Some things change, while others stay the same. That's the story with the new Renault Scenic.
The versatile MPV's best features are retained in its latest incarnation, but there are BIG changes which make what is arguably the best mid-size MPV on the market even better.
It starts with a whole new platform. The Scenic II, as its French makers call it, is based on Megane II underpinnings, with all the advantages that come with that.
These include better ride and handling, plus improved safety levels that sees Scenic II with the top accolade in the Euro NCAP crash tests - five stars.
On top of that there's a range of new petrol engines that combine 16-valves and variable valve timing to give a great blend of power, economy and driveability.
There's also a great feeling of quality around this new Scenic.
Renault has paid special attention to the standard of finish of the new car, especially to the regularity and width of shut-lines - the gaps where various components fit into the bodywork, such as the gap around the bonnet.
Using the new platform has also allowed for a wider track, longer wheelbase, and shorter overhangs, and much more interior space.
Thanks to the horizontal roof line Scenic II gains 26mm of headroom in the front, placing it among the best in the class. In addition, elbow room is increased by 23mm.
With high priority given to back-seat space, Scenic II offers knee room of 226mm, which remains the largest in the market.
But for most people the latest styling is what will attract them first and foremost - styling that takes Patrick le Quement's challenging concepts as introduced on the Megane, and converts them into a look that is both pretty and macho, and gives Scenic II the appearance of a big hatch rather than a minibus.
From the front the new Scenic has a strong and powerful appearance, with Renault's latest corporate "face" showing a large chromed diamond logo, with big headlamps and a deep under-bumper air intake.
Walk around the car, and from the side you see a much flatter roofline than before - although still slightly curved - moving into a typically Le Quement tail, though not nearly as pronounced as it is on the Megane.
There is still a shade of the old Megane in the side profile, especially in the deep side glass, particularly in front.
The windscreen is big, too - Renault says it's the largest in its segment, covering 1.45 square metres.
There's also a large panoramic sunroof option.
The tail treatment sees large rear lights and a big tailgate that extends right down to bumper level for easy loading.
On the top-of-the-range 2-litre Privilege this includes an opening tailgate window for easy loading of small items without having to open the back door.
However, it's inside where fans of the current Scenic will see most changes.
Firstly, for the first time in this price bracket an electronic handbrake is installed (on certain models), releasing space between the seats, and in its simplicity encouraging its use (of which more anon).
Secondly, Renault has taken a big leaf out of Citroen's book with the layout of the dashboard - while at the same time improving things.
Thus we see the instrument cluster moved to the centre of the dash a la Picasso, with a digital display.
The difference between the Picasso and the Scenic, however, is in the application.
Whereas Citroen uses a lightly shielded setup with LCD (liquid crystal diode) instruments that can disappear when sunlight shines from the side, the Renault device is more heavily sheltered from the sun, and at the same has LED (light emitting diode) instruments that are visible even in the brightest sunlight.
The instruments are digital, too, with large numerals for speed, and a quadrant display for the revcounter and vertical line displays for fuel and water temperature.
The Scenic gearlever moves onto a satellite console which juts out from the dash, allowing the front passenger space to get through to the back seat, or for a new sliding centre console to be fitted (depending on model).
Electrically unlatched, this centre console slides from the dashboard to the back seats for easier sharing between front and rear occupants. In addition, the front passenger seat can now be folded to form a flat hard-surfaced table.
This enables the back-seat passengers to enjoy better visibility, while also making it easy to load long objects.
In a further development, the three back seats, when set into their vertical storage position, latch into position automatically without the need for bungee-straps.
The materials used for upholstery and finish reflect Renault's drive for improved quality, notably the use of soft touch plastics on the upper surfaces of the dashboard.
The storage spaces in Scenic II are more numerous, with the 15-litre sliding centre console storage feature, more accessible and better divided between the front seats (44 litres) and the back (32 litres), creating a benchmark volume for the segment of 91 litres available in total.
Increased in size to 17 litres, the cooled glovebox is the largest in the segment. In addition, four drawers beneath the seats are always accessible, as well as four compartments made possible by the flat floor.
According to the position of the sliding back seats the luggage space varies in volume from 430 to 480 litres (VDA).
Other improvements include extra sound-deadening and better control of wind noise and engine noise, plus higher-capacity heating and air conditioning components from Mégane II
Roller sun blinds are fitted in the rear doors.
Adding to the list of "firsts" in the small MPV segment, Scenic II introduces four technical innovations: the bi-xenon headlamps first seen in Espace IV, the hands-free Renault Key Card, the tyre pressure monitoring system and the fuel filler flap with built-in cap.
