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Car reviews - Renault - Scenic - 2.0 Dynamique

Our Opinion

We like
Value for money, manual gearbox performance, handling, versatility, styling, depth of engineering
Room for improvement
Dash rattles, not much else

Renault logo2 Feb 2007

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

RENAULT says it’s an innovator and on the evidence available that fact is true.

Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t VW’s Golf that introduced the modern hatchback concept (it merely popularised it) but the state-owned French firm, with its revolutionary R16 of 1965.

Bigger than most modern hatches, it pioneered the basic silhouette and seating arrangement we take for granted today. It featured front-wheel drive too, along with a sporty high-performance version that also happens to be the first ‘hot’ hatch.

That car, a kind of ‘proto GTI’, surfaced as the 16TS here in 1968.

And for the class we know as the ‘light car’ or ‘supermini’ segment there’s the 1972 R5 to thank.

Other Renault-firsts include the Espace, a non-commercial vehicle-derived people mover that revolutionised the European family car back in 1984, and ‘PLIP’ that today we know (and can’t live without) as ‘keyless entry’. The Renault Fuego had it first in ’81.

And then there’s the Scenic.

A derivation of the really quite bland front-wheel drive Megane range from 1995 that we never saw here (wobbly Cabriolet excepted), it served as a ‘lifestyle’ alternative to the more conventional wagon.

Its taller roof, versatile five-place seating arrangement and loads of oddments spaces did for European new car buyers what the likes of the light-SUV Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester have to Australians… by becoming a viable alternative to medium and large family cars.

Since then Scenic clones have proliferated… count them: VW Touran and Golf Plus, Ford C-Max, Holden/Opel Zafira, Citroen Picasso, Nissan Tino, Mazda Premacy/5, Toyota Corolla Verso, Hyundai La Vita, Daewoo Tacuma, and even Chrysler’s PT Cruiser.

Unfortunately for Renault Australia, we’ve been immune to the delights of this so-called ‘mini-MPV’ market, and most players have given-up selling such wares here.

Happily, however, the French are being very persistent and, over two million first generation cars later, Renault has released the Scenic II in Australia.

And in every department it’s a worthwhile step forward.

Stylistically it eschews the old car’s wombat-like monobox design for a far-chunkier and aggressive look that seems stronger and higher quality.

About the only carryover is the drivetrain.

Motivation comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that pumps out 98kW of power at 5500rpm and 191Nm of torque at 3750rpm.

Maybe it’s because of the high-centre console siting or perhaps it’s just the commanding driving position, but the effect in the Scenic is one of speed and control.

While not exactly the quietest or most refined motors around, it has plenty of low-rev pulling power on its side. That’s partly due to the variable-valve-timing device. While not recommended, crawling along in fourth gear is easy thanks to excellent engine tractability.

GoAuto’s fuel consumption average showed a fairly mediocre 9.2L/100km, but then the Scenic was often driven with the spirit its sprightly nature spurs on.

A big chunk of that is also a result of the Nissan-sourced six-speed manual gearbox.

Light and sweet – and with a shift cleverly located high up on the console – the NDO transmission seems particularly well suited to the 2.0-litre engine’s power characteristics.

The same is also true for the electric power steering, which isn’t the last word for feel or feedback but does make manoeuvring the Renault easy. It enables a reasonable 10.7-metre turning circle.

The thing is, the Scenic happens to be a natural handler. It takes corners on with a sporty attitude, without running the turn too wide as some top-heavy front-wheel drive cars do.

In fact the Scenic is light on its feet and yet manages to also feel stable and secure for safe, dependable roadholding.

So the fact that the Renault’s ride has a loping suppleness that’s long thought dead in French cars (if the latest batch of Peugeots and Citroens are to be considered) comes as a delightful surprise.

On the top-line Dynamique test car’s 205/60 R16 Dunlop Sport 300Fs the Scenic glided over speed humps with a soft springiness that soon had us flying over them.

It appears that Renault has hit the right handling/ride compromise here – more so than in the Megane hatchback that has spawned it.

Yet it’s inside that the Scenic really seizes the day.

Far and away the best bit is the high and commanding driving position that combines with a low dash and deep window line for superb all-round vision. In today’s new car world this is a rare and precious commodity.

The big glass area allows light to flood into a smartly styled, spacious and forward-looking interior filled with storage places big and small, including in the doors and floor.

Cabin materials are smartly finished and nice to behold too, with none of the nasty plastics the company flirted with in earlier iterations.

The dash is also well designed in a symmetrical and futuristic fashion, as well as practical and completely easy to use.

And then there are the seats – surely one of the best Scenic features.

Besides the fact that all five individual buckets are comfortable, supportive, a cinch to adjust, have anti-whiplash headrests and – driver’s pew apart – have in-built ISOFIX seat harness anchorage points, the second row fold flat and completely remove to reveal a 1.45m load area.

Plus all bar the driver’s seat fold forward to facilitate dash-to-tailgate loading ability.

Base model-aside, all chairs are on rails so they slide to-and-fro independently. This means the middle centre can be moved within arms-reach of the front seats, for all you parents out there. The sliding centre bin, which is also on rails, also slides as far forward as the dashboard.

Other highlights include a thorough info display across the wide digitised instrumentation cluster, a nifty cabin mirror for keeping an eye on the kids, two sizeable drawers underneath the front seats, a natural-to-use steering wheel-mounted remote audio and cruise control switches, front seat-back ‘picnic’ tables and wipers with good screen coverage.

Furthermore the tailgate window opens independently of the hatch in some models for smaller-item access, while getting in and out of the cabin is enhanced thanks to wide opening doors.

In the higher-spec model tested the automatic climate control is a model of simplicity, while the electronic handbrake is perhaps the best of its type currently produced.

It comes on automatically once the car is switched off and de-activates the same way once the car is driven. The park brake also works as a handy hill-holder for ‘handbrake’ starts.

But the card-key and push-on/off ignition system a step too far, while the fob itself features small buttons. The tachometer is too small to read at a glance, the audio unit is ugly and features fiddly buttons, and there were two persistent rattles from within the dashboard.

Typical of Renault these days, equipment levels are long, even in the base $30K model: six airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake-assist, power front windows, cruise control, air-conditioning, remote audio controls, fog lights, a CD player and trip computer.

More money buys leather trim, alloy wheels, a ‘panoramic’ sunroof, an electronic park-brake, climate control and metallic paint, amongst other things.

When all is said and done (and that’s plenty since the Scenic’s so pliable), this could be the best four-cylinder family runabout available today.

And that hasn’t happened to Renault since the heady days of the R16.

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