Is Renault out to revive the people carrier? Perhaps that’s a little reductive of what’s really going on at the French brand. For what Renault is really seeking to achieve is a template for a post-SUV future.
That’s as ambitious as it sounds, but Renault may well be what the people to do with it. This was the company that defined the people carrier (or MPV) for most European buyers, with models like the Espace and the popular Scenic. It was also reluctant to embrace the SUV, even though they turned out a few variants to fill the gap. You get a sense that the demise of the SUV will not cause upset in Paris.
What Renault has achieved with its stylish Megane E-Tech is now reflected in the larger, more practical Scenic. The first thing to note is the front nose. Several car firms have struggled to work out what to do when the grille is no longer needed. At the same time, smart lighting means they can achieve much more with a small strip than the big bulbous light clusters of old.
It has left some designers in a quandary. Several brands have opted to keep the grille in some form, just filling it in with plastic. Others have opted to run the full metal down the front. Neither styling works. Renault has masterfully designed a front nose for the Scenic that is clean, fresh and embraces the changing reality. So too, incidentally, has Peugeot. Should we look to France to redesign the car for the electric age?
The Scenic’s fresh look is also evident in the rest of the car’s design. It’s still got some traits that would have seen it defined as an SUV a few years ago, but there are enough swoopy lines and curves to dismiss any talk of boxy design.
Given the model moniker, many Irish buyers will be expecting a spacious and practical family car. In many ways that’s what they’ll get, with 545 litres in the boot and nice features like bag hooks and underfloor storage for the charging cables. However, there is a rather awkward high lip to the boot that needs to be overcome when loading, the price to be paid for improved rear crash protection.
As with most EVs, the lengthy battery packs lead to longer cars – this Scenic measures in at 4.5 metres - and that benefits cabin legroom. There’s loads of space in the back here and the car is tall enough to accommodate adults without any issues, even in the middle seat. The Scenic is also wide enough to carry three adults across the back row, which is impressive.
In the midst of the usual tech onslaught in modern cars, it’s great to see how simple smart engineering of a bit of plastic becomes a star feature. Built into the rear armrest is a stand that pops up to hold your smartphone or tablet. It’s ingenious and worthy of adoption in every new car from supermini to luxury liner.
The only issue with the interior is that it lacks the sort of flexibility we have come to associate with previous Scenics and people carriers. You don’t get the chance to manoeuvre each rear seat any more. That’s a shame and severely dents any suggestion that this represents the return of the ever-practical people carrier format.
Up front the dash is largely the standard fare in the latest Renault models, which means it’s smart, well-built and a world apart from what was offered in the brand’s cars even five years ago.
The new Scenic is based on the same platform as the Megane E-Tech and the Nissan Ariya, both electric crossovers, but as this is determinedly not an SUV it only gets a single permanent magnet motor on the front axle and there is no dual-motor four-wheel drive version in the pipeline.
Battery options are 60kWh or 87kWh with claimed ranges of 420km or 620km respectively. Renault claims that advances in cell development means that the packs are six per cent more efficient than the ones fitted to the Megane. They both take a maximum charge of 150kW.
The test car was a semi-camouflaged model with the long-range 87 KWh version, which delivers a 0-100km/h time of 8.4 seconds.
That may seem sluggish in the age of the EV, but the Scenic never felt underpowered. There are the same choice of driving modes as in the Multi-Sense system on the Megane E-Tech. You can choose between Personal, Comfort, Eco and Sport, but these settings only alter the steering feel and throttle response. There’s also the chance to adjust the regenerative braking levels.
The ride quality is as cushioned as you get in most of these hefty EVs, with the Scenic weighing in at 1.9 tonnes and capable of towing 1.1 tonnes. You don’t quite bounce along, but you are anesthetised to the road surface, while there is a degree of body roll when you tackle a tight bend at speed.
But then you won’t be racing through many corners in this car.
This is a comfortable, stylish family transporter, much plusher than past-Scenic owners will be used to, but likely to be a good deal more expensive than past models as well. It’s Renault’s offering in an increasingly crowded field of electric family cars that stands out for its lovely styling.
It’s just a shame they didn’t fully embrace the people carrier ethos that made the original Scenic such a family hit. A few more seating tricks would have been welcome, given Renault’s historic expertise in delivering innovative options that fit everyday family life. However, the French brand can take comfort in the fact that no one else is delivering that old-school practicality just yet.