The motor industry desperately needs new car buyers. Currently the market is 6.7 per cent down this year with 13 consecutive months of declining sales but hopefully the new 61 registration plate sales month of September will give the industry a much needed lift.
Renault in the UK must be eagerly seeking customers as they have seen their new car registrations fall by 31 per cent in the first seven months of this year compared to the same period last year.
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This is bad enough but in 2010 their UK sales were 51 per cent down on those of 2009. In fairness the 2009 yearly total was boosted somewhat by the Scrappage Scheme, but it is still a worrying downward spiral for the brand.
Some of the company's sales decline can be put down to the fact that they have cut out doing unprofitable daily rental fleet business which is costly, weakens residual values and only moves the metal in the short-term, it doesn't bring in long-term loyal buyers.
However Renault is fighting back to regain retail customers and are upping the ante by introducing a raft of customer incentives. These including a three year/100,000 mile warranty across the range from 1 September, improved quality of products, an improved quality of service from dealers and this includes an online star rating system for dealer sales and aftersales performances.
It is surprising that none of the three French brands, Renault, Peugeot and Citroen, have one single model range between them in the UK top ten sales league.
However none of these brands should be overlooked as they all offer good and practical solutions for our motoring needs as we look to reduce our motoring running costs. Downsizing isn't just about opting for a smaller vehicle; many of us cannot do that.
We are either families with children, empty nesters who still need carrying space, active couples who carry lots of recreational equipment or indeed there are many less-able people who need vehicles with easy access with supportive yet comfortable seats and space to carry such items as wheelchairs.
Renault Grand Scenic dci Energy 130 performance
A good example of this kind of vehicle is the latest Renault Scenic with five seats or the more practical seven seat Grand Scenic. Both ranges have in recent weeks seen the introduction of a new lower capacity 1.6-litre turbodiesel unit, the Energy dCi 130, which officially offers the lowest emissions and best fuel economy and performance of any MPV powered by a similar-sized engine in the UK.
Compared to the former 1.9-litre diesel with the same 128bhp power output, the newcomer boasts CO2 emissions slashed by more than a fifth, from 149 to 115 grams per kilometre.
In the process its BIK company car tax rating drops to only 13%, from 21%, while the savings add up even further with no VED road tax cost in the First Year rate and then only £30 in subsequent years. Rounding off the engine's array of money saving talents, its combined official fuel economy is an impressive 64.2 mpg, an increase of a quarter.
On my test drive the Grand Scenic dCi 130 Stop & Start model averaged a disappointing 50.9mpg, with two of us and weekend luggage on-board travelling on a long journey covering motorways and all types of A and B roads and traffic conditions.
Initially, with just me and no luggage, the vehicle returned 60.1mpg according to the on-board computer driving on A roads and travelling at the usual 50mph that the volume of traffic dictates.
The killer for this engine, in terms of fuel economy in the Grand Scenic, appeared to be travelling at 70mph on motorways and coping with A/B road hills which saw consumption increase significantly to only 50.9mpg, 13.3mpg less than the official Combined Cycle figure.
That is a sure sign that some modern 1.6-litre petrol and turbodiesel engines in larger vehicles are not as fuel efficient under-load as the laboratory obtained official mpg figures. Being of smaller capacity, even though they produce similar amounts of power and torque as larger units, they have to work harder and that means more fuel is used.
However the official homologation and type approval paperwork will show high mpg and low CO2 emissions and those are the selling and tax level points that buyers consider.
Renault Grand Scenic engine range
The 1.6 turbodiesel engine might have to work harder but it is no slouch in the Grand Scenic dispatching zero to 62mph in 11.1 seconds with a top speed of 121 mph. In everyday driving, its torque of 320Nm from 1,750rpm, an increase of 20Nm on the former 1.9-litre diesel with the same power, is also likely to appeal, together with peak power of 128bhp at 4,000 rpm.
