Review and road test of the Renault Scenic (1999 - 2003)
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Renault's contribution to the face of modern family motoring should be underestimated. Not only did they popularise the 'people carrier' when it launched the Espace in the mid eighties, it also did much to create the mini-MPV genre with its Scenic. Purists may sniff, noting that the Chrysler Voyager and Toyota Picnic were already performing these functions, but it was Renault who truly brought the concepts to the masses.
Late shape Scenic models may have lost the number one sales slot but they still have a great deal to offer the used buyer looking for a quality item that won't cost the earth too run.
Scenic five-door mini-MPV - June 1999-2003: (1.4 16v [16v, 16v Sport] / 1.6 16v [RT, Alize, Sport, Sport Alize, RXE, Monaco] / 2.0 16v [RT, Alize, Sport, Sport Alize, RXE, Monaco] / 1.9dT [RT] / 1.9dTi [RT, Alize, Sport, Sport Alize, RXE, Monaco], 1.9dCi [RT, Alize, Sport, Sport Alize, RXE, Monaco])
Although the Scenic designation first saw the light of day way back in May 1997, it was tagged onto the rump of the Megane range, being dubbed the Megane Scenic. It wasn't until this model achieved genuine sales momentum that Renault realised quite what a winner they had on their hands with the Scenic sub-brand. Hugely popular with families who either didn't want or couldn't afford a full-sized MPV but for whom a traditional hatch or saloon didn't quite cut it, the Scenic became a model in its own right in June 1999. Visual improvements were mainly to distance the Scenic from its Megane stablemates and establish it as a model in its own right. Hence the more rounded nose with large vertical lamp clusters and, at the rear, a smoother look intended to make the car look wider.
All the seats now slid around on rails and there was a redesigned glovebox plus useful trays under both front seats. Air-conditioned models got a large chilled storage box to keep drinks and chocolate cool while plusher models had an opening tailgate window so you could load smaller items without having to struggle with the rear door.
There were new engines, too; apart from the 1.9 dTi direct injection turbodiesel, all the powerplants were fresh 16 valve petrol units. Buyers chose from a 95bhp 1.4-litre, a 110bhp 1.6-litre and a 140bhp 2.0-litre. ABS and rear disc brakes became standard along with side airbags and ISOFIX seat mountings for the latest baby seats. There was also a wider choice of trim levels including Alize, Sport and Sport Alize.
February 2000 saw the introduction of the 1.9dCi common rail turbo diesel in place of the older dTi unit. In June 2000, the 2.0-litre petrol engine and 1.9dCi diesel were offered in a new variant, the RX-4, intended as a 4x4 off roader for people who don't like off roaders but live an 'active' lifestyle. In 2001, a series of revisions to the Scenic range saw it attempt to regain its number one sales position. Trim levels now ran from Authentique, Expression and Dynamique to Privilege and Privilege Monaco. Plus packs were also available for all models bar the Authentique and Privilege Monaco.
What You Get
Trim levels in the standard range run from Authentique, Expression and Dynamique to Privilege and Privilege Monaco. Plus packs are also available for all models bar the Authentique and Privilege Monaco. Authentique opens things with a choice of 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines and the 80bhp 1.9dTi turbo diesel. Opt for the Expression and you get the choice of an automatic transmission for the 1.6, a 1.8-litre 120bhp petrol plus the 105bhp 1.9 dCi common rail diesel.
The Dynamique features a 110bhp 1.6 16v engine, the 1.8-litre unit and a 140bhp 2.0-litre 16v plus the dCi common rail diesel. It also features 16-inchalloy wheels, fog lamps, electric rear windows and leather covered steering wheel and gearknob. Privilege adopts a luxury approach, utilising the same engines as the Dynamique only with a better alarm, roof bars, rear sunblinds and a rear centre armrest. The Privilege Monaco, in Renault tradition, adds a soft leather interior at prices which start at £15,770.
What the Scenic illustrates so effectively is that it's not about the number of seats you have; it's what you can do with them and the cabin space around that's important. So what can you do in a Scenic that you can't do in an ordinary family hatchback - or a Zafira come to that? Well, there are three individual rear seats instead of the usual bench that condemns the middle passenger to an uncomfortable perch. And (unlike the Zafira) you can take all of them out (nor do you have to be a weight lifter in order to do it).
If you don't fancy that, then you can slide them around so, for example, the middle seat sits ahead of the other two. While you're at it, you might like to fold the thing in half to create a picnic table. Or take it out altogether and replace it with Renault's (optional) tailor-made storage box-cum-fridge. All three of the rear seats have three-point seatbelts (again, an advantage over the Zafira) and you can recline them right back into the load compartment should you so wish. Indeed, if luxury is important and you're only travelling four up, then you can remove the centre rear seat and re-position the other two so that there's more space for the occupants to move about.
Other clever touches? Well, the double-layered floor means that there are natty floor storage compartments both underneath and in front of the rear seat passengers. You also get picnic tables built into front seat backs and bottle holders front and rear, along with four deep storage door bins.
What to Look For
With so many trim levels and engines to choose from, make sure you know exactly what you're being offered. Very little goes wrong apart from automatic transmissions which can give trouble so have an expert check. Ensure all seats (five), the rear loadspace cover and the storage bin lids are present and correct and look for the usual family interior damage. Check that all the electrics work and remember that, with all that glass, air conditioning is worth having for summer cool and winter demisting.
(Based on a 1999 Scenic 2.0 RXE) A new clutch will be about £140 and a full exhaust system, excluding the catalyst, should be around £250. Brake pads are about £40 a pair, an alternator close to £135, a starter motor will be just under £125 and a headlight is around £65. A replacement radiator is about £150.
On the Road
All the engines claim to be clean, fast and frugal - they're certainly well up to class standards. Two turbo diesels are on offer, a dTi 80 at the affordable end of the range and a punchier dCi 105 unit for those looking for more pulling power. It's this dCi unit that's the stand-out performer in the range, offering 5% more power than the lower-tech dTi unit, though it's just as economical. The dCi engine is one of the high-tech breed of so-called 'common rail' diesels. This approach sees fuel squirted directly into the cylinders from a single pipe (the 'common rail') rather than through individual lines.
This cleaner and supposedly quieter process means a more efficient use of fuel, which in turn leads to better performance and lower fuel consumption. Renault would like you to think of it as the diesel engine that performs like a petrol: certainly at speed, you'd be hard pressed to identify what was under the bonnet. Around town and at idling however, the noise is still as evident as ever.
Still, that excellent economy makes it worthwhile. You can expect to achieve over 36mpg around town, nearly 60mpg on a run and nearly 50mpg in normal mixed use. As for performance, rest to sixty now takes under twelve seconds and, more significantly the greater torque means that you can access all 105bhp from lower speeds - which means fewer gearchanges around town. As previously mentioned, the common rail approach is also a cleaner one - with CO2 emissions significantly down.
Although newer seven-seat rivals have eclipsed the Scenic in terms of ultimate utility, for most of the people most of the time, five seats represent a better alternative. The Renault Scenic is a known quantity. Buyers expect a well thought through, solidly engineered product and that's exactly what they get. If funds permit, the dCi diesel models are the ones to go for with the 2.0-litre the pick of the petrol powerplants. Whatever you choose, it's difficult to put a foot wrong. Demand is still quite high for decent used models so don't expect to make too much headway with haggling, but you shouldn't feel hard done by with a low mileage Scenic on your drive.
Renault Scenic (1999 - 2003) review by ANDY ENRIGHT