Long-term test review: Renault Grand Scenic

Final report: After eight months on our fleet, the Renault Grand Scenic proves MPVs are still relevant

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

Whether the Renault Grand Scenic has the desirability to turn the tide of demand away from SUVs is still up for debate, but it’s certainly an MPV that many people can rightly aspire to owning.

Mileage: 6,774Economy: 44.8mpg

“One day, I’m going to buy my very own MPV.” It’s not a phrase you’re likely to hear uttered by a starry-eyed youngster who’s just seen a heavily laden people carrier pull into a car park. MPVs are just not a category of car that lots of folk aspire to. People are forced into MPVs out of necessity, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Renault’s Grand Scenic is an MPV and during our test we’ve come to appreciate its simple versatility and its valiant attempts at not appearing too family focused or practical to the casual observer. Now it’s time to say goodbye – while coming to a conclusion on its strengths and weaknesses.

First up, Renault is to be commended. The company that launched the Espace back in 1984 has been a stalwart of the MPV market through the good times and, more recently, the not-so-good. It could have ploughed on regardless but instead it saw the shift family buyers were making towards SUVs and it took bold steps to keep the Scenic relevant. 

We’ve ended up with something that almost moves into the crossover class, and having seen it on an almost daily basis for months now, I genuinely like it. The Grand Scenic, with its curves and 20-inch wheels, answers one of the main criticisms of MPVs: that they look boring.

And it’s not dull to drive, either. Renault has sacrificed some ride comfort for those impressive alloys, but there’s a good level of composure when it is shown a bend or a swift direction change. For a big car, it handles neatly and isn’t unsettled by undulations. It’s the jiggling over rough surfaces that lets the side down, along with the grating manual gearbox.

The ‘Grand’ bit of the name means seven seats but, like many people buying cars with this capability, we’ve kept the rearmost ones folded most of the time. When they do rise from the boot floor, legroom is tight and only kids are going to sit comfortably on a long journey. With all the seats down, you get a 1,737-litre boot, 183 litres up on the regular Scenic.

At the risk of pushing the price too far north, upgrading from standard Scenic to the Grand Scenic (£1,840) and from manual to the EDC automatic gearbox (£1,500) will do much to boost the user-friendliness of your car.

And user-friendly it is. The seating system is very well thought out, with buttons in the boot to lower the seats and easily accessible ISOFIX points. It feels solid, too, an impression that’s enhanced elsewhere by the material quality and the part-leather seats on our Dynamique S model. They have taken a bit of a pounding from sticky-fingered infants, but look none the worse for it.

But the trays in the rear seatbacks restrict legroom for kids in forward-facing car seats. Generally storage is plentiful but the armrest cubby where the USB points are located isn’t big enough to take an average-sized smartphone with the charging cable attached.

The keyless go system is over-zealous, auto-locking the car when you’ve moved less than a metre away and just want to let the kids out of the back. Sometimes it registers the key’s presence, but won’t open the doors, or opens them but takes a few seconds to allow the engine to fire.

Still, overall, the Renault Grand Scenic is a very well-executed car that will be more practical for most families than the SUV that market trends would suggest they are probably considering. 

Renault Scenic: second report 

Our seven-seater Renault Grand Scenic is proving that big MPVs are nothing to be scared of

Mileage: 4,875Economy: 44.1mpg

Why exactly is our old friend the MPV in such a heap of trouble? A decade ago, Ford Galaxy, Vauxhall Zafira and Renault Scenic were household names that families looked to when their conventional hatchbacks and saloons started to bulge at the seams.

Today, the MPV’s focus on practicality is increasingly seen as frumpy and boring next to the crossover’s chunky charm.

The best MPVs and people carriers on sale

MPV sales are down 33 per cent since 2014, while those of SUVs have rocketed 57 per cent in the other direction. Our Renault Grand Scenic looks more and more like it’ll be one of the last of the high-ceilinged, van-like, seven-seat breed. But are those who’ve deserted the MPV for jacked-up crossovers missing out?

From a practicality point of view, there’s a lot to recommend with our roomy Renault. Five adults can sit comfortably inside, and you even get that higher seating position, which makes entry and exit a little easier. It also helps when fixing child seats. In fact, the biggest issue is the way the trays in the seatbacks eat into legroom for small children in high, forward-facing car seats.

Ironically, adults, or taller kids in booster seats, won’t want for legroom, but those trays mean a toddler might be a little cramped behind a tall driver or front passenger. At least the ISOFIX mounts are easily accessible.

The other important thing to bear in mind with the seven-seat Grand Scenic is that there’s next to no legroom in the third row. These seats are only really suitable for very small children, and probably only on shorter trips. But that’s the case with most seven-seaters today, particularly in the SUV segment.

The Scenic is at its most practical when you fold the rearmost seats down and use it as a five-seater with a huge boot. And huge it is. There’s 765 litres of space, with a flat floor that increases to 1,737 litres with everything folded flat.  

Not only can the Grand Scenic fit a family inside, it’ll do a decent job of standing up to wear and tear. We’ve found the leather and cloth trim inside our Dynamique S Nav model easy to clean and resistant to scuffs, while nothing has fallen off, either.

