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Renault Scenic review: A utility champion remade as something less utilitarian

The Renault Scenic
The Renault Scenic is back, and it’s electric - DPPI

Renault stole a march with the first Scenic. You’d have thought that the rest of the car industry would have taken a bit more notice when, in 1991, the French brand showed up with the Safety Concept Embodied in a New Innovative Car (Scenic – get it?), but it didn’t. And when the production version, designed by a team under Anne Asensio, broke cover in 1996, she might as well have walked around with a pair of dressmaker’s scissors cutting the belts of all the rivals, such was their state of trousers down.

With the Scenic, Renault invented the family multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) class and lived high on the hog of its unopposed success.

It’s worth reminding ourselves just how popular the Scenic was. At the start of production, Renault had anticipated demand from its Douai plant near Lille would be about 450 a day. At its peak, the plant was churning out 2,500 a day.

Eventually, the competition lumbered into view: Vauxhall’s Zafira, Fiat’s weirdly styled but loveable Multipla, Ford’s fine riding C-Max, Citroen’s cheap and cheerful Xsara Picasso, and Nissan’s Almera Tino.

Did Renault care? Did it heck. By 2003 and the launch of the second generation, Renault chairman Louis Schweitzer told The Telegraph: “the whole of our mid-sized plans start and end with Scenic.”

Then the rot set in. A love affair with electronics and gadgets, such as the digital electroluminescence dashboard, the keyless immobiliser and automatic parking brakes, couldn’t be sated by Renault’s basically poor quality. While it had taken rivals at least two years to catch up, when they did, they did it better.

But 20 years is a long time in the motor industry and the public was growing tired of driving basically the same car. By 2016 Top Gear was listing the Scenic as one of the most boring cars, and sales started to fall as the public started a long and abiding love affair with the SUV.

MPVs died, and while there’s still a rump of sales, family SUVs took over and now represent over half of total European new car sales. In 2016, Renault produced the Mk4 Scenic. It was quite a nice car, though more of a crossover than an MPV, but it didn’t sell and so in 2022 Renault threw in the towel.

The return of the Scenic

But now, it’s back, and it’s electric. The new all-electric Renault Scenic E-Tech goes on sale in early 2024, complete with a collective brain wash on the British public, asserting that the Scenic is not and was never an MPV. Instead the E-Tech is – wait for it – ‘a family solution’ vehicle. Hmm...

Unkind folk might be tempted to observe that this new non-MPV Scenic is nothing more than a stretched Megane, with a front style that wouldn’t look out of place in the portfolio of Gilles Vidal when he was chef de felt tips at Peugeot (he’s now Renault’s director of design).

It’s 4,407mm long, 1,861mm wide without the mirrors, 1,571mm high and runs on a 2,784mm wheelbase.

The new all-electric Renault Scenic E-Tech goes on sale in early 2024
The new all-electric Renault Scenic E-Tech goes on sale in early 2024 - DPPI

There’s a choice of two battery outputs, both lithium-ion nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC), with pouch cells: the 87kWh pack gets a 388-mile WLTP combined range and 217bhp electric motor, while the 60kWh model manages a 267-mile range and 167bhp. The motor is a self-exciting AC unit with no magnets, which drives the front wheels via a step-down gear.

At the time of writing, it seems likely the UK will be taking only the higher-powered model in the higher-trim spec, with prices likely to start from £40,000.

Suspension is all independent via MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link rear, with passive damping and steel springs. The small battery model weighs 1,730kg, the larger battery model weighs 1,850kg and the latter drive train will tow up to 1.1 tonnes.

Acceleration from 0-62mph is, respectively, 8.6secs and 7.9sec. No top speed was quoted.

Unlike with the Megane E-Tech when it first came to the UK, all Scenic models will have a heat pump, which helps to deliver more efficient running in cold weather. Charging speeds are up to 150kW DC, which should give a 20 to 80 per cent charge in under half an hour. An 11kW AC charger on board means that those with access to a three-phase charger can take advantage of it, but the majority of UK households will have to live with a standard 7.4kW wall box that will deliver a 10 to 100 per cent charge in under 12 hours.

Although the rear seats are roomy, there’s no space to push your feet under the front seats
Although the rear seats are roomy, there’s no space to push your feet under the front seats - DPPI

In the cabin

The cabin has that well-worked and comfortable feel of the current range of Renault cars. Though recycled mostly from PET plastic bottles, the fabric on the fascia and doors is tweedy and pleasant to the touch. The faux leather steering wheel cover feels clammy, though.

In the top-spec models there’s a big sunroof that can be made opaque in sections at the touch of a button, and (in any Scenic model) you benefit from seats that are comfortable, supportive and mounted quite low in the cabin. It gives a more natural driving position than most EVs, where you can feel as though you are driving from a toddler’s highchair.

The drawback here is that there’s no room to push your feet under those low front seats when you’re in the back. And while the rear seats are commodious, tall folk will have to act as though in a yoga class, with their knees bent upwards.

The battery pack in the Scenic is double-stacked under the rear seats, which frees up lots of space in the boot; 545 litres with the rear seats up, 1,670 litres to the roof with them folded. Unfortunately, it’s an uneven space and heavily stepped, so sliding a fridge in the back will be hard.

