An MPV pioneer returns, but is it competitive in a segment it helped to define?
SINGAPORE — What’s the difference between looking for a Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV) and choosing a spouse? If you marry for the sake of a nice body, you’re asking for a lot of trouble.
So, spouses and MPVs… What’s the connection?
Well, because you don’t have to make conversation with an MPV (and it doesn’t talk to you), you can feel free to chose one pretty much on the basis of its body alone. Specifically, whether or not it’s wide enough in the right places. No one chooses an MPV for the looks, anyway. Or don’t they? Renault’s new Grand Scenic might change your mind about that.
It has a pretty enough face, with the broad, confident new front-end styling that seems to work so well on the current Renault range, but it’s the body’s curvy form that really delights the eye.
The two-tone paint (with the roof in black) helps to downplay any hint of boxiness, and the car’s waistline swoops up neatly to make the tail end appear to taper. It doesn’t look like a seven-seater, which I mean as a compliment.
It does look pretty swish, admittedly.
Yup! The whole lot sits on sporty 20-inch wheels, which is apparently a class first. Mind you, because big wheels with fat tyres are ruinous to fuel consumption, the Grand Scenic has narrow, low rolling resistance rubbers instead. By themselves they lop two percent off the car’s fuel consumption, says Renault.
Nice. Tell me more.
Well, if that bit of trivia got you excited, you’ll like what follows. Renault says the Grand Scenic is the fuel consumption champ in its class, and it’s tough to argue: on paper, it’ll supposedly average just 4.0L/100km. Whatever you drive now, if it’s not hybrid or another diesel, switching to the Grand Scenic means you’ll cut your fuel expenditure by more than half.
Wait, you said “another” diesel. So this one runs on the stuff?
Correct. Its frugality is mostly down to the car’s 1.5T dCi unit, the same 110 horsepower one that powers the Renault range here, and a new seven-speed twin-clutch transmission.
Performance-wise it’s a decent engine, but in this application it gets a small bump in peak torque. Together with the new tranny, that’s enough to give the Grand Scenic a properly sprightly personality. When it’s empty, the mid-range punch from the engine makes it feel like it’s been shot in the rear by a dart when you put your foot down. Fully-loaded, there’s enough vitality here to let you keep up with traffic, no problems.
If your shoes looked like these you’d want to hide them, too. The Grand Scenic’s cabin has plenty of places for you to do it, too
Aren’t diesel engines noisy and clattery?
Some are, yes. And this is one of them. For some reason, the engine is much noisier in this car than in other Renaults, particularly the Mégane sedan. While that car is well-mannered and hushed, in this one the engine is downright boisterous and intrusive.
Sound insulation seems to have been skimped on in general, with noise from the road and suspension all creeping into the cabin when you’re on the move. You can feel it vibrate through the floor when you’re sitting at the lights, too.
So it’s unrefined?
Pretty much. The suspension feels especially firm when the cabin isn’t full of people, too, so the ride feels neither smooth nor plush.
But firm suspension means sharp handling, right?
Er, unfortunately not. There’s little feel from the steering, and less accuracy. The body rolls through bends, and the front end has a tendency to push wide pretty early on, if you try to attack a corner like it owes you money. Whatever it is, the driving experience doesn’t live up to the sleek, sporty styling.
Who buys an MPV for the handling prowess, anyway?
Precisely (although BMW’s 2 Series Gran Tourer does a pretty good job of entertaining a keen driver, it should be said). What’s more relevant here, though, is that the Grand Scenic is as easy to drive as a small hatch. The split A-pillar design makes the view out the front a commanding one, and it comes with and an army of parking sensors that ring the car. You’d have to try pretty hard to ding a Scenic’s pretty bodywork up, really.
What’s it like if you’re not the driver?
It’s pretty pleasant inside, with decently posh plastics, and a super neat layout courtesy of the enormous touchscreen system. The graphics are crisp and display smoothly, and you can customise the layout, the colour scheme, the speedo design and so on.
Up to six different profiles can be set, which is probably a bit of overkill, unless you half a dozen people are sharing the car. Overall though, it’s set up for family use.
Meaning it’s full of useful safety kit (proper seatbelts for all seven people, blind spot monitors, and six airbags) and has countless storage bins. Well, not countless, but 14. The central one is large and deep enough for a handbag (which is clever), but if you want to use its cup-holders you have to slide it back into the knees of whomever’s occupying the middle seat in Row Two (which isn’t).
Another useful feature is the ability to fold the rear seats entirely by button, which you can do with a panel in the boot, or with the touchscreen system. There are also flip-up tables behind the front seats, and four USB charging ports.
Presumably the idea is to make sure the kids have a tablet to stare at on that ghastly family holiday to Genting Highlands.
I suppose if the journey is long enough, they could always snooze…
Not so fast. How comfy the Scenic is depends entirely on where you sit. The prize seats are in front, of course, while the car’s caboose area is a bit lacking. If you’re an adult, climbing in the middle row of seats requires you to dip your head to get through the door. Climbing into the third row requires the limberness and flexibility of a teenager, and once you’re there you’ll only be comfy if you’re the size of someone in Primary School, at best.
The middle seats slide to let you adjust the space allocation, but it doesn’t help much since the main shortcoming is a lack of headroom.
You’d better hope for cool weather, too, because the air-con is too feeble to cool the back of the car properly.
Overall, the third row feels like where you threaten to put your kids if they won’t study for the PSLE. Do that and they’ll get into Raffles Institution, or possibly IMH if you don’t let them out.
But aren’t these mid-sized MPVs typically cramped in the back, anyway?
Not really. You’d be more comfy in the third row of a Citroën Grand C4 Picasso or a Volkswagen Touran. Those come with diesel power, too, so they’ll be pretty cheap to fuel up.
They’re all boxier than the new Grand Scenic, of course, which is why they’re more roomy in the back. If you’re keen on the Renault, it’s best to approach it more as a 5+2 than a seven-seater, or as an estate substitute. Otherwise, it’s a good example of how you can choose an MPV for its body, but you shouldn’t choose one for its looks.
NEED TO KNOW Renault Scenic 1.5T dCi
Engine 1,461cc, turbodiesel, in-line four
Power 110bhp at 4000rpm
Torque 260Nm at 1750rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 184km/h
0-100km/h 13.2 seconds
Fuel efficiency 4L/100km
Price $126,999 with COE