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The Renault Megane Scenic was the first European car of its kind: a five-seater based on the chassis of a compact hatchback (in this case the Megane which had been launched a year earlier) but with a high roof to give it the appearance and practicality of an MPV. It also had removable seats. It became European Car of the Year on its launch in late 1996.
Underneath, the Scenic was mechanically identical as the Megane hatchback (itself based on the older R19). The 1.4 L, 1.6 L "Energy", 1.8 L "F-type" petrol and 1.9 L diesel engines were shared with the hatchback range. The Scenic was aimed at those who wanted all the practicality of an MPV, but could not accommodate the larger size and higher price of the likes of Renault's own Espace. Renault underestimated the sales impact that the Scenic would have - originally predicting that it would be a niche model with only 450 produced a day, production at the company's Douai plant would eventually peak at nearly 2500 cars a day just to cope with demand. With the Scenic, Renault had created a whole new market segment - the mini-MPV, and the concept was quickly imitated by other manufacturers.
Along with the Megane hatchback, the Scenic underwent a minor frontal restyle in 1999 and the newer 16-valve engines introduced. From the time of this restyle, it became officially known as the Renault Scenic, although a small 'Megane' badge still appeared on the rear door signifying the car's origin.
Renault also developed a 4WD derivative of the original Scenic, the RX4. Featuring an electronically controlled viscous centre differential designed by Austrian specialists Steyr Daimler Puch, it offered part-time, on demand 4WD. Renault also fully re-engineered the rear suspension and strengthened the front. The RX4 rode higher with increased suspension travel and larger wheels. While these changes provided a rugged chassis, the RX4 was held back by a single range transmission and an engine, the 2.0 litre from the Megane, with limited low end torque.
Production of the RX4 ceased in 2003 with the introduction of a new model. A 4WD version of this model is not currently proposed.
By 2003, there were alternatives on the market like the Citroen Xsara Picasso, GM Opel/Vauxhall Zafira, Fiat Multipla, Hyundai Matrix and Daewoo Tacuma.
Shortly after the launch of the Megane II, all-new Scenic was launched. There is also a seven-seater Grand Scenic, which has two small child sized seats in the enlarged luggage area. As with the Megane, the new car employs Renault's new corporate styling cues and much of the technology from other models such as the "Renault Card" keyless immobiliser and an automatic parking brake on certain versions.