THERE isn’t much that you can teach Renault about designing versatile people movers. Depending on whom you listen to, it was Renault who built – with help from Matra – Europe’s very first full-size MPV, the Espace. Then, during the early -'90s this French manufacturer again revolutionised family travel with the introduction of the first generation Scénic, the first compact MPV. However, it was Opel who, as the saying goes, took the ball and ran with it.

The German maker’s Zafira was the world’s first “small” seven-seater MPV, and brought unseen levels of versatility to its class. Rival manufacturers, including Renault, took many years to catch up.

Renault still offers a five-seat Scénic, but to cater to the needs of those who occasionally want two extra seats, the Scénic’s wheelbase has been stretched by 50 mm to create the Grand Scénic. The longer wheelbase, and more substantial rear overhang (by 180 mm) make the newcomer easy to spot, but it retains the instantly recognisable Scénic look.

The extra length is used to create more space for those who would occupy the two additional seats in the rear. As is the case with all its sevenseat rivals, these extra chairs are really only suitable for children or small adults. Access to the back row isn’t that easy, even if the middle row is moved as far forward as possible. But this problem is common to all seven-seat MPVs of this size. When the rear seats are not in use, they can be folded away into the floor.

A useful by-product of the extra body length is that boot space is improved significantly when the rearmost seats are folded away. Where the Scénic’s boot measures 360 dm3, the Grand’s is 400 dm3. Total utility space, with the middle row of seats also folded down, is 1 368 dm3.

The rest of the cabin is very much standard Scénic fare, which is to say it is both very cleverly designed and packed with features. The seats can fold and slide in a number of ways, making the loading of large items of any shape and size an easier exercise. The front passenger seat can be folded down to form a flat, hardsurfaced table. The same can be done with the middle row of seats. Also, the three middle chairs can be individually slid forward or backward to achieve the best possible legroom for all occupants.

The number of little storage spaces is truly mind-boggling. There are, for example, lidded bins in all the footwells, a 3 dm3 compartment beneath the left rear quarter window, and two 8 dm3 spaces behind the rear wheelarches. The placement of the gearlever on the facia has also freed up space for an (optional) enormous box with a sliding cover between the front seats. And we haven’t even mentioned the recessed boxes in the armrests or the folddown airliner style tables attached to the front seatbacks…

The facia, with its centrally mounted digital instrumentation strip, is identical to the Scénic’s. We are still not convinced that central instrumentation is easier to read, and it is certainly not so in the case of the Grand Scénic, because the most vital information is on the far left side of the strip, and requires the driver to purposefully look for what he/she needs.

You sit high in the Grand Scénic, with a commanding view over the big soft-touch facia. The large glass area and lack of hangdown section contribute to the feeling of vast space.

Privilege specification is very comprehensive: electric foldable mirrors, automatic climate control, cruise control, remote audio controls behind the steering wheel, leather upholstery, opening tailgate window, electric windows, power steering and a radio/CD front loader.

Power comes from Renault’s tried and trusted 1,9-litre, turbocharged and intercooled common-rail diesel engine, dubbed the F9Q. This engine has a variable nozzle turbocharger with vanes that have their angles continuously adjusted electronically depending on engine speed and load. The result is that the appropriate amount of air for any driving circumstance reaches the engine, and Renault claims a very linear power delivery.

The engine produces 88 kW at 4 000 r/min and 300 N.m of torque at 2 000. A six-speed manual gearbox transmits the power to the front wheels.

There has been no change in suspension design – the Grand Scénic rides on front MacPherson struts and a torsion beam rear axle. The electrically assisted rack and pinion steering also remains, but Renault says it has been recalibrated to allow for the Grand Scénic’s different centre of gravity and weight distribution.

Our test unit weighed in at just over 110 kg heavier than the Scénic 1,9 dCi Expression we tested in May last year, and coupled with the extra drag from the bigger body, the result was slightly worse fuel economy and performance. The fuel index figure of 8,73 litres/100 km is beaten by the VW Touran, but still good enough to give a range of nearly 700 km on a 60-litre tank.

However, the Renault has a clear advantage over its German rival when it comes to performance. The 0-100 km/ h time of 12,49 seconds and 188 km/h top speed both easily better the Touran but, more importantly, the Renault’s more flexible engine also gives generally better overtaking acceleration.

Easy going and relaxed are the best words that best describe the driving experience. The diesel engine is one of the more subdued in this class, and smoothes out nicely as the revs rise. The sixspeed gearbox’s shifts can be a little rubbery, but then again the engine is so flexible that you won’t often use it. Ride quality is excellent on smooth roads, and the Grand Scénic has no problems absorbing big bumps and imperfections, but little road irregularities do filter through to the cabin more than you may like. For what it’s worth, handling and grip are both up scratch, but sporty dynamics shouldn’t be high priority for the potential buyer. The only real criticism we have is the steering, which feels artificial and inconsistent in weighting.

With a five star EuroNCAP crash rating, the Grand Scénic is certainly a very safe vehicle. It is equipped with Renault’s third-generation System for Restraint and Protection (SRP), which combines adaptive two-stage airbags with adaptive safety belts, dual load limiters and twin pretensioners for the front seats. There are also two chest airbags built into the front seats, and two curtain airbags to protect the heads of both front and rear passengers. Scenic II also offers a three-point attachment system for Isofix child seats, either forward- or backward facing, in the front passenger and middle seats. The brakes are ABS-equipped and aided by BAS (emergency brake assist). We achieved solid emergency braking results – an average stopping time of 2,89 seconds was recorded in ten 100 km/h-to-rest stops.

Test summary

Renault has done it again. With the addition of the Grand Scénic it now covers the entire compact MPV market. Although the functioning and use of the two extra seats are no better than with its rivals, the rest of the Grand Scénic package is better in most aspects. It is a very relaxing and comfortable vehicle to drive. The larger body also means it is ultimately more versatile, especially if the wide number of possible seating arrangements are taken into consideration. And in diesel form it has very few direct rivals.

Original article from Car