We spent the last week in France, part of the time in Aix en Provence with my brother.Here's a picture of the Renault Scenic my brother has for the year and the almost identical one I rented from Hertz for a few days.
If people in the US think of Renault at all, they might recall the last attempt to introduce the brand into the US market through an ill-fated alliance with the rapidly collapsing AMC company before it got consumed by Chrysler. AMC with Renault produced the Alliance and Encore models for a few years (LINK). This was preceded by the Renault Le Car, a mid 70's subcompact intended to compete with the like of the VW Rabbit. Those cars do not recommend the brand to Americans.
But in Europe, Renault is a highly competitive brand, known for striking, iconoclastic design. Our Scenic had a fit and finish entirely competitive with the best that Honda, Toyota or VW have to offer. And in fact Renault does have a significant foothold in the US through Nissan, in which it owns a 50+% controlling interest and with which it shares a dynamic CEO, Carlos Ghosn (LINK).
Please Carlos, bring the Scenic to the US!
The Scenic is a tall station wagon, a common car type in Europe not found in the United States. In the US the need for relatively small, tall, 5 passenger station wagon type vehicles is filled by the small SUV. But these cars are at least 10 inches longer than the Scenic, aren't as space efficient, and don't handle as well. Two cars that are perhaps more comparable are the two compact minivans in the US, the Mazda 5 and the Kia Rondo. But again, 10 inches longer. The Prius is probably the closest example, in terms of MPG and size, but it's more hatchback than wagon. In France the Scenic seems to occupy a position like the Accord or Camry in the US: ubiquitous. We drove both the 1.5 liter and 2.0 liter diesels, both with six speed manual transmissions. These cars can cruise all day on the highway at 90 mph, comfortably and quietly, and also zip in an out of tight European parking spaces. And with those diesels they'll return combined city/highway of at least 40 mpg. Acceleration is great, even with the 1.5 liter, though that engine doesn't produce enough acceleration from a standing start to deal comfortably with some urban situations, like a quick entrance into a roundabout.
Renault's design shows how much opportunity there might be in the US for Nissan to create a new niche, or perhaps for VW to introduce its "Golf Plus". Or maybe Mercedes can start selling its directly comparable B-Class in the US like they do in Canada (LINK). But please, with a diesel.
More posts about Paris cars on my other blog (LINK).
UPDATE: I should have known this: the Nissan Versa in the US is based in some way on the Renault Megane/Scenic, though I haven't analyzed exactly how they differ in dimensions. Unfortunately, no diesel.