Spritely 7 Up

The latest Grand Scénic is one in a long line of successful Renault MPVs, sitting between the regular Scénic and the larger Espace.

Over its smaller cousin, it boasts a bigger rump, containing two extra fold-into-the-floor seats, bringing maximum occupancy to seven.  In profile, it looks a little like the front half of an Intercity train – aerodynamic nose with boxy rear for maximum internal capacity.

As per usual, I had little time to look over the vehicle before heading off.  While I prefer to ensure I understand the basic switchgear, driving away immediately provides an indication of how intuitive the controls are.  Unfortunately, the three stalks – for lights, wipers and the overly complicated stereo/phone controls – are all completely hidden behind the steering wheel.  The joystick and small colony of associated buttons for the sat-nav are also out of one’s line of vision, sited where a traditional handbrake would be (the Scénics have electronic handbrakes).  All of these are acceptable once familiar, but do take some getting used-to.

Otherwise, the dashboard is the traditional Renault aeroplane wing, under which all information is displayed digitally.  Along with the standard instruments, there is a prominent indicator policing your gear choice.  Not only does it tell you to select a higher or lower gear ratio, the symbols become brighter the further away from the optimum gear you are.  I was surprised on occasion by being told to change down when the engine was barely under load and the road was flat.

Interior space management is where this Renault excels.  The inside of the Grand Scénic is well appointed (this demo car has part leather) and unlike the driver’s controls, changing the seating is straightforward.  The most common operation – swapping between the last row of seats and boot space - is achieved by pulling obvious red straps to lift the separate seats out of the boot floor.  The middle row of seats have almost limousine levels of leg room.

Of specific note is the new 1.6 litre stop-start diesel engine which is an absolute delight.  It is both smooth and with 130hp has ample power; until recently, two litres of displacement would have been needed to provide this level of performance.  While I didn’t have the opportunity to load the Grand Scenic fully (not having a family of seven) it felt very agile, pulling strongly up to motorway speeds.  The engine sits at a comfortable 2,000 rpm at 70 mph.  A CO2 figure of 115g/km, achieved with the stop-start technology, relatively small engine and clever electronics is also excellent.

Where the Grand Scenic did surprise me was with its capable handling.  I had anticipated the top-heavy shape would require a little more consideration through the corners but it is very shore-footed indeed.  In fact, the turn-in is quite remarkable, demonstrating virtually no under-steer.  Steering is also precise and provides good feedback.  The driving experience is only marred by the poor clutch action, with varying pedal springing over its rather long travel making urban crawling a bit of a drag.

Finally, there’s the stop-start action.  While it’s effective and unobtrusive, it doesn’t actually leave the engine shut down for long.  Sometimes it comes back to life in less than 20 seconds, usually while traffic lights are still showing red.  I couldn’t find any correlation between whether it needed the engine running to support the other energy-hungry services such as lights and air-conditioning; the shut-down time is seemingly random.

So, a couple of minor irritations in what is otherwise a hugely capable, well-designed vehicle.

Renault Grand Scénic I-Music* dCi 130 Stop & Start, from £21,200.

*Includes air conditioning, alloy wheels, CD sound system and MP3 connection, integrated Bluetooth hands free kit and front fog lights.

Power: 130PS @ 4,000 rpm, emissions: 115 CO2 g/km, torque: 320Nm @ 1,750 rpm, 0-62 mph: 11.1s

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