Renault wins Car of the Year 2024 – but should you buy a French vehicle?

The battery-electric Renault Scenic has won this year's Car of the Year award - DPPI

The battery-electric Renault Scenic has won this year’s Car of the Year award from the BMW 5-series and Peugeot 3008. The French car scored 329 points against the BMW’s 308 which, considering the total of 1,450 points available from the 58 judges from across Europe, is pretty close; nothing else scored over 200 points.

The award was announced on the first day of the relaunched Geneva motor show, where the ceremony was the opening event of press day.

So, is the Scenic a worthy winner? Good question. This was not a vintage year by any means. The longlist had been whittled down to 28 cars, leaving out 16 strong contenders which were either not available in time or on sale in sufficient countries to be entitled to be entered.

andrew english
Writer Andrew English was a judge for the Car of the Year awards - Jeff Gilbert

Therefore the seven-strong shortlist was in fact a quarter of the entry, which is never a good start. Usually, you can reckon that if a car has reached the shortlist, it is a good one, whether it wins or not. This year that wasn’t so clear cut.

Heavy on battery models, the shortlist included the BYD Seal, the first Chinese car to make the final seven. It was clear, however, that national voting trends aside, there were really only two cars in it. The BMW and the Scenic.

The BMW (pictured here) was a close contender for the Scenic
The BMW (pictured here) was a close contender for the Scenic - Fabian Kirchbauer

Why you want a Renault

We haven’t seen all the voting justifications yet, but as a Coty judge I voted for the Scenic first because it offers the space and accommodation of cars in a class above, a decent range thanks to Renault’s advanced battery technology and a classy, comfortable interior with intuitive touchscreen controls (and very useful buttons to switch off some of the most intrusive advanced drivers aids with one touch – something the rest of the industry should take note of).

It was a better car, with better driving dynamics and ride quality, than the Toyota C-HR, or the Peugeot 3008. Also, for Europe, its five-door hatchback shape is more useful than the BYD Seal or the enormous Kia EV9. In addition, the Scenic’s facia displays are more logical and a lot less distracting than Volvo’s EX30, which condemned the little Chinese-built Swede in the minds of the judges.

It looks OK-ish (though I would debate the need for 20-inch wheels) and for many people it’s more attainable than the second-placed BMW.

Peugeot 3008
English says the Renault has better driving dynamics and ride quality than the Peugeot 3008, pictured here

Why you don’t want a Scenic

For a start, Renault isn’t selling this car as a replacement for Anne Asensio’s 1996 world-conquering design for the first Scenic, the consummate compact MPV or people carrier. That car was a smaller version of the trend-setting Espace and its innovative and flexible interior garnered a huge number of sales, even if most buyers never actually removed the rear seats.

By contrast, the latest iteration of the Scenic is very ordinary fare in terms of flexibility. You can fold the rear seats but that’s it. The boot is relatively small and the tall loading lip will be a daunting prospect to older dogs and those with heavy shopping. It was only at the last moment that Renault UK conceded it would include a false boot floor in the specification to assuage some of the issues.

There’s also the price. At more than £40,000, this 4.4-metre-long family crossover is only coming to the UK in the top-level trim with the largest battery size. The 87kWh lithium-ion unit gives a 388-mile WLTP range and 217bhp performance, but if what you want is cheap battery-electric wheels then the 60kWh model, which gives a 267-mile range and 167bhp, is more than good enough.

scenic renault
English: 'At more than £40,000, this 4.4-metre-long family crossover is only coming to the UK in the top-level trim with the largest battery size'

Is electric a default choice yet?

Despite the smokescreens of hype coming out of the Government and its quangos, is the UK really ready for a battery car to be a family’s only source of independent travel, even if they could afford it? Do you have off-street charging available and do you travel to parts of the country less well served by fast chargers?

So, is the Scenic too much, too early? Certainly, as the Draconian emissions requirements (and costs) of Europe’s Euro7 emissions regulations have been scaled back, there are lots of car makers thinking they can still make money on combustion-engined cars for the next few years. Efforts and deadlines for a battery-electric future have been dialled back and by turn that makes rival petrol/electric hybrid cars (even from Renault) look like good value – and without the range anxiety of the Scenic or any other battery car.

Then there’s Renault’s reliability, which was partly responsible for the demise of the original Scenic. True, Renaults have made great strides in recent years and mechanically there’s a lot less to go wrong with a battery-electric car, but the French firm still cannot match the reliability of the Japanese and South Korean brands.

Would you have one in your drive?

For my money, I would stick with petrol for the moment, perhaps a hybrid. I don’t have a home charger and am continually on the move, often against deadlines which aren’t best suited for a battery-electric life in which you have to build in lengthy charging stops.

And if my heart ruled my head, I would take the second-placed BMW in 520i mild hybrid form. It’s at least another £10,000 over the price of a UK-spec Scenic, but somehow that jingle of the German saloon keys in my pocket would always seem a more satisfying feeling.

Gallery: Every European Car of the Year (COTY) winner since 1964