A pair of dash-mounted LCD screens forms the centerpiece of the Grand Scenic's upgraded infotainment kit. The first display is an extremely wide and shallow panel and replaces what would be the instrument cluster in most cars. That means everything from the speedometer to the rev counter and fuel level gauge are rendered virtually.
Done well, this approach can be extremely effective as Mercedes recently proved with its latest S-Class. Indeed, it's very likely more and more cars will feature it in future. In the new Grand Scenic, however, it's rather less successful. For starters, the screen installation looks a bit cheap. Partly that's thanks to the rather mean proportions of the panel itself, but the excessive amount of dead space surrounding it hardly helps, either.
Unfortunately, Renault decided to cheapen things further with a chintzy "TFT DISPLAY" graphic below the panel. Frankly, it's redolent of 1980s boom boxes and their ubiquitous "graphic equalizers". Renault would be well advised to realise that in 2009 nobody is impressed by the mere presence of a TFT display. Making matters worse, the on-screen graphics also smack of cheap hi-fi rather than high end automotive fare. Overall, the look is dated and messy, which is never a good thing for a brand new product.
Nor, sadly, is it terribly easy to read, despite the fact that Renault has provided several colour and contrast options for users to choose from. Not only is the interface visually noisy, but the meager vertical size of the display also creates problems, particularly when accessing the Grand Scenic's multimedia functions.
That's a shame, because the latest Grand Scenic is fairly well specified when it comes to digital music playback. Okay, it doesn't have a hard drive for local storage of music files. It doesn't support video playback, either. But when fitted with the optional USB port (located in the centre console), it does boast both native iPod support and the ability to play music files from a mass storage device.
Strictly speaking, the system does an effective job on both counts. It correctly recognised our USB memory stick and first-gen iPod Nano and we like the fact that it immediately takes users to the playback interface upon connection. The problem comes when you attempt to navigate large libraries of music. There's only enough space on the main display for three rows of text, forcing you to scroll, scroll and scroll again.
Then there are the slightly fiddly, cheap and confusing dash mounted infotainment controls. If there's a logic and consistency to them, we failed to uncover it during our relatively brief time with the car. Users are further confused by the fact that the controls for and the display of the optional sat-nav system are located entirely separately from the rest of the infotainment system - the sat-nav control stick is found on the central sliding arm rest while the screen is situated to the right of the virtual instrument cluster. This, therefore, is no unified iDrive- or MMI-like in-car infotainment system.