It would be true to say that, up to now,

the emphasis has been on the vehicle's utility aspects because of the amazing

number of ways the seats can be arranged, and the large number of interior hideaways

for small items. Now, with the release of the RX4, a 4x4 version of the Scénic,

the concept's sporty side has been brought to the fore.

Externally, the RX4 is slightly wider than the normal model, due to the shape

of the composite wings/wheel arches that have to accommodate greater wheel travel,

as well as the wider and larger diameter wheels. In addition, the lower half of

the body is fitted with protective colour-coded composite panels, complemented

by a prominent front bumper with a built-in bull-bar. At the rear there is a large

electrically latched door, which is opened in two stages. Pressing a button on

the door opens the window so that it can be swivelled upwards, and pressing it

again unlatches the door so that it can be opened. The spare wheel is mounted

on the door and has an anti-theft locking device. The model tested, the Privilege,

also had a very neat glass-fibre spare wheel cover.

The RX4 is a "part-time" four-wheel drive, which uses a viscous

coupling in the driveline connecting the front and rear wheels. This type of lockup

is also used on the Land Rover Freelander and the Toyota RAV4, and a number of

other 4x4s, because it's totally automatic, but still mechanical, so does

not need any electronics. The unit locks up progressively when there is a significant

difference in speed between the front and rear driveshafts, which means that the

RX4 is in front-wheel drive mode on a level hard surface, but becomes a four-wheel

drive when the front wheels develop some spin. In addition, an electronic traction

control unit curbs excessive wheelspin at the front wheels.

The off-road abilities are obviously limited by the lack of a low-range transmission,

and there is no hill-descent control either. This does not necessarily detract

from the vehicle's practicality because it's not designed for serious

bundu-bashing. It's as capable as any of the so-called Class One off-roaders

that have been designed to compete with the RAV4, which started this class. Their

forte is the sort of dirt road that a normal saloon cannot tackle because it does

not have enough ground clearance. On a very rough surface, the level of insulation

from shocks experienced by the occupants of the Scénic is second only to

the Freelander, but, when one compares the interior layout, the RX4 is a clear


The front suspension, comprising MacPherson struts and lower wishbones, is the

same as on the 4x2 model, except for the spring rates and damper settings, and

the addition of a special anti-roll bar. At the rear, the previous four-bar set-up

has been replaced by a fully independent system utilising trailing arms, coil

springs and separate dampers, mounted on a galvanised sub-frame that also carries

the rear transmission components.

The front seats are height-adjustable, with a lumbar adjustment for the driver,

as well as the normal fore-and-aft and seatback movement. The steering column

is also height-adjustable, and there are heating ducts to the rear seats and pull-down

trays on the seatbacks. The three rear seats can be folded down individually,

or any one can be removed, the centre one removed and the others spaced closer

together, or two seats can be mounted further back.

European crash testing has shown that Renaults are very safe cars, so it is no

surprise that the RX4 has a total of six airbags, comprising two progressive front

airbags and two head/chest side airbags on each side. Furthermore, the front safety

belts have pre-tensioners and load limiters. The two outer rear belts have load

limiters, but the centre one does not. All five seats have head restraints.

It's interesting to compare the effect of the 4x4 conversion with the performance

of a 4x2 Scénic. The new model is 175 kg heavier and 55 mm higher, because

of the greater ground clearance. The engine is practically the same as the two-litre

engine used in the 4x2, but the gear ratios have been revised slightly, to compensate

for the one-inch bigger wheels that are fitted to the off-road version. The zero

to 100 km/h time of 12,82 seconds and top speed of 179 km/h achieved by the RX4

are significantly slower than figures achieved with the two-wheel drive version.

Top speed has been lowered by just under 20 km/h and the zero to 100 km/h time

increased by nearly three seconds.

However, these figures are respectable for a two-litre off-road vehicle, and on

the road the Scénic feels nippy and can maintain high average speeds. The

instrumentation is comprehensive and most of the controls are within easy reach.

The switches for the climate control are an exception, because they're

so low on the console that you have to lean far forward to reach them, and look

down as well, making it very difficult to change any setting while you're

driving. In contrast, the excellent radio/CD player has satellite controls on

the steering column, which are very easy to operate.

The ABS brakes haul the RX4 down from 100 km/h in an average time of 3,4 seconds,

without any sign of instability, which is about par for a good 4x4. The gearchange

is normally effortless, once you get used to the slightly wide gate, but reverse

gear was sometimes very difficult to engage. The power-assisted rack and pinion

steering felt quick on the road with very little lost motion, but displayed rather

an inordinate amount of kickback on a stony surface.

Two models of the RX4 are being imported. The Expression costs R205 000 and has

cloth upholstery, steel wheels, air-conditioning with a refrigerated console compartment,

electric headlight adjustment, a transponder engine immobiliser, 12V sockets in

the rear cabin and the boot, an open spare wheel, a coded radio/tape with six

speakers, remote-controlled central locking, tinted glass all round, a seven-function

trip computer and electric front and rear windows and mirrors.

The Privilege, which costs R225 000, has in addition to the above features leather

seats, alloy wheels, climate control, a composite spare wheel cover, a front-loading

CD player and rear window blinds.

Original article from Car