The Renault Grand Scenic looks great, offers space for seven, and is economical in real-life driving – so is it a good all-rounder, or are there any issues that let it down…?
Sales figures tell us that car buyers are moving away from people carriers and opting for SUVs instead. Renault’s answer to this is to design the new Grand Scenic people carrier with the chunky stance of an off-roader. So is the overall package as good as it looks?
The Renault Grand Scenic dCi 130 has a 1.6-litre diesel engine, a six-speed manual gearbox, and front-wheel drive. None of that is particularly newsworthy – the big news is the body that clothes the car’s innards. This new Grand Scenic looks like the result a people carrier mating with an SUV. Sitting on huge 20-inch wheels, we think it looks good.
But the Grand Scenic isn’t just about form, its raison d’être is function – this is a seven-seater, designed to offer practical transport for large families. By sliding the middle row of seats forward you can achieve acceptable legroom for the occupants of the middle and the rear rows, and there’s even some boot space left. If you want to drop any of the seats down, this can be done automatically at the touch of the buttons that are located in the boot.
The Grand Scenic also featured a large sunroof, which offers ideal viewing when driving a car full of children on expeditions through the Blackpool Illuminations or Knowsley Safari Park’s monkey enclosure.
Firstly, let’s remind ourselves that the Grand Scenic is a large and tall seven-seater MPV, so there’s no point in testing its limit on a handling track. However, although you’ll probably buy the Scenic because you’ve ended up with too many children, someone still has to drive the car, so we need to see what it’s like to live with on a daily basis.
Because any large seven-seat MPV resembles a van more closely than a car, the driving position isn’t ideal for those who like low-slung seating. But it’s fine for the school run.
Once underway the Grand Scenic is mostly quiet, although some wind and engine noise does intrude. It’s also comfortable on smooth roads such as motorways, but less so when negotiating speed bumps – there has to be some penalty for those 20-inch wheels.
However getting underway in a smooth manner can be a challenge, at least in the test car we had, when selecting second gear in the six-speed manual ‘box was a pretty crunchy affair.
We’ll come onto real-life economy in a moment, but the idea of having a 130hp 1.6-litre diesel engine in a large MPV is to achieve efficiency; the downside of this is that there’s not much performance, and acceleration at motorway speeds is a particular challenge.
The Grand Scenic’s steering is engineered for the school run, in which environment it’s fit for purpose, but it could benefit from more weight and precision when out on the open road.
When you first get in the Scenic you’ll see a switch near the gear stick with a symbol on it that appears to resemble a flower. Any guesses what this might be for? A button to fill the cabin with the aroma of wild flowers perhaps? No, it’s actually a drive mode switch. Settings include sport, comfort, eco, neutral and ‘perso’.
As with other Renaults, there appears to be limited ways in which to adjust the volume of music, until you discover the volume control which is completely hidden behind the steering wheel. There may well also be other controls here, but you’ll never know what they are, as you can’t see them.
The touchscreen sits in a central section of the dashboard, which drops down and around the gear selector. This has trim around the edge of it which presumably is for styling effect, but the effect that it actually has is to dig into your left knee as you’re driving.
Which brings us on to the touchscreen itself. In the Scenic, this is a decent size, and it’s vertical, rather than the more common horizontal arrangement. This works quite well for the satnav, as you can see a lot of the road in front of you. But, as any regular reader of Green Car Guide reviews will be well aware of, our view – which we’ve communicated for a number of years – is that, at the best of times, touchscreens are a bad way of controlling key functions in a moving car.
However the Renault Scenic takes this to the next level. At least with most cars, you have one button that you press to take you to the home screen. With the Scenic, there’s a button with the symbol of a house to the right-hand side of the screen. Applying common sense would lead to the conclusion that the ‘house’ button would take you to the ‘home’ screen, and from here you can go wherever you want. But instead it takes you to a screen with a button entitled ‘menu’ down at the bottom left, which you then have to press to get to the ‘home’ screen. Having to press two buttons is not good, but if you want to play music through the car from your phone you have to go through four different screens. Having to navigate through four different screens while driving is just dangerous; the system desperately needs shortcut buttons; if an effective system needs to be copied, take a look at BMW’s iDrive, like Mazda (and others) have done.
But possibly the worst idea of most car touchscreens is having all the climate controls hidden away on the touchscreen, including the fan – a very, very bad thing in our view. When you get in the car and you need to quickly make the interior hot or cold, and you’re late for a meeting or for the school run, you need instant control of temperature and fan speed. However you don’t get this in the Scenic, as you have to delve into screen pressing. You get the feeling that whoever designed the touchscreen interface has never driven a car in their life.
And one final thing… the Scenic’s key has two almost identical small black buttons for locking/unlocking the car – which is completely useless in the dark.
The official combined fuel economy of the Renault Grand Scenic dCi 130 is 61.4mpg, equating to 119g/km CO2. This is impressive for a large seven-seater people carrier, but of course this is the NEDC figure. After a week covering over 500 miles of mixed driving, the Grand Scenic averaged 47.3mpg. Although predictably down on the official figure, this is still a good result. However, what was even more impressive was the motorway economy; after around 200 miles (in eco mode), the Grand Scenic averaged 57.6mpg. And at a constant 50mph on the 20 mile or so stretch of the M5 roadworks, it averaged an indicated 79.5mpg. In other mixed stop/start driving the Grand Scenic recorded 41.9mpg, which is what brought the overall average down to 47.3mpg. Aerodynamics and engine efficiency at motorway speeds are obviously good, but the 1601kg kerb weight means that the economy drops in stop-start driving.
The Scenic also has a long driving range – Manchester to Bristol and back only consumed half a tank of diesel.
The Renault Grand Scenic Dynamique S Nav dCi 130 costs £28,445, or, with various options, £31,080 as tested. The Scenic range is available from £21,445.
There are two petrol and three diesel engines available from launch, with a six-speed manual, and a six or seven-speed EDC automatic transmission. A Hybrid Assist version, promising 92g/km CO2, is due to go on sale from Spring 2017.
If you don’t need the seven seats of the Grand Scenic, there’s always the Scenic. There are four trim levels: Expression+, Dynamique Nav, Dynamique S Nav and Signature Nav.
The Renault Grand Scenic looks good, has space for seven, and is impressively economical in real-life driving for such a large car. So, taking into account its fitness for purpose and its efficiency, the Grand Scenic is worthy of a potential rating of 9 out of 10, dropping one mark for the driving experience; although it’s as you might expect from a large, efficient car, this isn’t a driver’s car. That’s fine, as that’s not what it was designed for, but the driving experience could still be more rewarding. However we have to deduct one whole mark for the touchscreen interface, which is unfortunately a key, central part of the vehicle’s control system, as it’s just not well enough thought out. Therefore the Renault Grand Scenic ends up with a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.