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Renault Scenic II 1.9 dCi 120 review (2003-2006)
Bodystyle: Compact MPV
Engine: In-line tubodiesel 4-cylinder
Fuel type: Diesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Date of test:August 2003
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What is it?
The Renault Scenic defined the compact MPV back in 1996. Essentially a family-sized hatchback built tall to imitate a full-sized MPV, it boasted five individual seats within its roomy and ultra-practical interior - perfect for families and far more fun than a regular hatch. The high seating position was also desirable, and pretty soon the Scenic was breaking sales records. Renault had a hit on its hands and caught every other rival napping; it took Vauxhall two years to respond, Citroen even longer - and it's only now, seven years on from the original Scenic's appearance in the UK, that Ford and Volkswagen are able to offer rivals. Basically, the Scenic was THE car of the 1990s, a model to define the era. That's why over two million have been sold.
Where does it fit?
As the Scenic invented its own class, it's straightforward to place it. Rivals simply took the essential concept - big body on a hatchback chassis - and competed with it. Makers who have done this include Citroen with the Picasso, Fiat with the Multipla and Vauxhall with the Zafira. There's also Ford's C-MAX, Volkswagen's Touran and minor sellers such as the Daewoo Tacuma, Kia Carens, Nissan Almera Tino and Toyota Corolla Verso. But doesn't the Fiat offer six seats, the Vauxhall seven, yet the new Scenic only five? Isn't that the reason why Ford canned its late '90s rival? Don't worry! There's also to be a seven-seater Grand Scenic, larger for bigger families. At the moment we'll concern ourselves with the smaller standard car, where the emphasis is very much on compact practicality.
Is it for you?
The new Scenic offers all the practicality of the old car - indeed, in most dimensions, it's bigger. Renault has instead concentrated on improving the details, making it a far nicer vehicle to drive and be driven in. The new bodywork is much neater (if lacking Renault's recent radical overtones) and offers a more cohesive profile and expansive Espace-style nose. Oddly, it also appears smaller, though entering the easily-accessible interior reveals this to be an illusion. Occupants are presented with the ultra-modern dash with its digital central instruments, clever sliding centre cubby, firm, individual sliding rear seats, optional twin sunroofs; yes, the Scenic really does cover all bases, making it an ideal growing-family car.
What does it do well?
The Scenic II is leagues ahead of its predecessor on the road. There's a real feeling of solidity and composure, with a well-damped ride quality and far less 'pitter-patter' over bumps. It feels grown-up, aided by a big jump in build quality. Refinement is much-improved too, the 1.9-litre dCi diesel engine tested offering near-silence once on the move thanks to its long-legged six-speed gearbox. Yet performance is eye-opening too; it's usefully quicker than the (disappointing) 2.0-litre petrol for the majority of drivers, with bags of low-rev pull. Naturally, equipment is extensive and the interior is more comfortable. There's a more car-like driving position and all the feel-good benefits of a high-set, glassy cabin.
What doesn't it do well?
Handling is not exciting. Steering has an odd artificial feel with too-aggressive self-centering and a lack of feedback. It's reasonably pointy in corners and unfailingly safe - well-supported by electronic aids - but again, essentially uninvolving. It's no Ford C-MAX. Despite improved quality there are still a few quality issues inside and although the dash-mounted six-speed gearbox's lever is easy to find, the shift quality itself is poor. Notchy, heavy and mated to an imprecise clutch, smooth shifts are a rarity. Five-speed models are far better. And as well as featuring an electronic controller mounted on the door like an afterthought, door mirrors are also too small - surprising in a vehicle likely to be packed with rear view-restricting passengers.
What's it like to live with?
Renault promises class-leading crash safety and the lowest insurance groups around. The 1.9-litre dCi diesel engine is also economical, offering 48.7mpg and ultra-clean CO2 emissions of 154g/km. Service intervals are a lengthy 18,000 miles and Renault's famous 'bendy' composite front wings shrug off parking dents, as do beefy bumpers which the company promises are cheap to repair - there's a grey plastic strip to protect the body-colour sections. Maintenance is easy too, thanks to an electronic oil level gauge and clever washer bottle water level indicator under the snub bonnet. As for depreciation, the old model was always good and this should, certainly initially, be better, despite increasing competition.
Would we buy it?
The Scenic II is not as ground-breaking as the original, but then there was no way it could have been. Instead, Renault has refined the concept, adding more space, build quality and refinement to a now much better-looking design. It's met customer's requests well. The Scenic II is also better to drive and, in 1.9-litre dCi form, both rapid and efficient, making it perhaps the best Scenic overall for those with sufficient budget. There are criticisms, but areas such as uninvolving handling and less-than brilliant gearbox probably take second place to such as well thought out overall design. Painless to live with and always satisfying, we'd certainly look closely at the Scenic, even though the Ford C-MAX's dynamics would probably ultimately win us over. Perhaps the seven-seat Grand Scenic will be the star of this model's generation?
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