By Jonathan Crouch
If you're looking for a practical, spacious five-seat family hatch with a bit of SUV attitude and a touch of extra off-tarmac capability, the obvious solution is to opt for one of the market's popular Qashqai-class Crossover models. But if you're looking for a used car from the 2013 to 2016 era, there is another option. Renault's Scenic XMOD may be first and foremost a compact MPV but mud and snow tyres and a clever Grip Xtend traction system actually give it more capability than most front-driven Crossovers and small SUVs. And its People Carrying roots mean greater interior flexibility too.
5dr compact MPV (1.2, 1.6 petrol, 1.5, 1.6 diesel)
We're going to start by talking Crossovers. You know, those SUV-style Qashqai-class family hatchbacks on steroids that so many people seem to want these days. This Renault Scenic XMOD isn't officially one of those. But it clearly would like to be. Renault, of course, knows plenty about Crossovers and back in 2013, was already selling one purpose-designed such car, the Clio-based Captur. What the brand didn't have back then was a larger Qashqai-sized Crossover contender - the company's Kadjar model wasn't launched until the Autumn of 2015. To fill the gap in its range prior to the Kadjar's arrival, Renault decided to offer the five-seat version of its Scenic MPV with an electronic grip enhancement system, some grippier tyres and a few SUV styling cues. The resulting package was rather curiously badged 'XMOD' and it was available to all buyers of the revised third generation Scenic model sold between 2013 and 2016. Yes, this is really a People Carrier in a pair of hiking boots, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. True, it doesn't have 4WD - but then most Crossovers don't offer that either. Plus this more adventurous Scenic delivers levels of space, practicality and seating flexibility that most comparably priced Crossover models can only dream about. If you like the look and don't mind the People Carrying heritage of this car, you could conceivably find it all quite tempting. It's certainly a recipe that Renault had plenty of time to perfect: the brand has, after all, been offering us adventurous Scenic variants like this one since the turn of the century. So should family folk give this car a second glance on the used car market? Let's find out.
What You Get
Go for the XMOD version of this Scenic and you get chunkier bumpers with silver skid plate-style inserts front and rear, special wheels, sill guards and chrome-finished roofbars. Otherwise, it's the standard MK3 model Scenic aesthetic recipe, which means that this five-seat model gets what Renault calls its 'flame-effect' line, a crease that starts beneath the headlights then sweeps rearward, further emphasising the plunging roofline. At the wheel, the large wide windscreen makes the cabin feel spacious and airy - even more so if you've found a variant fitted with the optional huge panoramic glass sunroof. Plus the driving position offers loads of adjustment, with a seat that can be jacked so high that even the shortest driver gets a commanding view. The soft-touch sweeping dashboard design shows how far Renault has come in recent times in its pursuit of perceived quality and there are some very classy touches like the full colour TFT display that you can tweak to your own colour choice. Many models were originally specified with a useful extra mirror to allow the driver to more easily keep an eye on kids in the back. To keep them all quiet, there are three 12-volt power sockets around the interior so that games consoles and MP3 players can be topped up. The dash is dominated by the smart R-Link Multimedia system with its 7-inch colour touchscreen and TomTom sat nav set-up. You'll need to pay an ongoing 'Live services' subscription to fully use everything that R-Link has to offer but once you have, through the touchscreen, you'll be able to access the Renault R-Link Store for viewing or downloading specialist apps for everything from tweeting to games. With the right app added, you can also search Yellow Pages, check your emails, use a Text to Speech function and check out the local weather. Move into the second row and you'll start to appreciate the main benefit of buying a five-seat MPV rather than the Qashqai-class Crosover model you could have had for the same sort of money. That kind of car would give you the same sort of basic rear bench you'd get on any Focus-style family hatchback, perching the unfortunate middle rear passenger on some hard and narrow piece of bulging foam with legs astride a central transmission tunnel. In contrast, here you get a far more flexible arrangement with three individual seats that separately recline and slide backwards and forwards so that either legroom or rear luggage space can be prioritised. They fold too of course, which means that if you're only carrying a couple of rear passengers, the middle chair can function as a table for the two outer folk. Options you'll find fitted to many models include aircraft-style fold-out tables, seat back storage pockets, retractable rear side window sun blinds, dark tinted rear windows and the huge optional panoramic glass roof we mentioned earlier. You further appreciate the flexibility of the rear seats when it comes to the question of luggage space. There's 437-litres with them pushed right back, but you can increase that incrementally by individually pushing the chairs forward and freeing up as much as 555-litres whilst still carry five people. Or of course, if the seats aren't needed, you can simply individually fold them: or tumble them forward. In 'tumbled forward' mode, you free up 1,837-litres of total fresh air, a figures just 317-litres less than you'd get with the same configuration selected in the seven-seat Grand Scenic model. In context, that's 317-litres more than you'd get in a rival Volkswagen Golf SV and only just short of what's on offer in the class-leading Citroen C4 Picasso. Need more? Then if you've got yourself a model that was fitted with the optional fold-flat front passenger seat, pushing it forward will free up space for really long items like surfboards or mountain bikes. If this still isn't enough to take the load you have in mind, you can take the seats out completely, though 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 this Scenic builds on that with a further 86-litres of interior 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. 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 You Pay
There's no real price difference on the used car market between a Scenic XMOD variant and an ordinary Scenic, so if you find one of these more adventurous versions, you might feel you're getting something of a bargain. We're going to base our price predictions around the 'Dynamique Tom Tom' trim level that most customers chose. Prices start at around £8,500 for a '13-era 1.6-litre 110bhp petrol model, rising to around £13,000 for this variant with a late '15-era plate. You only need to allow a couple of hundred pounds to those figures though, to go for the much more modern and efficient 1.2-litre TCe petrol unit, so we'd be very tempted to go for that. Most Scenic buyers though, will want to go for a diesel. Prices for the 1.5-litre dCi 110bhp variant that many will want start from around £9,500 for a '13-era model, rising to around £13,500 for a late '15 variant. If you want the pokier 130bhp 1.6-litre dCi diesel, then prices start from around £9,700 for a '13-era model, rising to around £15,00 for a late '15-era-plated car.
