This pairing of a 2002 Mercedes-Benz A-Class and 2003 Renault Scenic is interesting, because while they may look similar on the surface, they are anything but. The A-Class story is fairly well-documented, designed to provide large car space in a small car footprint but undone by an obscure Swedish car magazine’s test. Meanwhile, the Scenic was an evolution of Renault’s family Megane hatch, so let’s compare and contrast…
The Renault Megane Scenic was launched in 1996, based on the first 1995 Megane hatchback that had its roots in the 19 of the 1980s. The facelifted version of 1999 is the one that was brought to Australia, and was a worthwhile one as there were changes such as an opening window on the rear hatch and improved interior storage. The Scenic set the template for the tall hatch or mini-MPV as they were referred to in Europe, and there are clear benefits from the higher seating position including improved legroom and interior space generally.
The original W168 A-Class was nearly 10” shorter than the Scenic, with the front overhang representing a good deal of that. This is because the platform structure is fundamentally different to the conventional car-based Scenic, with a sandwich structure that was intended to have the engine slide under the floor in a crash, and also provide space for batteries. So the A-Class didn’t have quite the same interior space benefit – perhaps why they brought out the 170 mm / 6.2” longer version in 2002; you can see the rear door is very generously-sized.
The two cars were also in quite different market segments, with the Renault starting just under AUD$26k in Australia or roughly a $5k increase over an equivalent ‘standard’ hatchback, while the Mercedes started around AUD$35k and was presented as a slightly magical compact version of a normal Mercedes. It must have been a delicate balancing act, with the cost of an expensive bespoke platform for a small car where every thousand dollars on the price tag would reduce sales.
The A-Class turned out to be a blind alley, with the replacement W169 generation of 2004 keeping the sandwich platform, but the replacement W176 for 2008 saw it dropped in favour of a conventional platform (Golf-clone anyone?) that would allow it to also host a sedan (CLA) and conventional hatchback in addition to the B-Class that continued on the tall format. The previous cars had committed the marketing sin of appealing to the older crowd when one of the intentions of the small car was to recruit young buyers to the brand.
As with the Audi A2 I looked at last week, the A-Class could also be regarded as a folly; or from another point of view as ahead of its time. It would definitely be more at home in today’s market where the electric car is a reality rather than merely imminent.
Future CC/Driving Impressions: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4MATIC – Is This A Real Mercedes-Benz? – Brendan Saur
Any mooses in the vicinity of that A-class?
Teehee! But kangaroos, in this case.
Actually, that bend in the Renault door is near-identical to one in my old Honda, caused by a roo. Contrary to their image as a noble beast, they are actually pea-brained. I had panic-stopped, ABS fully activated, for my one, and it stared as if insulted at the side of the car, before jumping AT me and bouncing off the rear door into the darkness!
I suppose I’m thankful it wasn’t an A-class as I presume the kanga thump would’ve keeled it over.
Sounds like our deer. Beautiful, but dumb as a post.
Thanks Mike, I could only find the ‘sanitised’ M-B follow up.
The Citroen Xantia is the champion of this maneuver apparently.
Colin Chapman was reputed to have said that for a successful car, “add lightness”. For its small contender, Mercedes added smallness, too much so, as the need for the later LWB version showed. The A-class was technically brilliant, but moose-stiffened legs meant they weren’t wonderful to drive and the interior was properly cheap. (The Aus ones were further blighted by a bloody awful auto-clutch manual). La Scenic achieved 80% of the clever on probably 10% of the budget, and all just 4 inches longer than the LWB Benz.
Let me tell you how that unusual dent appeared in the Renault.
It was caused by the foot of the owner when the darling thing broke, again. I know because mine eventually had such damage on every panel. Don’t misunderstand, I loved my Scenic. Unlike the Merc, it was an old-style French hoot to drive, roly-poly, grippy, very comfy, decent adult room for 5 plus luggage on a small footprint. But dear lord, it did like to break. Expensively and repeatedly.
By reputation, the A-class was no better in that regard. Another Franco-German stalemate then.
Late last year, some amphetamine-enhanced citizen was kind enough to remove the thing from my possession. In answer to my earnest prayers, the police didn’t find it till after the insurance was paid. Turned out that it had been abandoned after breaking down. Well, I could have told them that.
I miss the silly thing. But I now have a bank balance.
I can remember when car magazines in Europe were predicting that these mini MPVs would soon take up the majority of the new car market.
I guess the closest thing the U. S. has to the Scenic is the Ford C-Max?
BTW, with the A-class sedan no longer being pushed as heavily (if at all?) in the U. S. it would appear that any advertising dollars were poorly spent. All I see on the roads in my area are the CLA. And further irony? A LOT are driven by “empty nesters” who would probably have bought Nissan Muranos just 5 years ago.
