It's amazing what a bit of plastic and a fresh set of alloy wheels can do for a car's image. Remember the VW Polo Dune? How about the Dacia Sandero Stepway? Ordinary hatchbacks transformed into quasi-SUVs, albeit without four-wheel drive.
Now Renault has done the same to its Scenic MPV. Beefy bumpers, sill guards and roof bars? Check. Special alloy wheels? Check. Raised ground clearance? Check. There's also a fancy traction control system called Grip Xtend and even fancier mud and snow tyres. Still no four-wheel drive, though.
SUV-style goodies aren't the only things that set the XMOD apart from the Scenic. The XMOD gets a new entry-level Expression+ trim, which means that, at £17,955, its starting price undercuts the regular Scenic's by £1200.
What's the 2013 Renault Scenic XMOD like inside?
Large windows mean visibility is excellent, while plenty of soft-touch plastics, smart trim and leather steering wheel and gearknob ensure the overall ambience is tasteful.
You get manual seat controls as standard – and it's not difficult to find a comfortable driving position – but can specify electric adjustment as part of the £1800 Relax Pack, which also brings leather upholstery.
There are two central colour screens. The one closer to the driver displays speed and revs, and the one to the left conveys sat-nav and radio info. The latter is controlled via a joystick between the front seats, but it’s not that straightforward to operate and can be distracting to use while driving.
Move to the rear and the Scenic’s seats aren’t as clever as some of its MPV rivals'. The three individual seats slide and tumble forwards to boost legroom or boot space, but they don’t fold into the floor. They can be removed, but this isn't the easiest of jobs and, naturally, you'll need somewhere to store them. On the plus side, the boot will hold a useful 437 litres even with the rear seats in place – although the rival Ford C-Max has an even bigger load bay.
Expression+ trim gives you a four-speaker CD radio and aux/USB inputs, air-conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, 16-inch alloys, front fog lights, black roof bars and LED daytime running lights. However, you only get the 1.6 VVT 110 petrol (£17,955) and 1.5 dCi 110 diesel (£19,745) engines with this trim.
Move up to Dynamique TomTom trim and you'll pay at least £19,155 (for the 1.6 VVT 110), but you’ll get auto headlights and auto wipers, Carminat TomTom Live navigation system and dual-zone climate control. This trim allows you to specify the rest of the Scenic's engines: the 1.2 TCE 115 and 130 turbo petrol units, the 1.6 dCi 130, and the 1.5 dCi diesel.
You can also spec a Bose+ pack, which adds 17-inch alloys, keyless entry, heated and folding door mirrors, rear parking sensors, a nine-speaker Bose stereo, plus all manner of interior and exterior styling embellishments.
What’s the 2013 Renault Scenic XMOD like to drive?
We tried the 1.5- and 1.6-litre diesel engines, which have 109 and 128bhp respectively. The latter is unsurprisingly stronger and is also more refined, but both feel fairly flat until you get beyond 2000rpm. That means you'll spend much of your time rowing through the gears in town, although at least the manual gearbox is pleasant to use, with a precise action.
Body roll is kept neatly in check by MPV standards, although the Scenic's relatively stiff set-up is no doubt to blame for its slightly firm ride. The suspension deals with most bumps well enough, but you can certainly hear it working to quell things on rougher roads, and sharper ridges and drain covers will jar occupants.
Even worse is the steering. It’s slow, vague and doesn't inspire confidence when cornering; lots of arm twirling is required when you're manoeuvring in town, while it needs constant correction on the motorway.
Grip Extend is what the XMOD is all about, though. This advanced traction control system makes its debut here, and is controlled via a centre console-mounted rotary switch. There are three modes: Expert, which applies the brakes automatically; Loose Ground, which optimises braking and engine torque; and Road, which is the default option that takes over as soon as you exceed 25mph.
In testing on wet roads it was hard to discern the benefits of Grip Extend over a regular traction control system. Smart getaways out of junctions will get the front wheels spinning whichever mode you're in, but power is quickly cut to maintain control.
The Continental mud and snow tyres are of far more interest - they're designed for year-round use and will do a better job of getting you out of a sticky situation than regular rubber. However, there's only so much that two-wheel drive can do, so Ray Mears-style adventures are best left to proper SUVs.
You might expect these special tyres would generate lots of road noise at motorway speeds, but that isn't the case. However, the Scenic's door mirrors and A-pillars create lots of wind noise at anything above 40mph.
Should I buy one?
You normally have to pay a premium when a manufacturer tarts up a regular model. Not here, though. In fact, in Expression+ trim the 1.6 VVT 110 XMOD costs £1200 less than the next cheapest model in the Scenic range. True, you miss out on sat-nav, climate control and auto headlights and wipers, but in return you gain the XMOD goodies.
The 1.6 dCi 130 is the better of the two diesels to drive, but it costs £22,195, so the cheaper 1.5 dCi 110 makes most sense – in Expression+ trim. It’s not available with stop-start in this spec, but still averages 61.4mpg officially and emits just 120g/km CO2, so it’s attractive to company and private buyers alike.
What Car? says...
Specification 1.6 VVT 110
Engine size 1.6-litre petrol
Price from £17,955
Torque 111lb ft
0-62mph 11.7 seconds
Top speed 115mph
Fuel economy 36.7mpg
CO2 emissions 178g/km
Specification 1.5 dCi 110
Engine size 1.5-litre diesel
Price from £19,745
Torque 177lb ft
0-62mph 12.5 seconds
Top speed 112mph
Fuel economy 61.4mpg
CO2 emissions 120g/km
Specification 1.6 dCi 130 S/S
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
Price from £22,195
Torque 236lb ft
0-62mph 10.3 seconds
Top speed 112mph
Fuel economy 64.2mpg
CO2 emissions 114g/km
By Rob Keenan