Why the comparison?
There are a million niche models vying for a slice of the family car market these days, but Renault arguably set the blueprint for what a versatile, small family car should be when it unveiled the original Scenic in 1996. Little bigger than a family hatchback in terms of length or width, the Scenic's height and clever packaging meant it could carry five in comfort with enough space left for their bags and buggies.
And now that Renault is onto the third generation Scenic, we thought we'd pit it against one of the main pretenders that sprung up after the seminal original - the second generation Toyota Verso.
How are they similar?
Both exist for the sole purpose of being the one car of a one-car family. Despite being labelled 'multi-purpose vehicles', their purpose is clear: they both must offer passenger space and luggage flexibility, while not taking up too much space on the drive, and being half decent behind the wheel - otherwise a van with a wooden bench nailed down each side of the cab would do the job.
Both the Scenic and the Verso are based on the family hatches in their makers' ranges, namely the Mégane and the Auris (nee Corolla). For this generation, however, both makers have dropped the hatchback family prefix from the name in an attempt to make their people-carriers distinct models in their own right. Regardless, what you're buying into is hatchback running costs, but with the space of a much bigger car, including useful additions like folding tables on the back of the front seats, more cup holders and, theoretically, bigger door pockets.
How do they differ?
Despite both being of similar dimensions, Toyota has attempted to squeeze more into the Verso than it probably should have by adding two extra seats. The Japanese maker also seems to have pitched the Verso in a class above the Renault, because whereas the French car starts at £13,495 for a 1.6-litre VVT petrol version, the Verso kicks off at £16,750 for a 1.8-litre. Perhaps that's why Toyota chose not to festoon the Auris name on its MPV? The Scenic makes do with five seats, but in practice that means its boot is much more useful than the Toyota's, whose luggage space is mostly occupied by a pair of almost useless seats. Renault, it should be noted, has its own answer to the need for more seats with the Grand Scenic, though that's a significantly bigger car than the Verso.
So which one would we have?
Again, it depends upon need, and while we understand why Toyota would imbue its MPV with that added versatility of carrying seven, we still think it could have been packaged better - the Japanese people-carrier just doesn't seem as spacious as the Scenic. In fact, take the two seats out of the equation and the Scenic is better in every way. Sure, neither is going to win any beauty contests - and nor are they going to raise the pulse on a dynamic level (despite both makers' 'sporty handling' claims) - but Renault's competent car is a testament to its dogged fixation with the people-carrier in general.
The Scenic is more comfortable, more spacious, has a more useful boot, looks sharper (to our eyes), is better quality, is cheaper and has a wider engine range - there are 28 different combos of engine and trim to choose from, with a good handful spitting out less than 130g/km of CO2. Comparatively, the Toyota has just one petrol unit and one 2.0-litre diesel engine - though a 2.2-diesel will come later - and it's more expensive to buy. It also looks far too similar to the car it replaces (which, granted, is an accusation what could be levelled at the Scenic, albeit to a lesser extent). The Verso isn't bad, but when the Renault is tangibly better on all fronts there's no contest - and if you need the extra seats, go Grand with your Scenic.