BY ANDY ENRIGHT
By and large, motoring journalists are a cynical bunch, world-weary hacks who aren't too surprised by the stunts that slow-moving multinational car companies pull. Therefore it came as something of a shock to witness an entire crowd of Europe's finest motoring scribes reduced to chin-stroking befuddlement at its Geneva launch. Why would anybody wish to take a mini-MPV off road? Why, indeed. Renault prefers to put the Scenic RX4 up against existing compact SUVs such as the Honda CRV and the Toyota RAV4, neither of which are usually found axle deep in peat bogs. As a rugged family wagon, the RX4 makes an interesting used alternative.
Models Covered: 5dr Mini MPV, 2.0 petrol, 1.9 diesel [Expression, Privilege, Monaco]
The Renault Megane Scenic mini-MPV certainly changed the way we thought about carrying people. With five seats packed into a car shorter than a Ford Focus, the Scenic shot to the top of the sales charts. With me-too entrants to the market like the Vauxhall Zafira and Citroen Xsara Picasso eating into the Scenic's market share, it was time for a fresh tack. June 200 saw the launch of the Scenic RX4, a version fitted with a four-wheel drive system for 'extended capabilities'. Renault themselves were no strangers to all wheel drive, having used it on Quadra versions of the 21 and Espace and also had a significant involvement with Jeep. Rather than develop an all-new SUV, it came as quite some surprise to witness the Scenic being transformed into a rather odd-looking egg cum moon buggy affair. Offered with a 105bhp 1.9dCi diesel engine or a 140bhp 2.0-litre petrol unit, buyers could select initially select either Sport Alize or Monaco trim levels, but come summer 2001 these were changed to Expression, Privilege and Privilege Monaco. And that's about all there is to the RX4's short history.
What You Get
Forget the lifestyle pretensions, what you're getting is a clever five-door family hatchback that can double as a useful van or any combination in-between. Kids love the flexible seating layouts, the fold-up tables in the front seatbacks and the numerous storage bins for their sticky lolly wrappers, although you just know that they'll end up in the default place - the driver's seat. Still, hardwearing interiors are what mini-MPVs are all about, and the Scenic is no exception. Don't just think family use, either; if you like sitting up straight and high or want the ability to carry bulky items bought on impulse while out for a jaunt, the Scenic is well worth a look before you decide on that ordinary hatchback or estate car. Taking it off road should only be attempted if you're either not too ambitious or you really know your onions. Although traction isn't too bad on the standard tyres, the extra 90mm of ground clearance can tempt the foolhardy into an expensive indiscretion. Don't think you're getting a French version of a Land Rover Freelander.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Number one priority with a Scenic RX4 is to check that the car hasn't been walloped through too many enthusiastic off-piste excursions. This means getting underneath the car and checking the integrity of the exhaust, wheel alignment and making sure that all the rubber boots and gaiters haven't been torn by sticks, rocks or unfortunate wildlife. Ensure all seats (five), the rear loadspace cover and the storage bin lids are present and correct and look for the usual family interior damage, as kids somehow know how to make a massively destructive weapon out of something as innocuous as a peeled banana. Check that all the electrics work and remember that, with all that glass, air conditioning is worth having for summer cool and winter demisting. Recent surveys have indicated that the RX4 isn't the most reliable new car around, so make sure that your prospective purchase is well looked after.
(Based on a 2000 Scenic 2.0 RX4) A new clutch will be about £140 and a full exhaust system, excluding the catalyst, should be around £250. Brake pads are about £40 a pair, an alternator close to £135, a starter motor will be just under £125 and a headlight is around £65. A replacement radiator is about £150.
On the Road
Of the two engine options, the diesel makes most sense, particularly as it's a modern common rail 1.9-litre dCi unit that successfully combines economy with decent refinement and reasonable performance. Most RX-4 customers however, have plumped for the 2.0-litre 16v 140bhp petrol powerplant - mainly because it offers a lot more performance for no more money. Cornering is an interesting experience, the RX4 feeling, logically enough, like a Scenic on stilts, with quite noticeable roll. Should you wish to g o off road, the RX4 copes surprisingly well, although there's always the temptation to rub a Discovery owner's nose in it. This is rarely wise. There's electronic traction control and a permanent four-wheel drive transmission that automatically adjusts the distribution of torque between the front and rear wheels on a continual basis. No second levers: no complicated mechanicals. We'd recommend it as idiot proof, but as the Renault body shop managers will attest, they just keep on building better idiots.
As a surprisingly capable, multi purpose vehicle, the Scenic RX4 makes a far more convincing case for itself as a used buy than you may at first expect. Although still fairly rare on forecourts and correspondingly pricey, the RX4 is a cerebral alternative to macho 4x4s. Opt for a 1.9-litre diesel and you'll have a car that has a broad range of abilities whilst being affordable to run. You might hanker after a second car for a speed fix, but that's what mid life crises are for. Life begins at RX4-ty.