Renault UK plans to offer an optional adjustable boot floor
Renault UK plans to offer an optional adjustable boot floor - DPPI

Perhaps that’s the reason that Renault UK plans to offer an optional adjustable boot floor, which would even things up a bit. Under the boot floor is a big trunk for charging cables and the pump and sealant in case of a flat – there’s no spare wheel, nor any additional cable storage in the nose of the car, as is fairly common in some other EVs.

The Renault’s dash consists of a smallish, oblong instrument panel in front of the driver, giving basic information such as speed, state of charge and the next turn indication. There’s a clear head-up display unit on top models and in the centre is a portrait touch screen with in-built Google maps and software, plus there’s a set of permanent buttons underneath to control the heating and ventilation.

Like all Renault systems, it has its own internal logic, which takes some learning, but the major functions are all available on the steering wheel and, as ever, the sound controls have their own separate steering column stalk. These steering-wheel controls are getting pretty complicated, though; Renault has even provided a lane-centring adjustment for roads where motorcycles are filtering. As a motorcyclist I commend the idea, but I wonder if the system is just too complicated for most motorists to use.

A portrait touch screen has in-built Google maps and software
A portrait touch screen has in-built Google maps and software - DPPI

On the road

Pull away and your initial impressions are of brisk acceleration, smooth and eerily quiet, though that only serves to emphasise the excessive wind buffeting round the tyre road and the top of the windscreen. Renault says these are early cars, but we’ve been caught like that before, and found the production cars are just as bad.

The throttle action is progressive, which is part of a raft of measures including a wider track, grippier Michelin Eco 20-inch tyres and a longer wheelbase, which have been deployed to assuage some of the twitchiness and grabby steering that affects the Megane. The brakes are smooth and powerful, and the steering wheel has paddles behind so you can alter the amount of regeneration braking in four stages.

Initially the ride feels sharp, particularly at the rear where there’s an unsettled, choppy feeling on patched-up country roads. Strangely, however, the bigger and sharper the bump, the better the Scenic rides it and the wheels roll over traffic-control bumps and potholes with a surprising amount of suppleness.

At speed on the French autoroutes, there’s a stability and body control that makes long distances feel pretty effortless, though long motorway journeys can drastically reduce the battery range.

Renault Scenic
English: 'There’s a stability and body control that makes long distances feel pretty effortless' - DPPI

On a fine, mainly dry and warm autumn day driving a mixed route, the 217bhp, 85kWh battery model delivered 2.9 to 3.1m/kWh. This is some way from the quoted 3.7m/kWh and indicates that in brisk driving, the range, far from being the 388 miles as claimed, is nearer to 261 miles, which isn’t desperately good.

Of course, you can alter the car’s setup (though not its suspension) with the ‘Multisense’ button, but whatever you have selected between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Personal, the steering has a strong self-centring action and an inert, almost-robotic feel, especially as you turn from the straight ahead. The Sport setting just makes the drivetrain feel a bit nervy and the steering weight increases, but not the feel available at the wheel.

Verdict

So, it’s not an MPV, though it’s rather more baffling to determine just what the new Scenic is. We’ve struggled to find rivals, but just because the Scenic stands in a class of its own doesn’t necessarily mean that you want one. For all its likeable qualities, the Scenic doesn’t have particularly practical or flexible space in the cabin and, on this evidence at least, its efficiency isn’t desperately good, either.

While most EVs are expensive, the Scenic’s starter price of £40,000 makes it a rather costly way of getting zero tail-pipe emissions, whatever sort of car it is.


The facts

On test: Renault Scenic Iconic 220PS Iconic

Body style: Family crossover

On sale: Orders open now, first deliveries in early 2024

How much? From £40,000

How fast? Top speed n/a; 0-62mph in 7.9sec

Maximum power/torque: 217bhp; n/a

How economical? 3.7m/kWh (WLTP combined), on test 3.0m/kWh

Electric powertrain: 87kWh gross lithium-ion NMC battery; single 217bhp electric motor, front-wheel drive

Electric range: 388 miles (WLTP combined), 261 miles on test

Charge times: 20-80 per cent charge on a 150kW DC charger under 25 minutes, 10-100 per cent on a 7.4kW wall box in 11hrs 46mins

CO2 emissions: 0g/km (tailpipe), 28.8g/km (well-to-wheels)

VED: £0

Warranty: 3yrs/100,000 miles for the vehicle, 8yrs and 100,000 for the battery


The rivals

Peugeot e-3008

From TBC

We’ll be reviewing the e-3008 in the coming weeks
We’ll be reviewing the e-3008 in the coming weeks - Tibo - The Good Click

We are driving this new EV car soon and yes, it’s an SUV, but it offers similar sort of luggage space along with a range of up to 435 miles though the standard 73kW battery model has a 326-mile range. The coupé style body is part of Peugeot’s assault on the C-segment EV market which is the one that’s growing in Europe right now. We’ll let you know what it’s like in the coming weeks.

Tesla Model 3

From £39,000

Some people love Elon Musk’s creation; others find it insupportable
Some people love Elon Musk’s creation; others find it insupportable

Just under 40 grand gets you into the rear drive, 318-mile range saloon, with a top speed of 125mph and 0-60mph in 5.8sec, while the Tesla Model Y family SUV is also within the same price arena as the Scenic. Some people love Elon Musk’s creation; others find it insupportable. There are a lot of extras on the options list, including a £6,800 full self-drive capability, which even the website says is not full self-driving.