The Scenic was a massive hit in Europe, and all competitors eventually fronted mini MPV’s, so the mags weren’t too far off. I’m not sure if the segment has been supplanted by mini-SUV’s there now.
I must say, I really didn’t get the fuss over a tallboy hatch until I owned one. With a flat floor and removeable seats, they’re a remarkably capacious car, in a wieldy size.
In fact, the current B-Class Mercedes, that once succeeded the long-wheelbase A-Class, now follows the Scenic format. A very practical car actually.
Ironically the Scenic itself is now more SUV-like in its current edition.
Yes, the ‘tall hatch’ format seems to be losing out to SUV’s which probably aren’t that much less practical in the end.
Justy – thanks for sharing your Scenic experience! Years ago I didn’t consider getting a Clio Sport because of things like that.
I see the Renault more like a mini-minivan. They look genius, even today.
Well, the same thing happens with a lot of “youth oriented” cars, as older folks latch onto them instead. The current crop of older folks (me included, for the record) don’t seem to crave the cars of elders past, at least for their new car purchase. Rather than purchasing a large sedan as the comfy and luxurious car for their golden years, we see folks embracing the smaller luxury models, and the CUVs are a hit with the 50 and up market. Smaller, easier to drive, yet with all the bells and whistles that the luxury cars they remember from their youth along with the newest electronic gizmos that sync with their iPhone, and voila, instant cred with the AAA crowd. You see a lot of Kia Souls being driven by “middle aged” folks, while Kia hyped them to the youth market via the HamStars commercials. Is Granny and her posse hip-hop fans? Probably not, but they sure drive a lot of Souls versus the new Buick or Caddy.
Old folks, really?. The A-class was manufactured in Brazil from 1999 until 2005, powered by 1600 and 1900 engines. but its career was doomed when it got branded as a “ladies’ car”, a deadly sin for the Brazilian market.
Here’s a much newer European take on the tall hatch. It’s not much longer than our – now – second car, a Renault Clio, but has so much more space, headroom and luggage space as to make the Clio look positively miniscule!
For some reason I really like the Soul;… but not feeling it for any of these tall hatches. We have a few Soul’s in the neighborhood- mostly kid’s cars or third car commuter for folks that work downtown.
I’m another one that liked the Soul, hamsters and all. It reminded me when it first appeared of the first generation Neons. It had a personality that stood out among a sea of cookie cutter cars.
Of course I am one of probably three people worldwide who cried when Nissan cancelled the Cube ? so my opinion on style may not count for a lot!
The Scenic is such a nice, clean design. I always liked these and the similar Opel Zafira (7-seater). I wished we got that and the Honda Stream. We did get the Mazda5 and Kia Rondo, but I guess North Americans prefer compact SUVs instead.
Agreed on the Zafira and Scenic. The Zafira is actually quite comfy inside.
We’ve had a 2000 Renault Scenic in the family since new. My Grandparents bought it new, trading their 1991 EAII Ford Fairmont Ghia on it – going from a large 3.9-litre RWD straight-6 sedan to a small 2-litre FWD mini MPV was quite the contrast! But as they were in their 70s by that stage the Fairmont too low to comfortably enter and exit. The height of the Renault made it a breeze for them to get in and out of, and the large glass area served to accentuate how spacious it was, and how many useful storage nooks and crannies there were! The two downsides to it were (are) the lack of any meaningful power, and the major transmission issues – by the time it’d done 100,000km the transmission had been replaced/repaired three times. But these two issues aside, it was, and remains, one of the most well thought-out and useful vehicles I’ve been in.
Not surprising for a Renault automatic (assuming!); I have mentioned before that a relative had a Renault 19 auto, and people were surprised to hear that the auto had made 100k without failure – it had a very gentle life – most journeys would have been 90% gearchange-free on the open road.
A very safe assumption. It’s called the Al4 or DPO box, not sure who makes it, but it’s fitted to many French cars, and it is UTTER CRAP! If you’re lucky, you just get failing solenoids which cause the first few cold changes to thump and get stuck in limp home. Easy lived with by turning car off, then on again; you eventually get skilled at doing that in rolling motion. They’re not an impossible fix, but the labour to get to them sure is. They also begin to slip, by which actions a re-build is unavoidable. Just $4-5,000.
They also simply don’t work very well even when they’re good, continually trying (incompetently) to second-guess your needs. “Aha, monsuier has accelerated hard (you’re simply merging a need a spurt) so I immediately jump into sports mode and hold the gears for monsiuer.” Which leaves you stuck screaming in second at 90kmh, till it slowly decides to revert. Arghhhh!
Still, I totally agree with Scott about what a well-thought out car they were, though I found the power fine. It’s possible your grandparents one had a faulty potentiometer on the accelerator, one of the many faults of the dear thing; hard to diagnose, and it does make the car very gutless.