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Renault puts on Scenic drive

Trend-setter: Renault's Scenic, due here in May, was the car that pioneered the burgeoning compact people-mover segment.

Renault's Scenic, a huge seller in Europe, will pave the way for the company's return to Australia

11 Apr 2001


THE car which created a boom in small people-movers in Europe goes on sale here in May when Renault returns to Australia.

The Scenic, originally launched in 1996 as an adjunct to the Megane small-medium car range, has now well and truly established its own identity.

It has spawned competitors such as the Mazda Premacy, Daewoo Tacuma, Kia Carens and Chrysler PT Cruiser - which are already sold in Australia, and the soon-to-be seen Holden Zafira, among others.

It also boasts its own off-shoot, the Scenic RX4, which uses body cladding and a "torque-on-demand" four-wheel drive system to cash in on the burgeoning light duty off-roader market.

In fact, Renault Australia believes the RX4 will actually outsell its two-wheel-drive parent 1000 sales to 800 this year, the two five-door hatchbacks accounting for more than half the company's 3500 buyers in 2001.

Underlining that importance, when Renault Australia launches its TV advertising on May 20, it will be the Scenic and RX4 we'll see touring Victoria's Great Ocean Road (Scenic and scenery, get it?) in a locally produced commercial.

The Scenic will be available in three specification levels, starting with the entry-level $25,878 Expression, powered by a 1.6-litre 79kW/148Nm four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission.

The $27,878 Dynamic and $29,499 Privilege are powered by a 101kW/188Nm 2.0-litre engine, with a four-speed automatic transmission offered as a $2000 option.

All Scenic models come equipped with air-conditioning, remote central locking, refrigerated storage compartments, trip computer, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and dual front, side and curtain airbags.

Lap-sash seatbelts are standard all-round and headrests standard for all outboard passengers.

The Dynamic adds climate control air-conditioning, fog lamps, alloy wheels, leather steering wheel, front armrests and single in-dash CD player for the audio system. The Privilege adds leather seat trim and a rear sunshade.

The 2.0-litre only and manual transmission-only RX4 will be available in Expression and Privilege specifications.

Both models come equipped with six airbags, air-conditioning, trip computer, remote central locking, a refrigerated storage compartment and anti-lock brakes.

Privilege adds climate control air-conditioning, alloy wheels, leather steering wheel, front armrests and a single in-dash CD player for the audio system.

Even it shares the same bloated exterior teardrop shape and interior packaging as Scenic, the RX4 has had some mechanical changes made to reflect its dual-purpose nature.

The front MacPherson strut front suspension has been strengthened to withstand off-road driving, while the independent trailing arm rear suspension is a new design, replacing the Scenic's torsion bar set-up.

Ground clearance is up to an impressive 210mm, the suspension travel has been lengthened and more off-road oriented 16-inch tyres adopted.

However, the viscous couple 4WD system does not employ low-range crawler gears, instead relying on traction control on the front wheels to help it tackle obstacles.

PRICING Scenic Expression $25,878 Scenic Dynamic $27,878 Scenic Dynamic auto $29,878 Scenic Privilege $29,499 Scenic Privilege auto $31,499 Scenic RX4 Expression $31,150 Scenic RX4 Privilege $33,250 DRIVE IMPRESSIONS IT'S not so much the driving as the impressive exploitation of interior space that is outstanding about the Scenic and RX4.

Despite being just 4.17 metres in length, there's no shortage of knee or headroom for four fully-grown adults, and there's still plenty of room for their luggage in the rear.

The rear seats are perhaps a tad narrow for adults but fine for kids, and their gymnastic ability is important. They slide, flip, fold and completely come out.

And everywhere you look - under seats, in the floor, in the luggage compartment - there are storage compartments and bolt holes totalling nearly 100 litres of stowage space.

The Scenic's signature high-riding driving position and flat floor have been aped by the many small people movers which have followed it on to the market, but where some have surpassed it is in the quality of interior feel and presentation.

Despite a recent refresher, the interior plastics are hard, the presentation of the Scenic pretty flat - the RX4 is brighter around the dash - and the reach to the centre console controls for the audio system and air-conditioning low enough for the driver to have to take his eyes off the road for too long.

And what about the driving? Well, the base model 1.6 Scenic is obviously no rocketship, struggling to propel the 1250kg base model forward with any urgency with just a driver onboard.

That situation won't improve when loaded up with kids and the shopping.

The 2.0-litre engine found in the rest of the range is a better option, although the RX4's 1465kg kerb weight certainly takes the edge off performance.

Both units are a bit raucous and need to be revved right out to around 6000rpm give their best.

The Scenic is the better dynamically. While both are understandably set-up with a preference for ride over handling, the Scenic's lighter weight, shorter suspension travel and lower profile tyres do make it a more direct car to steer which sits flatter on the road.

The RX4 can list quite severely - a feeling accentuated by the driver sitting so high up.

It also feels likes its chassis set-up accentuates a natural tendency to understeer (slide the front wheels) at quite benign speeds. Off-road? We didn't get the chance to try it out unfortunately.

The steering, clutch and transmission actions are light with plenty of suburban trawling in mind, visibility is good and the seats are soft with plenty of support.

Will the Scenic capture our imagination and wallets the same way it has in Europe? Renault Australia's own projections say no, but there's no doubt it's an interesting offering and still class leading in some ways.

The RX4 seems more of an affectation. But both are keenly priced and offer just a touch of exotica for those of us with kids and loads to carry.

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