Finding the best transport for your family has always been difficult. Once there was the family favourite station wagon, until it became better known as a rep’s car, then there was the four-wheel drive, until most of us worked out that it was too expensive to run and often wasn’t big enough anyway, and of course there was the peoplemover, which felt like driving a van and had questionable safety.
The problem is that vehicles suited to transporting the family have never been cool, but that was until carmakers realised there was a serious need for cars capable of accommodating a family and still be safe and appealing.
The Japanese have attempted it with some success, as have the Americans, but it’s the Europeans that seem to have done it the best.
The Renault Scenic is one of those. It will swallow a decent sized family, it isn’t huge and unwieldy to drive, and being based on a Renault passenger car platform it has decent road manners.
The Scenic proved a runaway success when originally launched in Europe in 1996 and in no time at all there were imitations everywhere.
It was essentially an upright styled mini-wagon built on a sedan platform.
While its styling screamed family wagon its European heritage somehow made it acceptable. It’s unlikely a sales rep would ever be seen in a Renault after all.
It was inside that the Scenic really came into its own. With a flexible, and adaptable seating arrangement it could accommodate five, or seven in three rows of seating that could be split and folded, even removed, to suit the number of people you wanted to transport and the gear that was to go along with them.
It really was sensible transport, but with a touch of French flair to take some of the serious edge off it.
At launch its power was delivered by a 1.6-litre double overhead cam four-cylinder engine putting out 79 kW and 148 Nm, but in 2003 this was replaced by a more powerful 2.0-litre unit developing 101 kW and 188 Nm.
It could be linked to a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed auto, with drive through the front wheels, and there was also a high-riding 4x4 model available with all-wheel drive.
Renault offered three levels of equipment, starting with the Expression, then moving on to the Dynamique and the Privilige.
All were well equipped with plenty of standard features.
The Expression boasted air, power windows and mirrors, central locking, tilt adjustable steering wheel and height adjustable driver’s seat, trip computer and a chilled storage compartment.
Add climate controlled air, a CD player, leather and alloys and you had the Dynamique.
At the top of the range the Privilige then got you remote central locking, rear sunshade and a central armrest.
An update in 2002 saw roof rails introduced on all models, and twin sunroofs added to the Privilige.
ON THE LOT
Start the Scenic journey with the Expression at $8500-$17,500, move on to the Dynamique at $9500-$20,000, and complete the trip in the Privilige at $10,000-$22,000.
The 4x4 can be had from $11,000-$18,500.
IN THE SHOP
Before buying a Renault, any Renault, check where you can get it serviced and it’s worth finding out how competent they are while you’re at it, perhaps by talking to an existing customer or two.
Renault isn’t well serviced with dealers outside of the major cities and it’s important to know that whomever will be wielding the spanners on your car really knows the make.
Too many owners report having serious engine damage because the cam-timing belt has snapped while they’re driving along.
It seems it often happens before the car gets to the scheduled change point of 100,000 km.
If you’re buying second hand check that the belt has been replaced as per the service schedule. If it hasn’t been it would be wise to have it changed.
The Scenic’s interior tends to wilt under the relentless attack of the Australian sun so look for signs of wear and tear on the trim and broken or buckled plastic bits and pieces.
Parts can be expensive when they fail so keep that in mind before taking the plunge.
IN A CRASH
The Scenic was well equipped to crash with front airbags for the driver and front passenger as well as side front airbags.
ABS antilock brakes were standard across the range, along with electronic brakeforce distribution for added safety under braking.
AT THE PUMP
The 2.0-litre engine is quite economical in general use, so expect to get 8.0-9.5 L/ 100 km depending on the type of driving.
Ricky Bryan and his family owned a 2001 Scenic until last year and while they mostly liked it there are some things they don’t miss. As a car for a young family it was just about perfect, Ricky says. His wife loved the high driving position, the ease of getting their daughter in and out of her capsule, the boot space for the pram etc., and versatile interior. They both loved the looks, the safety gear and the trinkets, part leather seats, twin sunroofs, climate control air, and all the storage compartments. But they didn’t like the quality, servicing costs and availability of people who could service it, and nor did they like its reliability, re-sale value and its general lack of oomph in anything but flat going. There were numerous problems with the trim, from early wear to failure of parts like the sunroof motor at a cost of $3000 to repair, but the big problem was that their dealer made a mess of the cam belt change and the motor was heavily damaged as a result. They’ve now moved on to a Holden Astra, but miss the Scenic in many ways.
Daniel Hale bought his 2001 Scenic 4x4 one and a half years ago and says his family enjoys it very much. The handling is great, no matter the quality of the road, and the four-wheel drive is good for light off-road work. While the 2.0-litre engine won’t win any speed contests he has pulled a fully laden trailer with no problems. It is surprisingly roomy and he likes the ability to pull the back seats out individually. He says it gets 8.2 L/100 km on the highway and 9.2 L/100 km around town, with an average of about 8.7. He has not had any trouble with regular services, but says the more involved jobs can be tricky for bush mechanics. Once, the cam belt snapped after being incorrectly installed and the engine had to be rebuilt. Apart from this there have been few mechanical problems and it’s now done 170,000 km.
Stan Caple and his wife were attracted to the Scenic having owned a 1972 Renault 16 TS and had enjoyed the clever design and practicality of that model for family carrying, touring, comfort, and economy. The inner space and flexibility of the Scenic won them over and they bought a Scenic I before moving on to a much improved Scenic II after 16 months. At 70 years of age Stan likes the ease of getting in and out of the Scenic. He also likes the luggage space and the clever hideaway recesses built into the car’s interior. It’s economical, getting 8.3 L/100 km on average, the servicing has been reasonably priced, the ride and handling competent and the brakes superb. Stan’s only concern is the availability of dealers once you leave the big cities.
In 2004 Phil Dixon and his wife were looking to update their faithful 1991 Holden Nova to a bigger car for the arrival of a baby. They wanted something that was a little different from the rest of the pack and decided on a 2003 Dynamique. Their first test drive of a used Scenic almost turned them off it, but they changed their minds when dealers were offering “unbeatable” deals in early 2005. For them the Scenic had the size they wanted, the space for a pram, the high ride height they liked, the safety of front and side airbags, and the different look they preferred. Having bought it they have found it to be reliable, economical, with good visibility and surprising performance. Their gripes are that it needs premium unleaded, and the auto trans, which they don’t like.
Nigel Beddoe bought a second hand 2003 Renault Scenic with 85,000 km on the clock. The main reason for buying it was that it was easy for his wife, having had back surgery, to get in and out without having to bend; it was also easy to out their new baby into to the car seat. He says the seats are exceptionally comfortable and the layout very versatile. He also says the 2.0-litre engine is gutsy, but also economical on a run. Overall he says it is a great and versatile little car.
• compact outer dimensions
• surprisingly roomy
• flexible seating
• high seating position
• timing belt failures
• Holden Zafira — 2001-2006 — $10,000-$20,000
• Hyundai Trajet — 2000-2004 — $9000-$18,000
• Mazda Premacy —2001-2003 —$10,000-$17,000
THE BOTTOM LINE
Roomy interior with flexible seating arrangement make the Scenic an ideal choice for family transport.