The Renault Card works to the same operating principles as in Mégane II, but its slot is now vertical.
The entry-level model is the 1.6-litre Authentique, powered by a 16-valve petrol engine producing 83 kW at 6 000 r/min and 152 Nm of torque at 4 200 r/min. It is linked to a 5-speed manual gearbox.
Standard equipment includes keyless entry and remote central locking via the Renault Card, plus a radio/CD with remote controls, manual aircon with heating ducts to the rear seats, 2-speed adaptive windscreen wipers, rear wiper with automatic reverse mode, electric variable assistance steering, and double optic "See me Home" headlamps.
There's a height and reach adjustable steering wheel, height adjustable driver's seat, time delay courtesy lights, a seven-function onboard computer and warning system with an outside temperature gauge, an accessory power point next to the gearlever, and front windows with one-touch control incorporating an "anti-pinch" system.
Full size spare
A full size spare wheel is installed, windows are tinted all round, the exterior mirrors are heated and electrically adjusted, there's a front reading light and rear central lighting, plus a boot light under the removeable rear parcel shelf.
Cupholders and stowage space for knicknacks abounds.
Safety is catered for by two-stage adaptive airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as side airbags and curtain bags in the rear.
All five seatbelts are three-point, and five adjustable headrests are fitted, those in the rear folding away when the seats are flopped forward.
Driver aids include ABS brakes with EBD and Emergency Brake Assist, with Electronic Stability Control optional.
The interior is upholstered in grey cloth with black carpeting and charcoal grey dashboard.
Outside the Authentique gets black door handles and mirrors, dark grey side mouldings, colour-coded bumpers with grey strips, and 15 inch steel wheels with full trims.
Next up are the three Expression models.
The two petrol versions have the same 1.6-litre engine as the Authentique, but with either 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto 'boxes.
There's also a 1.9 dCi turbo-diesel version with an 88 kW common rail motor which produces a stunning 300 Nm of torque at 2 000 r/min. This is mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox, and Renault claims overall fuel consumption of just 5.8 litres/100 km.
Additional specification over the Authentique includes front fog lights, one-touch anti-pinch windows all round, lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, fold-down front passenger seat, sliding out rear seats (in addition to the sliding centre seat), automatic headlamps, sunblinds for the rear window and rear doors, rain sensor wipers, and electronic parking brake.
Upholstery and carpeting is beige. Outside there are colour-coded door handles and mirrors, and special impact strips.
Petrol models get steel wheels with full trim while the turbo-diesel model has 16 inch alloy wheels.
Options include the sliding centre console and bi-xenon headlights.
Top of the tree is the Privilege 2.0 16V. There are two versions, both powered by a 98.5 kW petrol motor (with 191 Nm at 3 750 r/min). Gearboxes are a 6-speed manual or a 4-speed pro-active automatic with sequential manual mode.
Additional features include electronic climate control aircon, speed control with speed warning system, electrically foldable rearview mirrors, opening tailgate window, and aluminium sill protectors.
The interior is upholstered in a beige cloth and leather combination, with beige carpeting, and there's leather on the steering wheel and gearknob. Full leather is optional.
There are 16-inch alloy wheels as standard with 17-inch optional, and the outside features chromed door handles.
On the road
The ability to balance seat height and steering column height and reach allows one to get a really good driving position, and on the road this translates to exceptionally easy placement of the car on the road, and especially in hard cornering.
The gear change is like a switch, so positive and precise is it, and its positioning makes it very easy to use.
Most of all, though, I liked the electronic handbrake, which is mounted on the right hand side of the dash.
When you stop the car you merely pull it lightly and the car is held in position, even on the steepest hill.
And when it's time to move off, you merely accelerate away. The handbrake automatically disengages, and it's simplicity itself. The car can't roll backwards, and hill starts are the easiest thing in the world.
Renault has also changed the minor controls, giving them short stalks that feel very sturdy, and which are logical and easy to operate.
On the road the new Scenic is very lively, and feels more like a small sporty car than an MPV. The Megane II chassis is already well known to Wheels24 readers for its precision and balance, and this carries through to the Scenic II.
1.6 Authentique R170 000
1.6 Expression manual R180 000 (up R4 000 from before)
1.6 Expression auto R190 000
1.9 dCi Expression 6-speed R198 000
2.0 Privilege 6-speed R209 000 (same as before)
2.0 Privilege auto R220 000 (same as before)
All models now come with 3 year/60 000 km maintenance plan as standard.