Renault has a wide range of small hatchbacks, but there's always room to squeeze in another, says David Wilkins

Choice is – quite rightly – generally considered to be a good thing; just listen to how often British politicians use this powerful word when they are talking about the sort of service they want our publicly-funded hospitals and schools to provide.


Model: Renault Grand Modus 1.5 dCi 106 Dynamique
Price: £13,420
Engine: 1.5-litre four cylinder diesel – other options available
Power: 106 bhp at 4,000 rpm
Torque: 177 lb/ft at 2,000 rpm
Performance: 115mph, 0-62 mph in 11.6 seconds, 60.1 mpg
CO2: 124 g/km
Worth considering: Vauxhall Meriva, Honda Jazz, Nissan Note, Ford Fusion

But how much choice can we really handle? Think of the last time you signed up for a new mobile phone; no doubt there was a tariff package among the thousands of different deals on offer that suited your needs precisely but you probably never found it because the amount of research involved wouldn't have been worth it to save a few quid each month.

I'd hesitate to suggest that any of the car manufacturers are actually offering too much choice as they chase every market niche with new models in the quest to give their customers what they want, but buyers certainly need to spend more time studying specification tables in car brochures than they used to.

If you want a small, practical Renault hatchback, for example, you can choose between the Twingo, the slightly larger Clio, and the taller-roofed Modus, which overlap substantially in terms of size and price. You might think that's more than enough choice, but now there is an additional complication. The Modus is also the smallest of Renault's range of people carriers, which comprises the bigger Scenic and Espace as well; these are both available in stretched versions called, respectively, the Grand Scenic and the Grand Espace. Now, the Modus has been extended in a similar way and is available as the Grand Modus, the car on which our readers give their Verdict this week.

Normally, I'd struggle to tell you exactly why you should buy a Grand Modus over a Modus, but last week's test of the Vauxhall Agila helps me to answer the question directly. The Agila is a small vehicle with very short overhangs which maximises passenger space through clever upright packaging; the standard Modus is a car cast in the same mould. The drawback of this layout is that load-carrying space is squeezed; the modest stretch that turns a Modus into a Grand Modus puts that right – and the rest of the car broadly passes muster, too.

Our test car featured Renault's 1.5-litre diesel engine, which is capable of hauling larger, heavier cars than the Grand Modus around – for example, the Nissan Qashqai SUV – so it hardly breaks sweat here, while returning an impressive 60mpg on the combined cycle. On the other hand, this engine is the most expensive option for the Grand Modus, so you might find better value among the others available. The Grand Modus's cornering behaviour is well controlled for such a high-sided design. The downside is that this car has none of that pillowy soft ride for which its forebears such as the Renault 4 were prized in the Sixties; that's not a particular criticism of Renault or the Grand Modus, more a lament at the tendency of all manufacturers to favour looks and handling over ride comfort.

Incidentally, I hate to say it, especially if you thought you'd begun to work out which small, practical Renault might be the one for you, but the company is about to complicate things even further by bringing an estate version of the Clio into the mix.

Choices, choices.

The Verdict

Colin Stickland, 39
Company director, Olney

Usual Vehicle: BMW 328 Coupe

My first thoughts were "A Renault – not a car I'd ever consider!", but then I thought back to the Renaults my grandparents toured Europe in during the Seventies and Eighties and thought that perhaps there was a family connection to the brand that shouldn't be ignored. Second thoughts of the Grand Modus were more positive – well made, generous interior storage space and smart-looking but hard-wearing seat fabrics. It was even better to drive, thanks to well-weighted steering and a lively engine. With lots of interior space, excellent visibility and easy access (thanks to doors the size of a manor house), it's suited to a more elderly clientele or families who want more space than the average runabout. It's not the car for me, but if my grandparents were still around, it's probably what they'd choose.

Hilary Ford, 47
Lecturer, Cambridge
Usual car:
Citroen C3 1.4 hdi(70)

The Grand Modus looked a lot bigger than the standard version. It had a good-sized boot, even with the sliding rear seats right back. Folding the rear seats opened a cavernous space. Our "split in two" tandem went in with ease. The high driving position and large windows gave excellent visibility, making driving easy. The interior was simply styled with an air of quality. The engine had plenty of torque and a bit of zip, but was a little noisy when revved. The handling was precise, with little roll when cornering. The suspension coped well with large bumps but felt "jiggly" over smaller ones. I would consider buying a Grand Modus except for one design flaw: the driver's seat cannot slide right back if the rear seats are fully folded. This means my 6ft-tall chauffeur (husband) could not drive it.

David Baker, 43
Graphic designer, Milton Keynes
Usual cars:
Honda Accord VTEC and Renault Clio

Time was when a car maker's model range was straightforward: Escort, Cortina, Capri and Granada, with an estate version if required. The reason I hark back to those days of my youth is that, as I drove the Grand Modus, I found myself thinking, "Where does this car fit into the Renault range?" It is a decent car – comfortable driving position; well put together; quiet, even on the motorway; drives sweetly, with a quiet, responsive, diesel engine; stylish looks, especially with the cute side window at the rear – and would be ideal for urban journeys. But – and here's where I struggle as it is only 2ins longer than my Clio – who is this aimed at? Someone who wants to pay more for a Clio? I think I must be missing the point.

If you would like to take part in The Verdict, email or write to The Verdict, Save & Spend, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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