WITH more than five million sales to date, Renault's Scenic compact people carrier is firmly established as a family favourite.

Arguments continue to rage as to who was first to market with what we now know as the MPV. Whether it was Renault or not, the French firm’s Scenic has become synonymous with the image of a high-rise, five-door hatchback boasting a little more space and flexibility than a conventional family hatch.

Although initially something of a gamble, buyers quickly warmed to the Scenic. This latest fourth generation car retains the basic template and adds a welcome dash of premium car refinement.

The first concept car came in 1991, and more than 20 years might have passed since the arrival of the first production Scenic, but there’s no mistaking this five-seater for anything else. Rivals might have caught up in terms of the basics - seating, cabin versatility, boot space - but so many stumble at the design stage and turn out a box on wheels.

Not so Renault, for which design is the number one consideration and which has cleverly managed to wrap a family container in a pleasingly streamlined skin.

Renault’s familiar flair for design is also evident inside the Scenic. For something that will be used, and most likely abused, by families it’s surprisingly plush.

And there’s good reason for this upmarket ambience - everyone else is doing it. From superminis to compact saloons, the desire to emulate the experience of something more expensive is a strong one. There’s no denying that we all love soft-touch plastics, chrome-effect accents and switchgear that feels like it’s been lifted straight out of a BMW, and the Scenic has them all.

It’s also got a roomy cabin, which is pretty much central to the car’s reason for being.

The car’s lofty seating positions - fore and aft - plus the raised roofline do much to promote a light and airy cabin ambience. That you can play with the rear seats (they split and fold with ridiculous ease), stash oddments in a variety of well placed storage spaces and listen to one of the best-sounding audio units in a regular car is more than a bonus - it’s how family motoring should be.

Even before hitting the road it’s easy to understand exactly why the Scenic has excelled at usurping the conventional family car. More space and greater flexibility appeal to our practical sides. Who cares how the car drives, right?

Wrong, actually. This Scenic is a good steer, with a supple ride and a perfectly acceptable and accomplished performer. It’s no sports car, but neither is it dull.

Renault is offering four trim levels across a 21-strong version line-up and - uniquely in this class - provides AEBS with pedestrian detection as standard across the range

At launch there is a choice of five engines on offer – two Energy TCe turbocharged petrol options with capacities and power outputs of 1.2-litre/115hp (manual only) and 1.2-litre/130hp (manual only). The turbodiesel alternatives are a 1.5-litre dCi 110 unit (manual or EDC), a 1.6-litre dCi 130 engine (manual only) or a 1.5-litre dCi 160 engine (EDC only).

The standard 20-inch wheels come as something of a surprise, whereas the best-in-class boot volume of 572 litres is rather what we have come to expect.

Built on the new Renault-Nissan Alliance ‘CMF’ platform in Douai, France, it is priced from £21,445, and plays host to a raft of safety features and technologies usually associated with the segment above.

The Scénic, and its big brother, the seven-seat Grand Scénic, each have a comprehensive standard specification, rising to the luxurious at the top of the range.

There are six equipment packages available, plus optional personalisation packages include plenty of stuff to tempt you into splashing out a little more cash, such as a rear parking camera, full LED headlights, 8.7-inch portrait touchscreen and leather steering wheel.