Renault's fourth generation Scenic range marries sleek sophisticated looks and clever technology in a surprisingly desirable family 5-seat MPV. This car's range of more efficient engines now includes a frugal new 1.3-litre TCe 140 unit and an uprated 1.5-litre Blue dCi 120 diesel and all the powerplants stack up well on the balance sheet. Plus this People Carrier remains nicely built, safe and very well equipped. All very good reasons to keep it well in contention against key rivals in the five-seat compact MPV segment.
You wouldn't normally approach a drive in an MPV with much enthusiasm, but with its big 20-inch wheels and purposeful demeanour, this fourth generation Scenic promises to be a bit different. In reality, there's nothing particularly enjoyable on offer here, but bodyroll through the bends is pretty well controlled, aided by the stiff, sophisticated 'CMF' platform this Scenic rides upon. And the electrically-assisted steering is precise and direct, even if it doesn't offer up a great deal of feel. As for the ride, well yes, it is quite firm, but no more so than it would be in a rival Ford C-MAX or Volkswagen Golf SV that would roll on much smaller rims. That's an impressive achievement Renault says has been made possible by the adoption of special 107mm high profile tyre sidewalls that are exactly the same as those you'd find used on 17-inch wheels.
The bulk of sales will to the recently improved 1.5-litre dCi diesel engine, which now puts out 120hp. Don't dismiss the alternative petrol engine option though if you're a lower-mileage buyer. It's a 1.3-litre Tce turbo unit that develops 140PS and is well worth a look.
There's some trendy technology to cheer you along the way too, in the form of a selectable drive mode system called 'Multi-Sense', one of those able to alter steering feel, throttle response, stability control settings and, where fitted, auto gearchange timings, all to suit the way you want to drive. Heck it even changes the engine note and alters the colour of the dashboard lighting in an effort to put you in either a more relaxed frame of mind or perhaps a sportier mood.
The styling is based on Renault's R-Space concept car, key features like the steeply-raked windscreen and short bonnet heightening the elegance of its MPV silhouette. Uniquely, big 20-inch wheels are fitted to all versions. At the same time, the three-part screen combines a panoramic view with improved side vision. At the front, there's a more distinctive lighting signature. Depending on version, the C-shaped front headlights benefit from LED PURE VISION technology, while Edge Light technology provides the taillights with a 3D effect. As before, the mainstream Scenic range comes in two sizes: this standard Scenic with five seats. And a Grand Scenic body style with seven seats: it's the standard version we look at here, a car that claims best-in-class stowage capacity.
The boot of this fourth generation model boasts a volume of 572-litres and around the car, there's total additional stowage capacity of 63 litres. Take the 'Easy Life drawer', which faces the front passenger seat and offers a storage area of 11.5-litres. That's three litres more than a conventional glove box. Lit and chilled, it opens via an electronic sensor and automatically locks when the vehicle stops. Plus, as before, there are four underfloor compartments. In the back, this Scenic is equipped with folding tables that open to reveal a small storage area that can accommodate a mobile phone, a gaming console or perhaps crayons, whilst it is also possible to attach electronic tablets of different sizes. The two USB ports at the rear of the centre console mean electronic devices can be used without time restraints.
Renault's fourth generation Scenic is here to remind us that there's still a place for the traditional five-seat compact mini-MPV in a modern market stuffed with other, more high profile alternatives. It's practical, spacious, well built and decently equipped, as every car of this kind must be, but in this case, each of these criteria has been ticked off with a thoroughness that reminds you just who invented this market sector in the first place.
Is it all enough to keep the market's original five-seat mid-sized MPV as the best choice for frugal families? Perhaps. Many might be surprised at just how thoroughly this French contender can now meet their needs. One thing's for certain. As a more versatile spin on spacious five-seat family motoring, the Scenic model line has a lot of life in it yet.Click here to find out more about our Renault Scenic range
Volkswagen Golf SV
Sometimes more is just better and if you've ever got out of a Volkswagen Golf feeling you could do with a bit more space, the answer is right here in the chiselled form of the Golf SV. It's not the most committed of five-seat SUVs but there is more space in the back. Plus there's more technology on offer in this improved model.
Engine-wise, if you want petrol power, you'll get a choice of a pair of turbocharged TSI units, a 1.0-litre powerplant with 115PS or a 1.5-litre unit with 150PS. Go diesel instead and there's a 115PS 1.6TDI or a 150PS 2.0-litre TDI flagship variant. Across the range, there's the option of DSG twin-clutch sequential transmission. The 2.0-litre diesel will punt the big-boned Golf SV to 62mph in 9.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 110mph, making it a more than adequate long distance cruiser.
On to design. Where the old Golf Plus was a bit of a half-hearted effort, the SV is a bit more of an attempt at incorporating MPV design functionality. The longer wheelbase is key. Volkswagen grafted another 54mm into the wheelbase to create the SV from the ordinary Golf hatch, which might not sound much, but makes a real difference to what you can do with the rear seats. The total length has increased by 83mm, adding extra luggage capacity at the back. The styling is crisp and handsome, even more so in this facelifted model, which gets redesigned bumpers, smarter halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights, the option of full-LED headlights and standard LED tail lights on all versions.
