Taking the Scenic route
Renault's much improved third generation Scenic offers a versatile five-seat solution to families looking for flexible, everyday transport. A range of more efficient engines mean it stacks up better than ever on the balance sheet.
Add to that the fact that it's nicely built, affordable to buy and run, safe and decently equipped and in theory at least, you're left with plenty of good reasons to stick it high on your shopping list.
A bigger issue though for Renault to deal with is the way that the MPV market itself has fragmented over the last few years. From being a one-size-fits-all solution for modern families, the five-seat mini-MPV has seen its market position eroded from all sides. So Renault itself offers this class of vehicle with seven-seats in Grand Scenic form and can also sell you a standard Megane hatchback that uses a number of the Scenic's MPV tweaks.
At least your dealer is in a better position to answer that particular query since this MK3 Scenic model was significantly improved early in 2012. With the facelift came the usual slightly smarter look and an extra helping of hi-tech equipment, but more important, we're told, have been the changes made under the bonnet. Enough on paper at least, to make this the most efficient five-seat people carrier of its kind.
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At the wheel, the commanding driving position is complemented by a soft-touch sweeping dashboard design that shows how far Renault has come in recent times in its pursuit of perceived quality.
As with previous Scenics, the three rear seats can be slid either backwards or forwards to maximise either back seat legroom or luggage space – and of course they can be tumbled forward with a relatively simple, if rather clunky three-point manoeuvre to increase luggage space to from 437 to 1837-litres, just 226-litres less than the Grand Scenic model. To put that into context, the top figure is about 100 litres more than you'd get in a Citroen C4 Picasso. You can take the seats out completely, too, to free up yet more space.
But then, the seats-folded 1837-litre capacity is probably about as much as most families will ever need and the Scenic builds on this with a further 92-litres of oddment space.
List prices suggest that you'll be paying somewhere in the £19,500 to £21,500 bracket for most mainstream Scenic models, so it's no longer quite the really affordable family car it once was.
Equipment levels include 16in alloy wheels, auto lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights, satellite navigation, Bluetooth compatibility for your mobile phone, cruise control and Hill Start Assist to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions.
A tempting option is what Renault calls its "visio System" which includes a lane departure warning system that'll stop dozy drivers from veering out of their lanes on the highway. And headlamps that'll automatically dip themselves in the face of oncoming traffic at night.
If you're looking for the most affordable five-seat compact MPV in its class when it comes to running costs, then this is it. Here, I'm driving the most powerful variant, the 130bhp 1.6-litre dCi, a car that's easily cleaner and more frugal than its direct rivals, delivering 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and putting out just 114g/km of CO2.
But this top diesel Scenic isn't a cheap choice – which is why most buyers wanting this car with diesel power decide upon a 110bhp 1.5-litre dCi engine. Opt for it fitted, like the 1.6-litre dCi variant, with a Stop & Start system to cut the engine when you're stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights and you can expect to return 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and put out just 105g/km of CO2. Again, that's miles ahead of obvious direct rivals.
Renault's Scenic is here to remind us that there's still a place for the traditional five-seat compact mini-MPV in a modern market stuffed with other, more high profile alternatives. It's practical, spacious, well built and decently equipped, as every car of this kind must be, but in this case, each of these criteria has been ticked off with a thoroughness that reminds you just who invented this market sector in the first place.
Many might be surprised at just how thoroughly this French contender can still meet their needs. One thing's for certain. As a more versatile spin on spacious five-seat family motoring, this Scenic has a lot of life in it yet.