The striking new Scenic's ride, style and effortless drive all offer serious appeal, but choosing the right engine is paramount

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A significant landmark was reached by Renault in 2016, as the Scenic marked its 20th anniversary since first gracing our roads. It's a car that defined the compact MPV sector, and now, more than two decades on, it's back to redefine the class once again.

Crossovers and 4x4 sales have dominated recently, while MPV sales have declined to relative stability. As a result, this new Scenic isn’t an attempt to revive a stable sector but rather an effort to grab a bigger market share. Renault’s aim for this striking fourth-generation MPV is simple: draw traditional MPV owners away from their faux off-roaders.

The Nissan-developed 1.5 dCi engine feels like a capable unit in the Megané, but less so in the Scenic

So how is Renault going to do this? Well, by borrowing design cues from the handsome 2011 R-Space concept, the new Scenic, with its high waistline, sloping roof and distinctive lighting signatures, is arguably one of the prettiest MPVs we’ve yet seen. Combined with 40mm more ground clearance, a 20mm-wider body and a 32mm-longer wheelbase, it also has more usable interior space than the car it replaces.

Even the standard 20in wheels have been designed with practicality in mind (yes, you read that correctly). Renault claims that despite the larger wheels, the standard-fit rubber, with specially designed high-profile sidewalls, results in a ride comparable to that of the competition. Cleverly, the low-rolling-resistance tyres also counteract any impact the larger-diameter wheels have on the CO2 figures.

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There are four well-equipped trims and five engines to choose from. At the front there is a choice of two turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engines producing 112bhp and 126bhp, and three diesels – a 107bhp 1.5dCi and two 1.6-litre units producing 126bhp and 155bhp respectively, with the latter only available with a six-speed automatic. There is also a 'hybrid assist' version, which uses Renault’s 1.5-litre diesel engine and a small electric motor, which promises to increase fuel economy and decrease emissions beyond the 100g/km threshold.

The Nissan-developed 1.5 dCi engine fitted to our test car feels like a capable unit in a family hatchback, but it's less so in this MPV. On the open road it lacks the low-end flexibility of the 1.6-litre oil burner that we suspect would fit in better with the Scenic's remit. If the car is heavily loaded, the six-speed manual gearbox will need to be worked hard (a six-speed automatic is optional), although that's no real hardship because the clutch is light and the shift itself is slick. Happily, the engine remains quiet under load, especially when compared to the sometimes-gruff diesel in the rival Citroën C4 Picasso.

The 20in wheels do a good job of suppressing the multiple indiscretions and scars of Britain's roads, with the larger sidewalls certainly earning their crust. The steering, on the other hand, is light and precise, which makes for effortless driving. And while this was always going to be a car that puts comfort above sporting dynamics, it has reasonable body control, too.

The Scenic’s interior is modern, fresh and rather minimalistic, with limited buttons and physical controls to operate. This makes learning where everything is simple enough, and unlike a number of competitors, you can conduct simple operations, such as changing the interior temperature, without having to dip into the infotainment screen. There are also plenty of storage spaces dotted around the cabin, and soft-touch materials give a genuine sense of quality.

There are also plenty of clever touches in the Scenic, with the main showpiece being the large sliding centre console. It comes complete with two USB ports and a cubbyhole in the rear, making it ideal for families on the go. Usefully, the rear seats can be dropped individually or as a whole, either from a button in the boot or via the standard-fit R-Link 2 infotainment system.

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That infotainment set-up, with its 8.7in portrait touchscreen display, is a delight to use compared with the previous-generation system. It's intuitive to the touch and easy to navigate - providing you pay it your full attention. On the move, though, it is tricky to find your way around, thanks to shortcut buttons that are touch-sensitive rather than physical. For more complex inputs, then, it’s best to ask a passenger.

Ergonomically, there are further irritations. Most noticeably, the rear seats are positioned rather low, while a sloping roof means six footers will find head room a squeeze. The most galling thing about the rear seats, however, is the high floor position, which puts rear occupants in an awkward position with their knees higher than their hips, making it uncomfortable for an adult to ride in the back even on short journeys. 

On the equipment front, there are four trims to choose from, with the entry-level Expression+ coming with 20in alloys, front foglights, LED day-running and rear lights, dual-zone climate control, automatic wipers and lights, and Renault’s Visio safety systems. There is also Renault’s R-Link infotainment system complete with Bluetooth, DAB radio and a 7.0in touchscreen display.

Upgrade to Dynamique Nav and you’ll find parking sensors, interior ambient lighting, sunblinds, USB connectivity, TomTom sat nav and an Arkamys surround sound system thrown in, while Dynamique S Nav adds a reversing camera, head-up display, panoramic sunroof, Renault’s 8.7in portrait infotainment system and a Bose audio set-up.

Topping the range is the Signature Nav model which is adorned with LED headlights, electrically adjustable front seats with massage function and a leather upholstery.

With all that in mind should you part with your hard earned money on this MPV? If you are after a practical people hauler then the strikingly good-looking Scenic should be on your shopping list. While it has its flaws, it is a certainly a more compelling option compared with close rivals such as the Ford C-Max, BMW 2 Series Active Tourer and Volkswagen Golf SV.

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That said, this entry-level diesel model wouldn’t be our choice. Despite its lower emissions and better fuel economy, its deficit of low-down grunt is a limiting factor in a machine likely to be filled with families. Ultimately, we would spend that little bit more and go for the gruntier and more refined 128bhp 1.6-litre diesel. 

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Renault Scenic 2016-2019 First drives