Review and road test of the Renault Scenic (2003 - 2009)
TAKING THE SCENIC ROUTE
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Renault had a great head start when it came to launching the second generation Scenic. With a reputation as one of the originators of this rapidly evolving market niche, all eyes were on the French company when, in 2003, it replaced the existing model with an all-new car, again based on the Megane platform. With a wider range of engines, better safety provision than ever and far edgier styling, the latest Scenic is a formidable contender. If you can track down a low mileage used example, it will make a very informed purchase.
Scenic five-door mini-MPV - July 2003 to date: (1.4 16v, 1.6 VVT, 2.0 VVT, 2.0T, 1.5 dCi80, 1,5dCi86, 1.5 dCi100, 1.5dCi106, 1.9dCi120, 1.9dCi130, 1.9 dCi140, 2.0dCi150 [Dynamique, Privilege, Authentique, Expression, Conquest])
Few can argue that the original Renault Scenic was an inspired price of product design. Whilst it certainly wasn't the first car to offer this sort of versatility, it instantly captured the public's imagination. Renault's image as lateral thinking innovators was at its zenith following the success of the astonishing Espace and by scaling down the Espace proposition onto the existing Megane platform, Renault developed an instant class leader at relatively low cost. Rivals were caught on the hop and needed some time to adjust their way of thinking to this new family-friendly format.
With two clear years of breathing space before Vauxhall launched the Zafira and three before Citroen developed the Xsara Picasso, the original Scenic cleaned up. Ford and Volkswagen were caught uncharacteristically a-dither, especially when Vauxhall's seven seater threw them a curve ball. These markets are inherently dynamic, however, and when these two industrial powerhouses finally got their game together, Renault knew it had to respond. Luckily, its product development cycle was one step ahead and the latest Scenic II once again managed to steal a small but crucial march on its rivals.
As before, the Scenic rides on Megane running gear, offering five seats. A long wheelbase seven-seat Grand Scenic is also available but most will settle for the regular model, offering as it does a usefully larger cabin than its predecessor. The wheelbase is up 105mm and the overall length stretches 125mm. It's a hefty 127mm wider and even stands a good deal taller. Height-wise it's within a centimetre of the first generation Espace, but it's a significant degree longer and wider and the cabin is massively more space efficient. How times have changed. The all-wheel drive RX4 model based on the previous generation Scenic was sold alongside the Scenic II for some time before being retired in 2004. A 2.0-litre petrol turbo version was launched in May 2004 to spike the guns of the quicker Vauxhall Zafira models.
A major facelift befell the Scenic in mid 2006, the biggest alteration being to the styling, Renault giving the car a nip and tuck in order to keep it looking fresh. Xenon-look headlamps, LED rear lights and revised front and rear bumper assemblies give this mini-MPV a sharper, more contemporary look a million miles away from the Teletubby-soft original that took Europe by storm. The interior was revised too, with better quality trims, and a different palette of exterior colours. The 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine met its end at this stage but a 150bhp 2.0-litre dCi diesel far more in tune with the Scenic's character took its place. The Conquest model turned up in the summer of 2007 with chunky offroader-esque styling.
What You Get
The interior feels roomy enough, the clean lines and low dashboard adding to the airy feel. Legroom is especially generous in the back, especially when the rear seats have slid into their rearmost position. The central seating position in the back can be removed and the remaining two seats repositioned to allow more elbowroom but it's not quite as slick as Ford's diagonally sliding system. Aside from that minor niggle though, there's very little to fault the Scenic interior. There are storage cubbies in every conceivable nook and cranny as well as some you may need the user manual to find. Even the glovebox is cavernous. With the rear seats in position, luggage capacity has risen by 70-litres to a respectable 410 litres and loading is made simple by a glass tailgate window that opens independently.
Renault have bagged a full five star Euro-NCAP crash test result for the Scenic. Front, side and curtain airbags are fitted as standard to every variant and all berths are fitted with five-point seat belts. The range of engines continues to be a major Renault advantage, the Scenic carrying over many of the excellent powerplants from its predecessor and adding a few more to boot.
With extra passenger and luggage space, superior versatility and styling that's a good deal more toned down in comparison with its Megane sibling, the Scenic looks set to re-establish Renault as one of the mini-MPV heavy hitters again. The design flair of the interior and the well judged exterior detailing lend the Scenic an enormous air of self-confidence. It now feels the quality product the old car always had pretensions of being. Small wonder Renault seem so smug.
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 and air conditioning work properly.
(Based on a 2004 Scenic 2.0 VVT) A new clutch will be about £150 and a full exhaust system, excluding the catalyst, should be around £315. Brake pads are about £50 a pair, an alternator close to £155, a starter motor will be just under £145 and a headlight is around £135. A replacement radiator is about £175.
On the Road
Petrol buyers get the choice of a 98bhp 1.4-litre entry-level unit, a 115bhp 1.6-litre, a 136bhp 2.0-litre or a 165bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre. Most buyers choose between three diesel engines - either 80bhp 1.5-litre, a 100bhp 1.5-litre or the pick of the entire bunch, the 120bhp 1.9-litre dCi. The 1.9 and 2.0-litre models are fitted with six-speed manual gearboxes as standard while the smaller capacity models make do with a quintet of cogs. Only the 2.0-litre petrol engines are offered with the option of an automatic gearbox.
Of the petrol engines, the 1.6-litre is a sweeter prospect than the 2.0-litre models, but - if funds permit - the 2.0T is really worth a look. Its six-speed manual shift is definitely one of the better gearshifts on any mini-MPV, smooth, positive and in no way agricultural in the length of the lever throw. It's hard to imagine even the most committed V6 enthusiast being too disappointed with a car like this. All right, so it doesn't have the same silky-smooth power delivery but the performance is nigh on identical, with rest to sixty taking around 8.6s on the way to a top speed of 128mph. In times past, a car of this kind would have looked great on paper but, thanks to a 'turbo lag' delay between planting your right foot and the power actually arriving, might have proved less than satisfactory out on the road. No longer.
The diesels are an interesting bunch. A weight increase of around 132kg over its predecessor takes a little of the edge from performance, but the 1.9dCi will accelerate to 60mph in 11.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 117mph. A combined fuel economy figure of nearly 49mpg and emissions of just 154g/km make it an affordable long-term proposition.
Ride quality is possibly the best in class with the Scenic making short work of rutted A-roads and poorly surfaced motorways. Even on the optional seventeen-inch wheels, bump and thump through the suspension remains very muted. There is a trade off when it comes to handling, but Renault have probably judged the ride/handling balance wisely. Those few drivers who feel they need a vaguely sporting mini-MPV will find the Focus C-MAX and the Honda Stream more to their liking. That said, the driving position is now much more car like.
Renault have proved time and again that managing compromise is the key requirement when building a successful MPV. The Scenic II is a case in point, offering acceptable trade offs between comfort and handling, price and quality and exterior versus interior size. We'd recommend tracking down a 1.9-litre diesel version but whatever you choose, it's tough to go wrong with a well looked after Scenic.
Renault Scenic (2003 - 2009) review by ANDY ENRIGHT