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. Sure enough, most Scenic buyers of '13 to '16-era models that we surveyed were very satisfied. Inevitably though, there were a few issues. One owner complained of an air conditioning fan failing. Another found some water ingress in the passenger compartment footwell. There were reports of some cars struggling to start in damp weather and one we came across was noisy on tickover. One had a fraying fanbelt and another made a whistling noise in line with rising engine speed. Look out for all these things when inspecting and driving used examples. Otherwise, ensure that 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 experts.
(approx based on a 2013 Scenic XMOD 1.5 dCi 110) Consumables for the Renault Scenic are reasonably priced. An air filter sits in the £11 to £15 bracket, an oil filter costs around £5-£10 and a fuel filter will sit in the £35 to £50 bracket. Brake pads sit in the £20 to £35 bracket for a set, while brake discs sit in the £55 to £85 bracket (though you can pay up to around £225 for a pricier brand). A headlamp will cost between around £145 and £165 to replace and a rear lamp cost around £65. If you smash the indicator in the wing mirror, a replacement will cost around £20 to £35. The mirror glass costs around £20 to replace, while a complete wing mirror costs around £100 to replace.
On the Road
A Scenic in XMOD form aims to give you slightly more of an adventurous SUV kind of feel. The XMOD concept hopes to do enough to enable some to consider this car as a viable alternative to a Qashqai-class Crossover model. A big ask? Well possibly. The first thing to point out is that unlike the earliest expeditionary-style version of this model that Renault brought us, the first generation design-based Scenic RX4 of 2000 (but just like its second generation replacement, the Scenic Conquest), this car doesn't have either four-wheel drive or any sort of significantly raised ride height to offer. Still, that's hardly a Crossover segment deal breaker. If you find any Qashqai-style car with either of those things, you've found something quite rare. What this XMOD Scenic does have is a bit of extra technology to help it make better use of the grip it can find. Let us explain. Renault reckons that on loose surfaces or in poor driving conditions, a decent set of tyres and optimised traction electronics provide 90% of what any car of this kind might really need to give its driver a bit of extra pace of mind. So that's exactly what the XMOD package provides. Namely a set of Continental mud and snow tyres. And 'Grip Xtend', a traction control system that, via a dashboard-mounted dial, enables you to switch from normal 'road' mode into a 'Loose Ground' setting that judiciously juggles the engine's brake and torque delivery at speeds of under 25mph to help with things like towing and/or to power you through circumstances you'd prefer not to have been in in the first place. If you feel a bit more confident, there's a further 'Expert' mode that does much the same thing but isn't limited by speed and doesn't restrict the engine torque - so you've got a bit more hands-on control. Peugeot offers exactly the same kind of thing in the 'Grip Control' option available to buyers of its Crossover models and, as there, this system is quite effective, provided you recognise its limitations, remember that ground clearance (though raised from 120 to 150mm) is still limited and don't come over all Ranulph Fiennes. True, you could justifiably argue that fitting any ordinary People Carrier with a decent set of Winter tyres would deliver much the same kind of result for an experienced driver with a careful throttle foot. But not all of us are experienced drivers and, in a world of prioritising PE kits and pencil cases, most families simply can't be bothered to switch the tyres on their cars to match the seasons. For these people, the fact that a Scenic XMOD offers more poor weather peace of mind than many a Qashqai-class Crossover may well be tempting. The engines available to Scenic XMOD buyers were the same ones offered to customers of the standard model. These unit are a willing bunch, providing you can stretch beyond the aging entry-level 110bhp 1.6 VVT normally aspirated petrol powerplant which ambles to 62mph in 11.7s en route to 118mph. True, those are the same kind of figures you'd achieve from a Scenic with one of the two 1.2-litre turbo TCe petrol units beneath its bonnet - there's a choice between 115 or 130bhp outputs. But you wouldn't feel that from a seat behind the wheel of any Scenic 1.2 TCe, given that it'll be able to offer you 30-40% more pulling power than the 1.6, yet will cost around 20% less to run. Green pump-orientated customers able to justify the ownership price premium will find that this is a much better way to go. 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 12.5s on the way to 112mph, provided you don't opt for the sprint-sapping EDC automatic gearbox. 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.
Over the years, Renault tried a few times to tune the appeal of its Scenic MPV to suit the SUV set. This XMOD version managed that better than its Scenic RX-4 and Scenic Conquest predecessors but it still didn't sell very well. That doesn't mean it can't represent a very good used buy if you're fortunate enough to find one. On the contrary, in many ways, it could be seen as a rather clever pick, offering nearly everything you get from a more familiar family Crossover along with a lower price and extra versatility. All of which means that if you were lazily heading into one of the popular Qashqai-class Crossover models - or indeed, planning to spend even more on a Freelander or RAV4-style soft roading compact SUV, it's worth giving 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...