SINGAPORE — Becoming a family man does not mean you have to drive something only an uncle would be seen in.
That seems to be the main proposition behind the new Renault Grand Scenic, a seven-seat Multi Purpose Vehicle that defies boxy convention.
Instead of sharp edges and straight lines, its body has sinuous surfaces. The two-tone paintwork is standard, and having the upper portion of Scenic in black helps to make it look less van-like than its rivals.
For one thing, it sits on 20-inch wheels — the biggest in the class — which is a styling touch that adds a dose of sportiness. Much of the car’s underlying philosophy is embodied by those wheels. They may be large and sexy, but they accommodate uncommonly narrow tyres, which helps to keep both fuel consumption and tyre replacement costs low.
That sort of pretty-meets-practical thinking seems to define the car.
The Scenic’s A-pillars — the metal pillars surrounding the front windshield — are split. Not only because it looks nice, but also because it makes it much easier for the driver to see out of the car. Without a thick chunk of metal blocking the view, the chances of an accident are that much lower.
Though the Grand Scenic is no land yacht, it also has handy blindspot monitors to take the guesswork out of changing lanes, and the body has sensors galore to keep the driver from leaving paint on a carpark wall, making it supremely easy to drive.
However, in spite of the sporty styling, the Renault offers little in the way of fun. The steering is neither precise nor sharp, and the body rolls liberally through corners, so the Grand Scenic feels about as athletic as one might feel after consuming a bottle of wine. Not that we are asking you to.
As for the engine, the 1.5-litre turbodiesel that powers the rest of the Renault range is what propels the Grand Scenic, except that here, it is tuned for a bit more torque and is paired with a new gearbox.
On paper, the Grand Scenic looks agonisingly slow, with a 0-100km/h time of 13.2 seconds, but the reality is different.
It picks up speed with vim, even with all the seats filled. Even if you pay no heed to driving gently, the fuel consumption is exceptionally low. The official claim is four litres of diesel per 100km, but even if you end up using 5.8 litres per 100km like we did, that still translates to having to top up the tank only every three weeks or so. While the engine is frugal, there is no mistaking it for anything other than a diesel. While the same engine in its cousin, the Megane Sedan, is hushed; for some reason, it pipes up readily in the Grand Scenic, and it vibrates noticeably when the car is idling.
For the passengers, the Grand Scenic is a tablet lover’s dream, with flip-up tables for the middle-row occupants to prop their screens on, and four USB ports in the cabin for charging.
The cabin has 14 storage spaces, including an enormous one between the front seats, and a control panel that lets you fold the rear seats automatically, which is a neat feature that other cars in the class could use.
Still, for all that, the Grand Scenic falls down in what is perhaps the most important area of all for a seven-seater: Its cabin space.
In short, it is cramped. Middle-row occupants have to dip their heads to enter the car, and wriggling into the third row seats is something that perhaps only a Chinese acrobat would find easy to do.
Rivals such as the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso and Volkswagen Touran offer noticeably more space back there, along with easier access.
Worst of all, on a hot day, the third row occupants could be in for a sweaty time, since the air-conditioning has trouble reaching all the way back.
This may make the Grand Scenic fairly unsuited for regular use in our type of weather as a seven-seater; and it should really be thought of as a 5+2 — you could always save the third row for naughty children.
Renault Grand Scenic 1.5T dCi
Engine: 1,461cc, in-line four, turbodiesel, 110bhp, 260Nm
Performance: 184kmh, 0-100kmh: 13.2s, 4L/100km, 104g/km CO2
Price: S$126,999 with COE