Think multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) are just functional, staid boxes on wheels? The Renault Scenic may change your mind
Can practical ever be stylish? In the world of fashion that doesn’t seem so. You don’t have to make sacrifices in convenience and comfort to wear cargo pants with many pockets, or a pair of sandals, but you probably wouldn’t wear them for a first date.
The same goes for cars. Most non-enthusiasts think of cargo-lugging station wagons as seriously unstylish; the typically tall and box-like multi purpose vehicle even more so. Which is probably why their popularity has waned in recent years – the number of MPV offerings on sale has nearly halved compared to a decade ago.
Conversely, sports utility vehicles seem not to be similarly afflicted. They’re usually slightly less versatile than MPVs but are generally perceived to be a lot more desirable, not least because they don’t resemble a box on wheels.
Despite the proliferation of SUVs however, Renault still sees a future in the MPV; unsurprising, considering the French company basically invented the genre when it launched the Espace in 1984.
Despite the proliferation of SUVs Renault still sees a future in the MPV; unsurprising, considering the French company basically invented the genre when it launched the Espace in 1984.
Not everybody required the seven or eight seats of a full-size MPV though, so in 1996 Renault pulled the same trick by launching the Megane Scenic, thus creating the mini-MPV –all the storage solutions and flexibility of a people carrier but in a smaller footprint.
The new Scenic we have here is the fourth generation of this line, and is a dedicated five-seater, but a seven-seater Grand Scenic is also available if you absolutely need the extra seats.
Whichever size you opt for, one thing is undeniable. As far as family cars go, this one’s almost scenic in its beauty (hur hur). Renault has taken a “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach to the Scenic’s styling, incorporating some SUV touches such as a raised ride height and scratch-resistant lower body cladding.
Add to that a well-proportioned body, shapely lights and sloping windows that make the roof look lower than it actually is and you end up with one of the most attractive-looking MPVs ever, especially in this metallic Honey Yellow.
The cabin can’t quite match up to the exterior’s flamboyance, but it’s still smart, minimalist and thoughtfully laid out, and livened up with colourful ambient lighting. The 8.7-inch portrait touchscreen looks vibrant and sharp, and is intuitive to operate thanks to hotkeys next to the screen and smartphone-like pinch and drag capabilities.
It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto too, although these functions haven’t been adapted for portrait orientation, and have noticeably crummier graphics than the rest of the infotainment.
Pleasing aesthetics may be nice to have in an MPV, but what’s non-negotiable is versatility. French family cars typically excel here, and the Scenic is no different. There are 14 storage spaces (including underfloor compartments) around the cabin, the rear seats fold flat at the touch of a button, and there are USB ports in the back. The main highlight though is a cavernous console between the front seats that can slide to reveal a space big enough for a large handbag.
But where the interior is excellent at storing cargo, it’s surprisingly disappointing when it comes to humans. A stadium-style seating arrangement – with the rear seats higher than the fronts – means little ones can have a nice view forward, but adults will find headroom slightly lacking. And while fold-down picnic tables are a practical touch for families, they impinge too much on kneeroom.
Out on the road, the driving experience is best described as adequate, just like the vast majority of cars of this ilk. The engine, a 1.5-litre turbodiesel, is actually well-suited to this application, with typically stout torque making for breezy progress, but the same can’t be said of the ride comfort, which is a bit too harsh for a car with no sporting pretensions.
That’s probably down to the massive 20-inch rims, which surprisingly are standard-fit across all variants and markets. Oh, and beware of potholes too – we shudder to think of the expense of sourcing and replacing one of the 195/55 tyres in a jiffy.
If the Scenic’s looks please the heart, then its costs (apart from the tyres) will certainly please the wallet. Not only does the diesel drivetrain mean a possible 1000km between fuel stops, but a starting price of $109,999 (with COE) undercuts most rivals as well. The equipment list is well rounded too, with cruise control, one-touch folding seats, a reverse camera and all-round parking sensors, and all the aforementioned storage solutions.
Come up with $8,000 more and you can have the Privilege model as tested here, which upgrades the infotainment display from 7.0 to 8.7-inches, and also adds a panoramic glass roof, head up display, auto-park assist, and blind spot monitoring.
It’s a shame that so many people these days are clamouring for an SUV, because the ethos of an MPV means it’ll always be more versatile.
Perhaps if more MPVs had had a similar amount of pizzazz in its aesthetics, the segment would be more popular today. In any case, and despite its dynamic shortcomings, the Scenic proves rather emphatically that practical can very much be stylish.
Renault Scenic 1.5T Privilege
|Engine||1,461cc, inline 4 diesel|
|Power||110hp at 4000rpm|
|Torque||260Nm at 1750rpm|
|Gearbox||7-speed dual clutch|
|Price||$117,999 with COE|