RENAULT scored a direct hit with the Scenic. When it appeared in 1996 buyers couldn’t get enough of a compact MPV concept. It came as no surprise, then, that a panel of judges voted it European Car of the Year in 1997.

Since then the Scenic has remained Europe’s most popular people carrier, despite plenty of competition from other companies keen for a piece of the action.

The latest Scenic is the third generation car to carry the name.

Renault’s objective was simple: to set new standards for comfort, ease of use and cabin space.

In order to do that it has stretched the Scenic’s dimensions in every direction – the latest model is longer and wider allowing for extra cabin space and better luggage capacity.

It’s also more carefully built from higher quality materials and has more storage compartments, nooks and crannies than ever before.

Unsurprisingly, the looks have gone under the knife. New Scenic uses styling cues from the smart new Megane Coupé – such as the three-part front grille assembly – to give it a purposeful look.

There’s no disguising the high roofline – which is essential for a serious MPV – but the high beltline and the taut lines give the Megane a classy, contemporary appeal that’s likely to prove popular.

Inside Renault has gone to town on the cabin.

The first thing that strikes you is the unusual instrument panel.

Old-style clocks have been banished and replaced by a colour TFT screen which uses high definition computer generated graphics to reproduce an analogue rev counter flanked by a large speed readout. It looks flash but, more importantly, it’s easy to see at a glance.

The large colour panel also has real estate for the fuel computer, fuel gauge and coolant temperature – but a clock is a glaring omission. You need the ‘infotainment’ screen activated to see what time it is.

A handy message flashes up when the engine starts to remind you how many months or miles it will be before the Scenic needs a service.

In our case, the test car could have lasted another 20 months before it needed to see the inside of a service bay – a testament to Renault’s claims that this will be the cheapest Scenic yet to run.

The handbrake is all-electric. It locks on the rear wheels automatically when the engine stops and disengages when you move away. If you need to engage it manually, there’s a small switch near the gearstick.

A lot of thought has gone into the Scenic’s cabin.

The centre console moves forward and aft, the drinks holder in the front can be repositioned, there’s a 12 volt outlet for handy accessories like a DVD under the second row of seats and, as you’d expect, the front passenger seat (and the rear bench) has a ‘secret’ storage box underneath.

The front seatback also folds forward if you need to make use of every last bit of luggagecarrying capacity.

The fascia is enlivened with silver slivers on the fresh air outlets and below these are the controls for the CD/radio and the temperature. Strangely, the audio controls are split – the main buttons are on the fascia but there’s a second set of ancilliaries below them and a third, which controls the sat nav, behind the gear lever.

This is confusing and takes some getting used to. The sound, though, is excellent although the test car did come with the Arkamys 3-D surround upgrade. This is a key part of the optional ‘Navigation Pack’ which also includes a 6-CD changer, Bluetooth pairing for a mobile phone, DVD sat nav with 3D mapping and parking sensors.

Renault has turned to the experts at TomTom for its satellite navigation. Anyone familiar with the current TomTom interface will have no problem getting to grips with the Renault system. I was pleasantly surprised to see TomTom’s safety camera warnings had been carried over – an unusual addition on a manufacturer-fit sat nav.

The heating and ventilation is good: rear seat passengers appreciated the fresh air vents built into the door pillars and the pull-up sun blinds.

Some cars have magazine pockets on the front seat backs.

The Scenic has a big pocket for maps etc and a couple of smaller ones for an MP3 player or change, as well as folding plastic picnic trays.

Renault’s 1.4 petrol engine is a surprise. The company claims it offers the power of a 1.8, the torque of a 2.0-litre and the economy of a 1.6. In day-to-day use it is quiet and smooth. It’s flexible too, running down to walking pace in third and picking up without complaint around town or humming away in sixth with less than 3,000rpm on the clock at 70mph.

Fuel consumption on test was 32.8mpg – some way short of the oficial combined figure, but still not bad for a petrolpowered MPV.

Twisting B-roads hold no fears for the new Scenic. In fact, the ride is very good – soft over poor surfaces but tightening up nicely if you attack a series of bends aggressively.

Only the slightly artificial feel to the power steering spoils an otherwise excellent report card.

The latest Renault Scenic faces its toughest test to date, particularly from the Citroen Picasso and the VW Touran.

Has Renault done enough?

The new Scenic is spacious, nice to drive and feels more like a standard family hatch than its predecessors. It’s also well made from quality materials and should prove commendably light on the wallet.

The 1.4 petrol can’t quite match the 1.5 diesel on running costs (or tax duty) and the TDi could be the better bet if you do lots of mileage.


Price: £20,940 (as tested)
Engine: 1,394cc
Max power: 130bhp
Max torque: 190 Nm
Top speed: 118mph
0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
Fuel consumption on test: 32.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 168g/km
Road tax: £175
Equipment: Deadlocks, front/ rear curtain airbags, lateral airbags, engine immobiliser, digital central display system with fuel computer, keyless entry/exit, under seat storage trays, 16-inch alloys, footwell lighting, rear reading lights, child minder mirror.