Renault Scenic

In my original Scenic report written in 1997, it predicted "Scenic is very likely to pioneer a new generation of cars, just like Espace pioneered the MPV in 1984."  

It did that. Today, 3 years after its world debut, it contributed to 48% sales of the Megane family. Production has been 3-folded from the originally planned 100,000 units per year. As a trend-setter, it monopoly the market itself created for 2 and a half years until GME (Opel), Nissan, Mazda and Fiat eventually woke up and follow. While writing this article, Citroen is close to roll out the first production Picasso, Toyota is introducing Yaris Verso, and then Ford and Volkswagen will also enter the battle field within months.  

Once again Renault demonstrated its vision and earned huge profit before others wake up. Facing tougher and tougher competition, it strikes back by facelifting the Scenic as well as launching a ground-breaking SUV based on Scenic. 

Facelifted Scenic

Firstly, let me briefly introduce the concept of Scenic. The idea is quite simple : to build a mini MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) on a D-segment platform, in this case it is Renault Megane. While retaining all engines, running gears, suspension, steering, dashboard etc. for the purpose of cost sharing, the roof is dramatically raised to maximize interior room. Furthermore, by raising the floor alongside with more vertical seats, the cabin will be less obstructed by the wheel arches, hence more usable room. The remaining work is to build in more storage and versatile seating plan. As a result, the Scenic drives more like a normal car than a van, cost just 10% in premium to normal Megane hatch while providing so much more comfort, versatility and fun for a whole family. 

The facelift retains the basic mechanical structure, hence the same interior room and 5-passenger accommodation. Truly, in terms of accommodation it lags behind the 6-seat Fiat Multipla (which is the AutoZine's choice) and the 7-seat Opel Zafira. No matter exterior of interior dimension it is the smallest of the class. However, Renault would insists that more accommodation will be fulfilled by Espace. A good reason, but how to persuade customers continue buying the Scenic without looking for others ? 

The answer is straightforward : fix the old problems, polish the strength, keeps out-pricing others.  

The biggest old problem is the range of old 2-valve engines which are not only lack of power but harsh at high speed. This is easily fixed by adopting the latest 16-valves family from Clio, Megane and Laguna, startng from the 95hp 1.4-litre, 110hp 1.6-litre to the 140hp 2.0-litre. The latter incorporates VVT and is much more powerful than any competition. It brings GTi performance to the mini MPV. 

Next to change is the face, otherwise it won't be a "facelift". I believe most people dislike the original car's grille and headlights combination. The new design is completely different. Big glassy eyes, body-colored bumper with fog lamps, new grille ... all look far smarter. It could even win sales by its good look. 

The cabin used to be its strength, with independent and detachable seats. However, changes were made to keep it leading from other competitors. Like the Espace, now all seats are attached to rails thus can be slided forward and backward according to need. In the top spec model, the rear window can be opened for convenient access to the cargo space without needing to open the rear hatchback. Besides, more storage space is built in, such as the drawer under the front seats. Finally, the split-folding rear parcel shelf can be adjusted to four levels. It can now be folded away either along the back of the rear seats or flat at the bottom of the boot. No other mini MPV is so versatile. 

Nevertheless, Renault did not re-design the interior packaging thoroughly, possibly because they want to continue sharing components with Megane. The dashboard is still built from Megane's parts bin, thus looking rather boring. Two-tone colour scheme also lack of fun. We don't need a Fiat Multipla to insult its interior design, just a Twingo from the same company is enough. Luckily, the strongest rival, Opel Zafira, has an even worse design. 

Like many other mini MPVs, Scenic does not drive as good as conventional cars, thanks to the higher center of gravity. You may also blame Renault's parts pool which also contribute to the boring manner of Clio, Megane and Laguna. The 140hp 2.0 flagship, although with remarkable straight line performance and usefully passing ability, is not intended to be flicked around corners. The body control and steering feel never recommend the driver to do so.  

Refinement and precision are not very satisfactory as well. Gear shift remains notchy, engine becomes quite noisy at the top end. However, these shorts are shared by nearly all mini MPV as cost control is so tight. Wanna more refinement ? buy a Mercedes A-class. 

The above report was last updated on 4 Sep 99. All Rights Reserved.

Scenic RX4

Renault always leads other European car makers in exploring new trend of vehicle. Espace pioneered the trend of MPV in 1984, then came the life-style monospace Twingo. Not too long it introduced the Scenic mini MPV, and within an eye blink we saw the Kangoo, which combines commercial van with passenger car. Recently, while other European car makers are spending all their efforts to chase the Scenic, Renault's product planners brainstormed again and desiged a 4x4 version of Scenic, in other words, the first ever SUV genuinely based on a sedan platform. It is also the first ever SUV in this size offering MPV-level of space and versatility.   

This 4x4 Scenic, called Scenic RX4, looks every bit a 4x4. Ride height has been increased by 60mm. Larger 16-in 215 tyres contribute to more sporty image. The front and rear bumpers become a black single-piece molding with fenders incorporated, similar to Ford Ka. The head lamps and grille, though looking fresh, are the same as the facelifted Scenic. However, the biggest changes are at the back : the hatchback is replaced by a 2-piece door. The upper one is the rear window which opens like a conventional hatchback. The lower one is a side-hinged door like most SUVs. The outer surface of the rear door carries a spare wheel while the inner side incorporates a large storage bin.   

Of course, the 4x4 must have a 4-wheel-drive drive train. Without surprise, this system, developed by Austrian 4WD expert Steyr Daimler Puch, delivers torque to the rear axle via a conventional viscous-coupling center LSD. This means normally it is nearly front-wheel-drive (just 20% torque is transferred to the rear axle) but in case of tyre slip it can send as much torque to the rear as needed. On road, road tester found it runs nearly as well as a standard Scenic, with precise and communicative steering that SUV can never provide (of course, we are not talking about BMW X5). Ride is also more compliant, thanks to a new trailing arm suspension which is mounted on a subframe, which in turn attached to the monocoque via rubber bushings. Although it rolls more than normal Scenic, it is still very well controlled for such a tall car.  

Off road, the 4x4 copes well with most rough roads, at least as well as most Japanese pseudo off-roaders. Like Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav4, it is not intended to challenge the worst ground. The 2-litre engine is not helped with special uphill gearing, so it might not feel at home in mountain like a Land Rover. Short suspension travel also limit its off-road ability. 

To cope with the extra weight and friction, the 1.4 and 1.6-litre engines are deleted, leaving the 140hp 2.0 16V (with VVT) and the torquey 105hp 1.9TDi common-rail diesel. 

Perhaps it's time to stop the CR-V, HR-V and Rav4 from dominating the field. Considering the space advantage and on-road handling and ride advantage of Scenic RX4, sales success seems guaranteed. The only question is: will it be available in North America as a Nissan ? I hope so. 

The above report was last updated on 23 Feb 2000. All Rights Reserved.


Scenic 2.0
Scenic 4x4
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, 4wd.
L / W / H / WB : 
4134 / 1720 / 1600 / 2580 mm
L / W / H / WB : 
4394 / 1785 / 1729 / 2624 mm
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT.
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT.
1998 c.c.
1998 c.c.
140 hp
140 hp
139 lbft
139 lbft
F: strut / R: torsion beam
F: strut / R: trailing arms
215/65 H16
1290 kg
1465 kg
Top speed
112 mph*
108 mph (estimated)
0-60 mph
9.2 sec*
11.0 sec (estimated)
0-100 mph
30.9 sec*
* Tested by Autocar

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