cushioned and soft to the touch generally, although lower down towards the floor they’re not quite as classy.

It’s an unusual-looking layout, with a sweeping contour from one side to the other, and a hooded set of dials, like many MPV, in the centre of the dashboard.

The digital speed readout is clear and there’s a smart, colourful graphic readout of the rev counter.

The sat nav is controlled by a toggle arrangement surrounded by buttons situated on top of the central storage area between the front seats.

I’m sure once you become familiar with it it’s simple to navigate but in the short term it’s not particularly user-friendly. Some of it seems pretty complicated to fathom.

A family car needs space for the family and the Scenic has plenty of it. There is more than enough headroom for all five occupants and plenty of legroom too, with a flat rear floor making the piggy-in-the-middle slot more comfortable.

The boot’s a good size and a handy shape and the rest of the space is very flexible. The rear row of seats slide backwards and forwards, giving you the choice of extra space in the boot or extra legroom in the rear.

Access to the boot area is easy thanks to a low lip, making hoisting heavy objects easier, and the back seats can be removed entirely for transporting even bigger items.

The Scenic also provides up to 86 litres of stowage space around the cabin, with a range of nice practical touches including underfloor compartments, illuminated glovebox, a sliding centre console and various pockets dotted here and there.

Out on the road the MPV handles itself well.

Engines range from 1.2 to 1.6 in petrol and diesel versions. Diesels are always going to be popular with the kind of buyer in this market, and what the 1.5 diesel version I drove lacked in power it made up for in enthusiasm and with the right use of gears it proved an eager drive.

Understandably acceleration is best when revs are already high and when motorway speeds are reached the Scenic can cruise happily for hours.

Noise is well dampened – the engine is pretty quiet and wind noise and road noise is at acceptable levels. The seats are big and comfortable, making long journeys mostly free of aches.

As a day-to-day runaround the Scenic is more than happy on the school and shops run.

Visibility is generally good, with a lot of light coming through the front and side windows, but the rear pillars are wide and visibility when reversing or checking behind is restricted.

Although the Scenic, like all MPVs, is a tall car the suspension is well set up and the car handles well out on the open road.

There’s surprisingly little lean around corners for a car of its size and there’s a good amount of grip on the tarmac.

Take a corner slightly too fast and obviously the Scenic will feel the pressure but the car is surprisingly agile and, once you realise its limitations, is a pleasurable drive.

The Scenic is good value for money, with the range starting at just over £18,000 rising to just over £23,000 for the top-of-the-range 1.6 diesel.

As a further incentive there’s a four-year warranty that includes free servicing and roadside assistance.

And with a simple trim structure there’s plenty of high-tech equipment available that the kids will be able to marvel at.

The Scenic comes in just one trim level – Dynamique TomTom – and it comes with a list of standard goodies as long as your arm, including alloys, Bluetooth, cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, push-button handbrake, parking sensors and TomTom satellite navigation.

The family should also be safe as every model has intelligent front airbags (to cope with different kinds of impacts) plus front side airbags, and curtain airbags that run the length of the car. Stability control is standard, too.

A stop-start system is available on diesel versions which lowers fuel consumption and emissions.

My diesel MPV had official mpg figures of nearly 70mpg and low CO2 emissions mean that road tax should be low too – all important figures for a family.

The Scenic is a practical family car with loads of space, impressive economy figures and bags of safety measures in place to keep your family safe and sound.

Good value and smart-looking inside and out, it helped to pioneer the MPV class and is still up there at the top with the best.

Renault Scenic

Engine: 1.5-litre diesel

Transmission: six-speed manual

0-60: 12.5 seconds

Top speed: 112mph

Economy: 68.9mpg

Price: £20,225