The minivan or MPV has been with us for three decades, defined by images of the Chrysler/Dodge minivans (1984) and Renault Espace (1984).
According to Renault who have been market leaders in this category, they have redefined the class. Renault have tried this before in their redesign of the current Espace which is aimed not at very large families but at executive motorists looking for something different. Though not for sale in the UK, it has been a quite successful entrant in its price class. This meant a marked increase in the styling quotient and a much less rectilinear look.
They have applied the same thinking to the Scenic, revealed at this year’s Geneva motor show. The Scenic has for a long time been a successful entrant in a market crowded with the likes of the Citroen C4 Picasso, VW Touran, Ford C-Max and the Opel Zafira. BMW entered the fray recently with their front-drive, Mini-based Activity Tourer. It’s quite a serious business this and Renault’s styling chief, Laurens van den Acker hopes that their new car will make “parents fall in love again.”
I am in doubt as to whether any car can make up for the demands of parenting. More realistically, they hope the new style will keep them competitive and mark their car out from space-enclosing entrants from their peers and BMW’s vehicle which is equipped with an attractive badge front and back. What Renault have done is compromise the carrying capacity of the MPV shape by cross-breeding with the popular cross-over class: bigger wheels and an elevated ride. The roof is lower and those 20 inch wheels reduce the Scenic’s impression of being a useful box on wheels.
The badge is now an even larger element of the front end treatment and, to compensate, the rear overhang has been reduced. In between is more wheelbase. So, essentially, Renault are adopting the dictum of Harley Earl: longer, lower and wider. In doing this Renault are engaged in the new habit of rubbishing their earlier work which they say lacked flair and style.
This development raises the question of whether people want this kind of vehicle as much as they say they do. The existing estate car is long and low and they are as popular as dentures. And hatchbacks already have the same kind of profile as the Scenic is taking on. Cross-overs are already there as raised hatchbacks and are credited, along with classic MPVs, with stealing the market of the once-popular estate.
What we see here is convergence towards the hatchback: most estates have sloped rear decks to make them less voluminous but more attractive; CUVs are blending hatchback profiles with the raised ride of SUVs and cars like the Kadjar are as much hatchback as cross-over.
The superficial styling of the Scenic is such that without a badge it would be hard to identify it as a Scenic. It could equally be the Kadjar’s bigger brother (which is perhaps the intention). There is a very marked haunch over the rear wheel arch (which will make the view out worse for the car’s smaller users) and the bodyside is marked by deeper sections and a more pronounced step from the lower door to the DLO.
The rear hatch has a complex, space-eating profile and a window wrapping around to the raked C-pillars. When the hatch is opened non-functioning black triangles remain in place on the body, indicative of an aperture shaped by styling and less by the need to get huge objects in to the loadbay. On the Geneva show car the black roof and blacked-out a-pillars reduce the impression of the car’s height and disguise the profile.
That’s the redefinition of the MPV for you: according to Renault their users want a car that is less obviously about carrying kids and stuff and more about that enigmatic thing, “lifestyle”. In all likelihood it will be as successful as its peers, indicating that the market these days is less concerned about function and more about form. Turning the future, one wonders how Renault will criticize this car as they have done the predecessor. Will the 2016 car be seen as frumpy and boring in 2023, with those pronounced coke-bottle hips, huge wheels and even huger badge?
(I will probably be doing a review of the colour trends at Geneva: this car is notable for its rich gold-orange paintwork. As ever, the interior is shown in Ghia brown which no-one will buy, sadly.)