(Pocket-lint) - When it first appeared in 1996, the original Scenic broke ground as the first "small" people carrier to hit our roads. It did without the seven seats of existing people carriers such as its big brother Espace, but brought all that was loved about that format of car such as flexible, removable seats, great versatility and loads of storage options to a smaller package. Generation two continued to set the class standard with a distinctive look borrowed from the second generation Megane but even smarter versatility. It also introduced a longer-wheelbase, seven-seat "Grand variant to tackle competition from the likes of Vauxhall’s Zafira.
Now, well into its third generation, the Scenic has been given a cosmetic makeover and gained some new technology to keep it class competitive. It may win the prize for the longest name of any car we’ve reviewed recently, but how does this (deep breath): Renault Grand Scenic Dynamique TomTom 1.5 dCi 110 Stop & Start measure up?
The third-generation Scenic’s never had the individual style that characterised the car it replaced. We think that’s a shame. Still, in Damask Red and on optional 17-inch Bari alloy wheels, the Scenic’s hardly a bad looking thing - the longer wheelbase and longer third-light window of this seven-seat "Grand" model helping the looks in our view.
But cars in this class - and the Scenic in particular - have always been about the interior. In this regard, the Scenic still presents a case for itself as class-leader. You get the impression that the design team who worked on the Scenic all have kids.
That’s why you’ll find storage pockets and boxes all over the cabin - including in the floor, below the boot, under the seats. Airline picnic-tables are standard for those in the second row, there’s a vast, slide-able storage bin between the front seats, and a second fold-out mirror from the roof to keep an eye on kids in the back. Oh, and you get integrated sun blinds and isofix points in all three second row seats. The only real quibble is that the centre row of seats doesn't fold fully flat into the floor like some cars in this class.
The "everything and more" story continues on the tech front. This is one of Renault’s TomTom models, which means you get a TomTom Live Nav unit integrated into the display ahead of driver and passenger. It’s controlled either by a joystick unit mounted on the front of the centre bin, where it falls neatly to hand, or via a remote control. And it works... just like every other TomTom - which means a lot better than many manufacturer-fit Nav systems. A 3-year TomTom Live subscription costs £125.
This is just the start of the dizzying amount of technology kit that’s standard. Presumably you’ll be keen on keeping your family safe? So how do eight airbags with deactivation on the front seat, stability control, hill start assist, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers and - with our car’s Luxe pack (£1500) - lane departure warning sound?
Worried you’ll have your hands full of kids and shopping and might get distracted every now and then? The hands-free door entry/start system, parking sensors, automatic parking brake, speed limiter and tyre inflation/puncture detection kit should help you out.
And if it’s entertainment you need, there’s an aux and USB connector on the radio, Bluetooth for your phone which plays music too, reading spotlights for those in the rear and, again as part of the Luxe pack, a Bose sound system with nine speakers. However, nowhere on the options list could we find an option for integrated TV/DVD players for the second row seats though, which means you’re into the land of Halford’s accessory range, which is a shame.
Of course, like the previous generation Scenic, the gauges are all digital. This new car features a multi-colour "EcoDrive" display which allows you to vary how it shows revs, what gear you’re in and the usual array of tricks to try to get you to drive economically. Just remember that, sitting where it is, everyone travelling in the car will be able to see when you choose to have that "red-mist dad" moment on the A49.
It always confuses us when magazines test people carriers and start placing importance on how happily the thing behaves when you drive like Sebastian Vettel. In our experience, most people who buy this kind of car place such things far down their list of priorities.
All you really need to know is that the Scenic drives generally fine. In this 1.5 dCi guise, the engine is fairly stretched. It’s humping around a big lump of car and if you add six passengers it starts to labour quite a lot. So if you’ve a brood of growing teenagers, we recommend upgrading to the 130 bhp engine, which is £1100 more. Though those watching the pennies will want to stick with the incredibly competitive 105g/km CO2 and super-cheap roadtax of this 1.5 dCi.
Besides needing a bit more power, we wish the ride was more settled - admittedly it’s better with more people and stuff aboard. At times the Scenic shows up its use of a cheaper, less sophisticated torsion beam rear suspension and crashes around on rough roads.
Yet other than that the stop-start worked well, the Scenic is quiet at speed and the finger-light power steering is perfectly judged for the typical use this car will get.
It’s unlikely to answer your heart's desire in every way, like the Tesla we tested last week, but in the real world where you’ve space for just one car and have to juggle the stresses of bringing up a family with a busy work live, the Scenic hits the mark.
It doesn’t drive with the sophistication of a Ford S-Max, nor offer the lounge-like interior quality of the new Vauxhall Zafira Tourer, but it’s interior feels like greater thought’s gone into it. It not only works well, but somehow, sat inside the Scenic, the world seems a nice, happier place.
While the facelift can’t disguise the fact the Scenic is older than some of the competition and while it’s price isn’t far away from the Ford, Vauxhall or VW competition, Renault offer you much of the kit for standard that costs thousands extra on those cars. For instance, you’d probably not tick the £200 option box for sun-blinds on the Ford S-Max, but here they’re standard and a total boon.
Add in the value and reassurance of Renault’s new 4+ (4 years warranty, servicing and finance cover) and we think that, as family cars go, there’s still little that can touch the Scenic.