By Andy Enright
It speaks volumes of the regard that Renault holds its Scenic in that when it had a root and branch reappraisal of its model range back at the end of 2011, the Scenic was one of the few vehicles that were seen as core business. The Laguna and the Wind Roadster, along with the Kangoo, Espace and Modus MPVs all got the chop, along with a huge swathe of underperforming dealerships. Pruning the deadwood from the range allowed Renault to once again take a good look at the Scenics that were doing the business for it and the third generation range was further improved to cover the early 2012 to late 2013 period. These cars are a better bet that the original post-2009 MK3 Scenic models and here, we're going to bring you up to speed with getting a really good one.
The design of this generation Scenic can be traced back to the unveiling of the third generation version at the 2009 Paris Show. This was a vehicle that had a lot to do, as the second generation Scenic was something of an underachiever, seeing its market-leading position stolen by Vauxhall's Zafira, as well as the Citroen C4 Picasso and Ford C-MAX. The third generation car made good on its promise, bringing it to the second best-selling spot across the UK and Europe. This model Scenic was updated in early 2012 by the car we look at here. With a few styling changes, more efficient engines and a simplified model range, it was a stop-gap measure until a more radically improved design arrived at the very end of 2013.
What You Get
You probably won't be buying this car because of how it looks, but its shape remains sharp and clean, with a more contemporary front end in this 2012-2013 guise courtesy of extra gloss black and chrome detailing, standard LED daytime running lights and restyled tail lamps. As before, this five-seat Scenic model is only 216mm shorter than its 7-seater Grand Scenic stablemate, which bodes well for the room on offer inside. And so it proves in the spacious, airy cabin with its large wide windscreen. At the wheel, the commanding driving position is complemented by a soft-touch sweeping dashboard design that shows how far Renault has come in recent times in its pursuit of perceived quality.
As with previous Scenics, the three rear seats can be slid either backwards or forwards to maximise either back seat legroom or luggage space - and of course they can be tumbled forward with a relatively simple, if rather clunky three-point manoeuvre to increase luggage space to from 437 to 1837-litres, just 226-litres less than the Grand Scenic model. To put that into context, the top figure is about 100-litres more than you'd get in a rival Citroen C4 Picasso from this period. You can take the seats out completely too to free up yet more space, but even if you've got somewhere to put the things, the procedure is so complicated and awkward that you'll be finding excuses not to do it. Rivals with seat systems folding flat into the floor do it better.
But then, the seats-folded 1837-litre capacity is probably about as much as most families will ever need and the Scenic builds on this with a further 92-litres of oddment space. Under-floor compartments, under-seat drawers, a huge chilled glovebox, centre console cubbies, door pockets and trays on the seat backs should help to keep the family's paraphernalia in check. We also like the way that the centre storage unit between the front seats slides forward so that it doesn't get in the way if you've pushed the middle rear seat right forward, as you might do to keep a better eye on a child in a booster seat.
Talking of parental supervision, many original buyers also specified a useful extra mirror, mounted for the driver to more easily watch what the little horrors are doing. To keep them all quiet, there are three 12-volt power sockets around the cabin so that games consoles and MP3 players can be topped up. Overall then, if you don't need seven seats, there's probably enough flexibility here to justify this Scenic's premium over a conventional Megane-sized family hatch.
What to Look For
The good thing about buying a vehicle that's well into its model cycle is that all the major problems have been thoroughly ironed out. Ensure all seats (five), the rear load space cover and the storage bin lids are present and correct and look for the usual family interior damage. Check that all the electrics and air conditioning work properly. The engines have all proven tough and the 1.6 diesel and 1.2-litre petrol engines are highly regarded by journalists but almost completely overlooked by the buying public.
(approx prices, based on a 2012 Scenic 1.6 VVT) A new clutch will be about £180 and a full exhaust system, excluding the catalyst, should be around £375. Brake pads are about £50 a pair, an alternator close to £180, a starter motor will be just under £170 and a replacement radiator is about £225.
On the Road
Renault's choice to prioritise comfort in Scenic motoring has always been the right one. It's a pleasant surprise then, to find that this third generation model can also work with you when you're running late for the school play or you're behind schedule on a back road with dinner burning in the oven, even if it isn't the sharpest drive in the class.
Much of this is down to a clever front suspension set-up. We won't trouble you with the technicalities, but the end result is a car that rolls less than you'd expect from a people carrier and turns into corners with reassuring sharpness so you can capitalise on the surprisingly good grip: it's just like any normal family hatchback in fact. Most importantly, all this has been achieved without affecting the absorbent ride, while noise is well suppressed thanks to copious soundproofing.
So far, so good. What about under the bonnet? Renault has made the mistake of trying to sell higher performance Scenic derivatives over the years that buyers avoided like the plague, so the engine line-up in the 2012-2013 model range was dictated more by sense than by speed. Still, you'll find the units on offer a willing bunch, with the petrol emphasis being on a surprisingly pokey 115PS 1.2-litre TCe turbo unit capable of sixty from rest in 11.7s on the way to 112mph. An older normally aspirated 1.6 VVT petrol unit was also offered, but is slower and far less efficient. Most however, will want a diesel, the best all-round choice probably being the 110bhp 1.5-litre dCi, which makes 60mph from rest in 12.3s on the way to 112mph. Those in search of more power meanwhile, have an impressive 130bhp 1.6-litre dCi option at their disposal, capable of sixty in 10.3s on the way to 121mph - in other words, the kind of performance you'd expect from a rival 2.0-litre diesel. Without of course, the associated running costs.
The Scenic is a heart-warming example of a car that lost its way but then came good again. Renault listened to its customers, focused on what they wanted and delivered. It wasn't easy for them to learn these harsh lessons but the result, in this 2012-2013 model guise, is a car that works and works well. It's good to know that there's really not a bad choice in the whole line-up and it works just as well as a used proposition as it did new. If we were spending our own money, we'd probably ideally want a 1.6 diesel but then settle for a 1.5 due to the greater availability of quality used stock.