Since being made available in Australia in 1997, the multi-purpose Renault Scenic has proven extremely popular, despite the fact that the so-named ‘mini-MPV’ market has generally failed to capture the public’s interest. Indeed, the first-generation Scenic I sold over 2 million units before the Scenic II was introduced in 2007.
The Renault Scenic I is mechanically identical to the Renault Megane, not only sharing a chassis with its smaller cousin, but also the same 1.4L, 1.6L ‘Energy,’ 1.8L ‘F-Type’ petrol, and 1.9L diesel engines. The Scenic I has a rounded, chubby appearance not unlike that of a wombat.
The Renault Scenic underwent changes in 1999, with a minor restyling of its front end and the introduction of new 16-valve engines, together with redesigned rear lights.
The second-generation Scenic II was released in 2003, adding a list of attractive features including a keyless immobiliser and an automatic parking brake on the higher-end trim levels. The Scenic III released in 2009 and continues to be produced, having been awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
When first introduced, the Scenic’s 1.4L EJ7 model engine produced 55kW at 6000rpm and had a torque of 107Nm at 4000rpm and a top speed of 160km/h.
Speed and acceleration improved significantly in 1999 with the introduction of new 16-valve engines. The 1.4 16V K4J replaced the outmoded EJ7, with an increase in power to 70kW, a torque of 127Nm at 3750rpm and a top speed of 173km/h.
Of the later models, the Scene II five-door Dynamique has an automatic 4-speed gearbox producing an acceleration of 0-100km/h in 10.6 seconds and a top speed of 190km/h. The Dynamique is not amazingly economical in terms of fuel economy, using 9L/100km. The most economical of the Scenics available in Australia is the Phase II Expression model, which uses 7L/100km and predictably has the lowest CO2 emissions at 145g/km.
In terms of the ride and handling, the Scenic has suppleness that is common in older French vehicles and very impressive handling, taking corners with ease, creating a pleasant sporty feel. The Scenic does not take these corners too wide like many front-wheel drive vehicles have been known to do.
Suspension on all models, and especially on the top-of-the-line Dynamique, has a pleasant springiness to it that enables the Scenic to even glide over speed bumps with equal aplomb.
The Scenic RX4, produced from 2000 until 2003, is a four-wheel drive option that includes a viscous, central differential and a completely redesigned rear suspension that occupies the space where the spare wheel would otherwise sit, necessitating the wheel to be mounted on the rear exterior of the vehicle. The result of the newly engineered suspension added to a larger wheelbase was better ground clearance.
In the past, Renault’s cars have suffered from well-known reliability issues, especially with regard to electrical malfunctions and glitches, but things have improved on later models.
Higher-end versions of the Scenic II offer technological advances such as the Renault Card keyless immobiliser, an automatic parking brake, as well as automatic headlights, windscreen wipers, a ‘child-minder’ mirror, and electric windows in the front and back.
The Scenic III models made from 2009 onwards include a CD player and tuner, air-conditioning, electric power front and rear windows, an electronic parking brake, and extra interior lighting as standard on the low-end Expression models.
The top-spec Dynamique kit features TomTom satnav, alloy wheels, automatic lights and wipers, cruise control, an electric handbrake, and tinted glass for added privacy.
Perhaps the best of all the features in Scenic models is the adjustable seats which slide back and forward independently, which means that one has easy reach to the row of seats behind for access to children if need be. The seats are extremely comfortable and supportive, and they are complete with anti-whiplash headrests.
Safety features are also a major plus point of the Renault Scenic. Having achieved a 5-star safety rating from ANCAP, it is not difficult to see why. Indeed, the Scenic is equipped with an anti-lock braking system, electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability program, and emergency brake assist. In addition, the front and rear curtain airbags and three-point seatbelts complete a sterling array of safety features.
Competition comes in the form of the VW Golf MPV, Toyota Camry, and Ford Falcon. At the top of the pile, the VW Golf is certainly more economical than the Scenic and has stop-start technology as standard, yet the Renault Scenic’s long list of standard features, charm, and pure driveability are perhaps worth the extra few dollars in fuel.