Mated with a six-speed manual gearbox this engine was willing and responsive, just not that fuel efficient in real-life conditions. Saving money on running costs Renault offers a fixed cost service plan covering three years or 30,000 miles and costs a very reasonable £249.
If the new 1.6-litre dCi 130 (128bhp) diesel engine with a standard six speed manual gearbox is not the ideal choice because of the purchase cost, then of course there are other less costly power unit options.
These are 1.6 109bhp petrol and 1.4 TCe 129bhp turbocharged petrol units, both with manual gearboxes, a 2.0-litre petrol with 138bhp with a CVT auto transmission and a 1.5 dCi turbodiesel 109bhp unit with either manual or auto transmissions.
Renault Grand Scenic dCi 130 specifications
However whilst we save on running costs, buying into models with great new engines is not cheap for financially constrained owners. My test model, the Grand Scenic dCi 130 Stop & Start with Dynamique TomTom specification, costs £22,200. This can easily be even more if options such as the £1,500 BOSE pack, which includes an upgraded sound system, front and rear parking sensors, Bose branded trim and carpet mats, is taken.
Other options include Bi-Xenon headlights, emergency spare wheel, rear parking sensors and electrically operated sunroof. An additional cost £1,500 Leather Pack or a £590 Convenience Pack is available to owners wanting a bespoke vehicle.
Many of these options are nice to have but in most cases they do not add much in the way of trade-in value when the time comes to sell. Choose the options you really need, not what is just nice-to-have.
The seven seat Grand Scenic comes as standard with all the features we now expect, electrically operated windows and door mirrors, anti-lock braking, stability control, a raft of air bags and safety features, keyless Renault card entry, on-board computer, a good sound system and air conditioning.
There is the Expression standard specification followed by I-Music and Dynamic TomTom. The top Dynamique TomTom model added equipment such as 16-inch alloy wheels, TomTom live navigation, air conditioning, automatic headlights and wipers, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic electronic parking brake, cruise control with speed limiter, tinted glass, sunblinds for the rear doors, aviation tables on the rear of the front seats, sports style upholstery and trim.
Grand Scenic interior and practicality
Overall the Grand Scenic is functional, roomy, comfortable, easy to drive with good visibility and easy to live with and it offers versatility with its three rows of seating. The middle row has three individual seats and the rear row has two seats. The rear row folds down completely flat into the floor giving a largish load space.
Unfortunately the middle row of three seats is heavy to fold and they only tumble forwards to stow, they do not fold into the floor to give an even larger flat load floor. There are however under floor load storage boxes.
With all the seats in use there are 208-litres of boot space and this increases through stages of seat folding to a massive 2,063-litres. It is not the most user-friendly MPV on the market in respect of the seating functions but it isn't a minibus either.
Using the platform of the latest Megane it is a sensible size and easy to park thanks to its 4,560mm of overall length, about the same as a modern C-segment family hatchback.
The ride is comfortable; the suspension is compliant and absorbs the shocks of all but the deepest potholes.
In most ways it is a very good user-friendly package for customers wanting a vehicle capable of satisfying many motoring needs.
Renault Grand Scenic Dynamique TomTom dCi 130 Stop & Start, 7-Seat
Engine/transmission: 1.6-litre, four cylinder, low friction, direct high pressure common rail, turbodiesel, 128bhp, 320Nm (236lb ft) of torque from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual
Performance: 121mph, 0-62mph 11.1 seconds, 64.2mpg (50.9mpg actual) , CO2 115g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £30 per annum, BIK company car tax 13%
Insurance group: 21E
Dimensions/capacities: L 4,560mm, H 1,645, W 1,845, Boot/load space 208 to 2,063-litres
For: Stylish, sensibly sized, seven seater with lots of load space, easy to park, easy to drive, low tax new engine
Against: Not the most practical folding seat configuration, this version is expensive because of its new high-tech engine unless a big discount can be negotiated, real-life fuel economy doesn't match the official figure