Way back in the 1980s, Renault began the trend for people carriers with the Espace; 25 years on, their MPVs remain among the most popular in a now crowded market.
This is the Grand Scenic. A size down from the Espace and Grand Espace, it still comes with seven seats although the rearmost ones are not recommended for adults of above average height.
The Grand Scenic range starts at a little under £18,000 for the entry level Expression model with a 110bhp 1.6 litre petrol engine. With their lower torque, petrol engines are not ideal for people carriers, which are frequently heavily laden with spouses, children, dogs, suitcases and all manner of other oddments. The petrol unit only manages 36.7mpg, but spend £1,500 more on the cheapest diesel model (the 1.5 litre, 110bhp 1.5 dCi) and you’ll boost that figure to a much happier 57.6mpg.
I drove the top-of-the-range Dynamique TomTom dCi 130 (it’s a mouthful I know) which costs £22,200, or £24,950 with the BOSE sound system pack, the Leather Pack (which includes heated front seats and electric driver’s seat) and the Convenience Pack, which adds parking sensors, sliding centre storage unit and adaptable headrests for front and second row seats.
Even without the added equipment the Dynamique is well specced, with auto headlights and wipers, a hands-free keycard to open the car, automatic parking brake, sat nav and air conditioning.
Under the bonnet is Renault’s new 1.6 litre diesel unit. With 130hp, it’s not the most powerful engine in the world but 320Nm of torque means it’ll shift handily enough from low revs even when fully laden.
It’s also very economical indeed. Aided by stop/start, it’ll average 64.2mpg on the combined cycle. Drivers who do most of their miles on dual carriageways or A roads can expect to nudge 70mpg, and even around town it should manage 55mpg. Ten years ago such frugality would have been exceptional in a small diesel hatchback: that a seven-seat people carrier could be so economical would have seemed inconceivable.
As is the case in the best MPVs, the rear seats slide forward and back, allowing owners to tailor their Grand Scenic for increased passenger comfort or maximum load space in the boot.
With the rearmost two seats folded flat into the floor of the boot the Grand Scenic seats five in comfort with 583 litres of boot space. With the rearmost seats in use, that space diminishes to 208 litres about as much as a Ford Ka. Fold all the seats down and you’re presented with a very large 1,863 litre load bay.
On an hour’s drive on the roads surrounding Stirling the Grand Scenic acquitted itself very well indeed. A consummate cruiser, it has a supple, absorbent ride and good sound deadening means it’s quiet enough to hold a conversation without raising your voice. All Grand Scenics come with six speeds, which aids economy and makes motorway journeys a more comfortable affair.
Although it’s not likely to be chucked around bends, the Grand Scenic handles rather well indeed for its size, with nimble steering and not too much body roll.
Renault are facelifting the Scenic and Grand Scenic for 2012. On sale from February with deliveries starting in March, the latest models will include LED daytime running lights, hill start assist, and a new Visia spec level that features lane departure warning and automatic low/high beam headlight switching.
The model Renault brought to Scotland and I’m testing here is not the facelifted model demo models won’t be ready until next year so those after the latest version would do well to wait until then. Canny buyers might also want to wait and negotiate a cheeky discount off this outgoing model, which I found perfectly to my satisfaction.
Price: £22,200. 0-62mph: 11.1 seconds. Top speed: 121mph. Fuel economy: 64.2mpg, 115g/km.