The Renault Scenic XMOD aims to hit a sweet spot between MPVs and SUVs. Is that a marketable niche? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Renault's Scenic XMOD features a clever traction system, mud and snow tyres and a range of three engines all coming in at prices less than you'd pay for a decent family SUV. No, there's no four wheel drive but it's got the chops to get you where you need to go in anything but the most extreme conditions.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Renault takes its Scenic and aims to beef it up a bit with off-roader design cues in order to sell to the sort of buyer who needs an MPV but secretly wants a macho sports utility vehicle. Of course you have. Renault has form here already with the four-wheel drive RX4 and less notably, the front-wheel drive Conquest model. Neither of these did particularly well in the UK but like many such ideas, sometimes it takes a couple of tries before the right formula is hit upon. This time round, Renault has decided for a position between the full-on RX4 and the half-hearted Conquest. The XMOD looks aggressive enough but unlike the RX4, drive only goes to the front wheels. All mouth and no traction? That's far from the case.
The Scenic XMOD features an innovative 'Grip Xtend' system. Using a rotary switch, users can use this advanced traction control system to enable the car to grip surfaces in difficult driving conditions. There are three modes available: 'Road', 'Loose Ground' and 'Expert'. In 'Expert' mode, Grip Xtend manages the braking system, while leaving the driver in full control of the engine torque. The 'Road' mode offers conventional traction control settings, with ASR optimising grip by controlling braking on the front wheels and engine torque, plus any wheel that skids is slowed down and torque transferred to the wheel with the best grip. This mode automatically reconnects at speeds of over 25mph. The 'Loose Ground' mode optimises braking control and engine torque control based on available grip at speeds of up to 25mph. Its standard Continental mud and snow tyres feature specific tread patterns which aid the evacuation of mud, snow and sand in more difficult driving conditions. The engine choice extends to three Energy powertrains. New to the Scenic line is the 1.2-litre TCe 130 Stop & Start petrol engine, boasting a 15% improvement on fuel consumption over the previous TCe 130 unit. Otherwise there's a slightly less exciting 110PS 1.6-litre VVT petrol unit and what's likely to be the big seller in the XMOD range, the 1.5dCi 110 Stop & Start diesel. One Scenic XMOD Expression+ variant also has the 1.5 dCi 110 available without Stop & Start if a customer prefers to not specify it on cost grounds. Renault's six-speed EDC (Efficient Dual Clutch) transmission is available on the 1.5 dCi 110, although unlike the hot Clios, you don't get wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Design and Build
Unlike the rest of the Scenic range, you can't get the XMOD in the long wheelbase 'Grand' shape, so you have to be content with the one size fits all policy. That said, you can choose from two and a half trim levels and the standard size will be amply proportioned for all but the biggest families. You certainly won't get it mixed up with the standard Scenic model. With unique wheels and striking front and rear bumpers, plus black roof bars, it looks anything but the meek suburban MPV. The boot capacity is a respectable 555-litres with the rear seats slid forward, rising to 1,870-litres with the rear seats removed completely, one of the biggest spaces in its class. Additionally, no less than 86-litres of additional stowage space are cleverly spread around the cabin. The XMOD delivers the sort of effective and fast modularity that Scenic owners have come to take for granted. The various chairs are independent, folding and removable to provide a huge number of seating permutations for the occupants. Practicality is also delivered via a massive array of storage options in the Scenic with more than 90-litres available. Underfloor compartments, under-seat drawers, a chilled glovebox, centre console cubbies, door pockets and trays on the seat backs should help to keep the family's paraphernalia in check. There are also three 12-volt power sockets to keep the all important games consoles and MP3 players powered up.
Market and Model
The Scenic XMOD is offered in two main trim levels, with an added pack you can choose if you're feeling flush. The range opens with the Expression+ which includes 16-inch 'Tundra' alloys or 'Frontier' design wheels with Grip Xtend and mud and snow tyres, as well as Hill Start Assist. Moving up to Dynamique TomTom adds dual zone climate control, auto lights and wipers and Carminat TomTom 'Live' satellite navigation. You can then add the BOSE+ Pack, which is available on XMOD and Grand Scenic, costing £1,500. This nets you not only the expected flashy stereo - in this instance a BOSE Energy Efficient sound system with 9 speakers and a digital amplifier - but you also get 17" 'Mesa' alloy wheels, electric folding door mirrors, extra tinted rear windows and tailgate, a hands free entry keycard, rear parking sensors, driver's seat lumbar support, gloss black door mirrors, satin chrome roof bars and dark Carbon 'Strata' suede and synthetic leather upholstery. Sounds like strong value for money. This being Renault, safety provision is absolutely top drawer. Its models routinely achieve maximum five-star ratings from Euro NCAP and the Scenic XMOD is brim full of features designed to avoid collisions and protect occupants should one occur. The car can be specified with automatic headlamps and wipers, cruise control with a speed-limiting function, bi-xenon headlamps that swivel to illuminate round bends and a seat-belt reminder that sounds if a rear-seatbelt is unbuckled. There's also ABS with brake assist and brake force distribution and ESC stability control with CSV understeer control. The second row of seats all have ISOFIX child seat anchor points too.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.6-litre engine that gives the Scenic XMOD its eye-catching sub-£18k entry price tag is the least impressive of the three engine options and is also by some margin the thirstiest, despite having the least power. You'll get 36.7mpg from it on the combined cycle and the carbon dioxide emissions of 178g/km aren't too much to write home about either. Better to spend that little bit more - around £1,100 actually - and opt for the 1.2 TCe engine. Not only is it just as quick to 62mph as the 1.6, with both registering 11.7 seconds, but it will also get 46.3mpg and emit just 140g/km. Another £800-odd nets you the 1.5dCi diesel, which is the engine that shows the Scenic XMOD off in its best light. Granted, it's not quite as quick off the mark as the other variants, but you get 260Nm of torque compared to the 190Nm of the 1.2 TCe engine. Economy is in an altogether different league with fuel economy posted at 61.4mpg and emissions of 120g/km. Should you choose this engine with the EDC twin-clutch gearbox, those figures morph into 60.1mpg and 124g/km.
It took a little while for Renault to tune the appeal of its 'ruggedised' Scenic model but the XMOD might just be the one to hit the mark with British buyers. There's a lot to like about this car, most notably its pragmatism. The truth is that we don't actually need all-wheel drive most of the time and on those rare days when it is snowy, front-wheel drive and the right tyres will get the job done most of the time. Include a clever traction management system and you end up with a car that's economical in everyday use but capable when demands are placed upon it. We like cars that can do this sort of thing. On top of this extended capability, buyers get all the usual Scenic attributes, with an interior that's incredibly clever without being smart-alecky, strong equipment levels and unbeatable safety provision. The 1.6-litre entry-level petrol engine is a doughty thing, but you'll enjoy the XMOD more if you spring for either the 1.2TCe petrol or the 1.5dCi diesel variants. If you were lazily heading into a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda CRV, give the Scenic XMOD a place on your shortlist. You might well be convinced by its sheer common sense. And there we were initially thinking this was all style over substance...