Five-seater flair

It was worth the wait. Despite a two-month delay the new Megane Scenic from Renault proves the French still have style. Anthony Gould reports

This week’s UK launch of Renault’s market sector defining Megane Scenic, a cleverly designed car which is smaller than a multiple people vehicle (MPV) carrier but more spacious than an estate, is two months later than planned.

The French car manufacturer had to delay the UK launch because of the strength of demand in France, Belgium and Italy following its launch last autumn. Production was unable to match immediate demand and plant managers have had to study more flexible work schedules to produce more cars on the same production line.

The Scenic is produced on the same line as two other, distinctly different, Meganes, the saloon and Classic.

For Renault, which recorded £584m losses for 1996, the Megane Scenic is significant. The part-privatised French car and truck manufacturer (46% is owned by the government) needs to increase efficiency and is looking to cut jobs at home and abroad. It produces too many different models in too many plants, usually with each model on its own line. It also has too many plants.

Efforts to stem the tide have begun, with the announced closure of its Vilvoorde plant near Haren in Belgium, which led to strike action and ugly clashes in France and Belgium.

The Megane Scenic is the fourth Megane body style, and one of three Megane models – the hatchback and the Classic – produced on the same production line at Renault’s Douai plant in north east France.

The Classic is also built at Palencia, Spain, on the same line as the Megane hatchback and the Laguna.

A spokesman for Renault at Douai says Renault’s aim with the Megane was to standardise operations and components between each model as far as possible. Up to 60% of components are shared between the three models, and 40% between the hatchback, the coupe, the Classic and the Scenic.

Each Megane model has the same basic platform, dashboard and driving position and semi-autoclave doors to avoid complication during the production process and to minimise the number of components specific to one model.

According to Renault, standardisation of the assembly process at all factories has resulted in multiple economies of scale, and reduced the time needed to set up production facilities.

Production, originally planned for 600 units a day, has been increased to 1,000 units.

The Scenic gives the impression of being a different car to the other Meganes because it borrows only minor exterior components from the Megane, such as door handles, mirrors and badges.

Every external pressing is unique, as is the glass. Even the moulded plastic bumpers and tail-gate are new.

What is shared, however, is the basic floorpan, a 2580mm wheelbase, the instrument pack, switchgear, air vents and the heater control panel.

Although all Meganes use the same facia, the Scenic has an extra panel fitted between the dashboard top and the windscreen, enabling the facia to be raised for a higher driving position.

Central to the design success is the use of a twin-floor and one-box body. Renault’s designers have taken the Megane floorpan and placed another pressing on top. This simple action raises the floor to give the rear passengers a higher seating position and creates a space for storage.

The designers have also created storage in every conceivable place, especially under the rear passenger seats – there is even a 12V power point and a storage drawer under the driver’s seat. The stowage hold extends the full width of the vehicle providing 70 litres in all.

There are five separate seats. The centre seat is designed to slide fore and aft along the flat floor through a range of 17cm. It can also be folded, its backrest doubling as a table top, or removed. The same is true for the other rear seats.

The parcel shelf can support 70kg and can be fitted level with the seat tops or lower.

To accommodate the extra weight of the Scenic compared to the hatchback, all versions are equipped with the four-torsion bar programmed-deflection rear suspension system fitted to 2 litre versions of other Meganes. The MacPherson-type front suspension includes lower wishbones and an anti-roll bar. All are equipped with power-assisted steering as standard.

The Scenic has front disc brakes – ventilated on all versions – and range from 259-262mm diameter compared to 238-259mm on the hatchback.

All this is packed into a vehicle only 5mm longer than the hatchback Megane at 4134mm. It is 1719mm wide and 1620mm tall, compared to 1.42m for the hatchback.

The front wings are made from Noryl plastic. Renault has set up a recycling subsidiary which is concentrating on the homologation of an under-bonnet part made from recycled Noryl.

The door mirror housings, reservoir caps, heater/ventilation box, the engine undertray, the loudspeaker supports, the water deflector and the battery are all made from recycled materials.

Although not an immediate hit Renault’s Espace, launched in 1984, changed the market, so much so that you cannot move today for MPVs.

The Scenic can be seen as stage two in the evolution of the MPV. Although Renault defines it as a Mutli Activity Car, or Mac, it is in essence a shrunken MPV.

This time, the competition will not be so slow to respond. Fiat is chasing Renault’s Megane Scenic with a junior MPV. The Multipla, designed in-house, has two rows of three bucket seats, and should go on sale next year. Other mutli-functional cars/vans are expected in the near future from Daihatsu, Citroen, Peugeot, Toyota and Vauxhall.

French flair, missing from the market for so long, has made a welcome return. It only remains for the company to complete rationalisation with minimum disruption and social unrest.