You get loads of storage, too, including big door pockets and a deep central bin that’s good for drinks bottles. It also houses the USB and 12V ports for phone charging. The integrated sun blinds in the rear doors are another nice touch.

Unlike in most SUVs, the thinking behind cars like this is focused entirely on family use, and the little touches do make a difference every day. Of course, the rise of the SUV can be taken as proof that the majority of car buyers will happily swap all of that for something that looks a bit more stylish. Renault has tried to counteract this with a sharper design for the Grand Scenic set off by massive 20-inch wheels. We really like it, and the more dynamic appearance is backed up by decent driving dynamics.

The ride is on the firm side, but the taut set-up maintains the Renault’s composure over undulations and tight corners, so it doesn’t bounce and roll around. It’s certainly a better steer than we’ve come to expect in the MPV sector, and the 128bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine is both willing and refined, especially when cruising on the motorway.

Alongside that jiggly ride, the clunky, grating manual gearbox is the only major problem with the driving experience. As a result, we’d certainly consider the optional EDC automatic. It suits the character of the car better, but, annoyingly, it’s only available with the 108bhp and 158bhp dCi diesel engines.

Renault Grand Scenic: update

The Renault Grand Scenic’s keyless entry is a fly in the MPV’s ointment

Mileage: 4,575Economy: 44.1mpg

Jump back in time a couple of decades and keyless entry was something liable to get you a three to five-year stretch in Parkhurst. Today, it’s a standard feature on most new cars.

But has the key’s eradication really been a positive thing? It’s fair to say our Renault Grand Scenic has been having a few key card niggles since it arrived. Recently our MPV became convinced it was being stolen and a visit from the RAC was needed to deactivate the alarm. Maybe the keyless system has actually been a backward step.

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Renault wasn’t the innovator of this technology, but was instrumental in bringing it into the mainstream, because the Mégane II was the first family hatch to benefit from keyless tech. Now, you can’t get a Grand Scenic with a key; that would be so 2001.

I never found the old key-twisting ritual a particular hardship. It even had the added bonus of making sure that you always knew where your key was. Plus, there’s a new window of opportunity for thieves to steal cars without the key in the barrel.

Keyless entry is easier to make a case for, allowing you to open the doors more easily while carrying bulky objects and leave the car without pressing the button to lock up.

The Grand Scenic’s system is hit and miss. Usually it will recognise the key on approach, but not every time, and you need to press the button on the key card to open the doors.

Then occasionally it’s over-zealous; if you close the door after strapping in one child and walk around to the other side of the car, it often activates the locks. Any movement from the child inside will set off the alarm.

Renault Grand Scenic: first report

With its SUV-inspired looks, this MPV is right at home out in the country

Mileage: 1,439Economy: 45.3mpg

What has happened to the Renault Scenic? The French firm’s big-selling family MPV brand has adopted the ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ approach to the all-encompassing SUV onslaught that is currently gripping the car market. 

All the signs suggest that buyers want the tough, big-wheeled looks and high driving positions of crossovers and SUVs, so that’s what the new Scenic gives them, albeit in a more measured way with extra sliding seats and storage options.

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Even our new seven-seat Grand Scenic is on board with the latest direction. The once innocuous school run bus looks altogether more rebellious in its latest guise and we’ve been instantly intrigued by this stylish new model. Our mid-spec Dynamique S Nav version with the dCi 130 1.6-litre diesel engine weighs in at £28,605 as standard.

You’ll have your own views on the styling, but the super-size Renault family grille and rippling flanks certainly go beyond what we’ve come to expect from the MPV market in terms of visual drama. Plus, there are the party piece 20-inch wheels, fitted as standard across the range. Our car also gets an 8.7-inch portrait touchscreen, a colour head-up display, keyless entry, rear parking camera and panoramic glass sunroof as standard. 

At this point, traditional Grand Scenic buyers who have yet to succumb to the charms of a crossover might be feeling slightly concerned. Has the MPV’s traditional practicality been sacrificed for some big wheels and a bulging equipment list? 

That’s what we aim to find out over the course of this car’s time on our fleet, but first impressions suggest the Grand Scenic has its house in order. Storage is generous inside, not least from the clever sliding centre console between the front seats, which also houses four USB charging points. 

The rear seats fold down to create a flat floor and there’s even a control panel in the boot that lets you drop them all automatically. Rear passengers benefit from tray tables on the seatbacks ahead of them, although they restrict legroom for kids sitting in forward-facing car seats, and the constant pinging of the elastic straps by your beloved children can get tiresome. 

Space is good, with adults well catered for in the middle row, but you’ll need to slide the seats forward to squeeze anyone other than a child into the two rearmost chairs. 

By the somewhat squidgy standards of most people carriers, the Renault resists body roll in corners well and stays relatively composed over gentle undulations. What it doesn’t do is absorb minor bumps all that effectively. Those 20-inch wheels don’t help and the net result is a ride that’s jiggly and occasionally crashy, although things improve on the motorway.

The Grand Scenic might be swimming against the tide in its bid to seize sales back from SUVs and crossovers, but it seems up for the fight. Smart looks, lots of tech and that practical MPV interior all suggest we’ll get on well during its time with Auto Express.

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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