Renault 'crosses' line with new Scenic as it blends people carrier with SUV: it's due late November
Bordeaux: Focus on MPVs
How things have changed in 20 years. Back in 1996 the first Renault Scenic was a French revolution. A small MPV (people-carrier) designed to cater specifically for families and with such logic it had us all asking why someone hadn't thought of it before.
Now the revolution has been turned on its head and the MPV is trying to morph into a sort of SUV/Crossover - without losing what made it relevant in the first place. Tough job.
I've been driving the much-changed Scenic (five-seater) and Grand Scenic (seven-seater) and simply had to put the question: why would you buy a Scenic that looks more like a crossover when you can buy a Kadjar that already is a crossover for much the same money?
Before getting into that let me give you some details on the new cars. They get to Ireland in late November. No price or spec as yet.
Current Scenic prices start from €23,790, the Grand from €28,190. (By the way the Kadjar costs from €25,190 - kinda halfway between the two).
This is the fourth generation (22,000 sold in Ireland since 1996) and is part of a "product offensive" Renault say will give them the youngest line-up in Europe.
As we know, sales of MPVs have been falling, but - Renault claim - they have picked up with an additional 100,000 sold in Europe last year. So more people must be buying the likes of the Citroen C4 Picasso, Ford C-MAX, Mercedes B-Class, BMW Gran Tourer, Golf SV, Peugeot 2008 etc.
And they have done so, I reckon, without shifting to SUV appearances. For now the Scenics and Peugeots 2008/3008 are the ones to have majored on that.
Renault say they just had to make the MPV look more like an SUV due to demand for crossovers. As one executive said: "We had the choice of giving it a good dose of sex appeal or go make it a crossover." So there is a higher floor, a more sharply angled roof, big 20in wheels (standard, nothing larger or smaller), more rugged looks and incisively drawn flanks.
I think the five-seater isn't a million miles off the Kadjar crossover stablemate, but the seven-seater is much more MPV. Not alone that, but I preferred it as a driving entity and as a proposition for a family in occasional need of a third row of seats.
There has been talk of Renault ceasing to make diesels but, whatever the long-term plan, there is no doubt about the fuel's immediate future. The big sellers in Ireland will be the 1.5dCi 110bhp and 130bhp diesels (we drove a 160bhp version in the Grand Scenic; impressive but unlikely to be in much demand). There will also be a 1.2 petrol (115bhp). There's a choice of a 6spd manual or new 7spd EDC automatic.
And there will also be a Hybrid Assist version, basically an electric boost to the engine. It will be in the Scenic by February and the Grand by April. I didn't notice that much of an improvement.
The basic car is 2cm wider and 4cm longer, but is the same height while the Grand Scenic is longer too.
The rear track is up 34mm with the front wider by 29mm, and there's a longer wheelbase.
The important thing was to create space in the cabin. There are underfloor slots, a sliding central console (excellent and three litres more space), four USB points etc. I didn't think there was much room in the back of the five-seater (the seats are higher than the front row). On that basis I'd go for the Grand. It had loads of room.
The driving position was excellent, visibility was good and the seats really comfortable. The boot holds 572 litres in the five-seater and 596 in the seven-seater with the third row folded.
I prefer having the instrument panel straight in front of me and, fair dues, it is now. That's a big plus.
The interactive R-LINK two-screen display is in the middle of the dash. It seemed to work quite well - controlling everything from the air con to the seats folding flat.
But here's a thing. They won't have Apple Carplay with it until the new year. They say: "From January 2017, R-LINK 2 will be able to link to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functions."
They are taking orders from November but they won't be able to retro-fit. So you've got to decide, I think, if you want it or not because it will probably determine when you take delivery of the new car next year.
And so to the key question. . . why would you buy a Scenic over a Kadjar? The blunt answer is it's really down to what you want. It is a matter, I think, of whether you'd like that bit more flexibility. Me? I'd prefer the Kadjar to the five-seater, but I liked the seven-seater a lot. It's the sort of choice I can see becoming more widespread. So maybe in 20 years we'll look back and say how 2016 was the year people carriers 'crossed' the line.