Drop inside and it's largely familiar stuff from the front seats. The classy dash, peerless ergonomics and huge range of seat and wheel adjustability draw no complaints, but the SV gets a custom dash moulding. Facelift model cabin changes include new decorative trim, smarter fabrics and the option of classier leather for the seats. As for practicalities, well there's adequate storage up front with under-seat drawers and fairly sizeable door bins, but other MPVs ultimately offer more and better. The back seats miss a trick too, neither tumbling or being removable. The three-seat bench splits 60/40 and can fold and recline but the middle seat is hard and narrow. By contrast, you can fold the middle seat down in a Ford C-MAX or tumble the seats forward. Headroom and legroom are both excellent, and when the rear seat is slid forward to its furthest extent, boot space increases from a generous 500 litres to a cavernous 590 litres. Fold the rear seats down and you'll get up to 1,520-litres in there.
The fuel economy of all the diesel engines is excellent, with even the thirstiest capable of eking over 60mpg from a gallon of heavy oil. The 1.6 TDI delivers 67.3mpg on the combined cycle and manages 110g/km of CO2, which is good going for a family-sized MPV. Even the 2.0 TDI 150PS variant manages 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 113g/km of CO2. If you want petrol power, look at the 1.0 TSI variant, which returns 60.1mpg on the combined cycle and 108g/km of CO2.
Overall, this is a car that adds a dash of desirability to the business of owning what is, at the end of the day, nothing more than a practical family tool. It's about time that Volkswagen showed us what it's really capable of in this segment. The result is a car you could be proud of.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Golf SV range
Citroen C4 SpaceTourer
If you need a family-sized five-seat MPV but don't necessarily want one, look straight to this car, the efficient and surprisingly sophisticated Citroen C4 Space Tourer. It's extravagantly designed and comes with some genuinely innovative features.
On the move in a C4 Space Tourer, the driving experience is a little bit different from what it would be in other rival family MPVs. There isn't much fun to be had in terms of driving dynamics but in compensation, you float over road imperfections, marvel at the unusually hushed levels of refinement and enjoy the benefits of a commanding driving position. That's a huge help at roundabouts or when parking and, with this panoramic screen, makes it seem like you're suddenly viewing the world in high definition.
Under the bonnet, much has changed since this car's original launch, Citroen having updated all of its mainstream engines in more recent times. The volume BlueHDi diesel powerplant is now 1.5 rather than 1.6-litres in size, but its 130hp output is slightly higher than before. The 2.0-litre BlueHDi diesel option gets a slight power hike too - to 160hp. Elsewhere in the range, the efficient 1.2-litre three cylinder PureTech petrol engine continues, but only in 130hp form. There's a fresh auto transmission option too, the jerky old six-speed 'EAT6' self-shifter finally ditched in favour of a much smoother eight-speed 'EAT8' unit that's optional with the two 130hp powerplants and standard on the top BlueHDi 160 diesel.
On to design. The change of name hasn't come with a change of look, so these revised SpaceTourer models keep the previous C4 Picasso's three-tiered light signature at the front, which is synonymous with Citroen's contemporary design language. The grille is separated into two parts by the body-coloured bumper and sports a glossy black registration plate mount and a second air intake. Plus there are smart 3D-effect rear lights, classy 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels and buyers get the option of a black two-tone roof.
Inside, there's clever interior packaging that designer Frederic Soubirou is clearly proud of. We like the optional lounge-style front passenger seat that features an extendable footrest and massage function. On a more practical note, there's a 537-litre boot that's 60-litres bigger than that of a Ford C-MAX. Slide the rear bench forward and you get up to 630-litres. We'll deal with the long wheelbase Grand C4 SpaceTourer Picasso separately, but the standard length car features three rear seats that can be slid back and forth, reclined or folded flat independently of one another. What's more, the floor is devoid of a raised tunnel, aiding utility still further. The side windows do angle in fairly sharply which can make taller rear seat passengers feel a little pinched but other than that it's hard to find fault. Materials quality in the cabin is smart, with classy metal finishes and simple yet effective ergonomics, something we have rarely been able to say of previous Citroens.
Not every family needs seven seats in an MPV and for those that don't, this appealing C4 SpaceTourer offers a smartly-styled, hi-tech equipped and very practical alternative. Though not especially enjoyable to push hard, that's because it's aimed exactly where it should be targeted - at mums and dads rather than at driving enthusiasts, with impressive long distance comfort you'll also appreciate on the school run day-in and day-out.
It's an MPV that really seems to have been created with a bit of love. From the panoramic windscreen to the lounge-style massaging passenger seat, from the widescreen HD instrument display to the fact that you can sit and Facebook your friends on the touch screen, it's a car that's a joy to operate. And for us, a joy to look at, as different and refreshing in design as it will be to own. It's good that the Citroen we used to know is back. The manufacturer that took risks, created magic and brought us cars that sat apart from the ordinary norm. Cars exactly like this one.Click here to find out more about our Citroen C4 SpaceTourer range