GENEVA – Usually only supercar manufacturers spend hours fretting about how big they can make the wheels on their vehicles. But that’s where Renault’s product developers have been burning the midnight oil for the new Scenic.

Closely derived from the Renault R-Space Concept revealed in 2011, the designers’ goal was to ensure 20-in. hoops would be fitted as standard to the fourth generation of the compact MPV that created the class in 1996.

Most pundits viewing the ʼ17 Scenic’s world debut at the Geneva auto show suggested its striking new looks likely will attract more compact-SUV customers than the more traditional MPV buyer.

Speaking with WardsAuto, Renault’s C-segment product director for the Scenic, Delphine De Andria, says the redesign is needed to react to the European boom in demand for compact SUVs.

“We decided, having invented the first MPV, why not reinvent it by making a car that not only has all the things of the classic MPV but also provide customers with a car that delivers pleasure and the ‘wow’ factor?” she says.

“So we knew we had something very special here with unique proportions, but we realized the key was that visually we needed big wheels, 20-in., as standard,” De Andria says. “And so began an intensive program of R&D to make the design imperatives of oversized wheels fit the requirements expected of a comfortable family bus.

“We continued to think about the important things we needed to provide to satisfy our customer’s expectations,” De Andria continues. The key was in avoiding the trend toward big wheels in low-profile tires, she says.

“The answer was to ensure the rubber on the tires was at least 4.2 ins. (107 mm) thick to absorb road shock. The engineers told us this would make the tuning of the car’s suspension easier, because there will only be one size of wheel offered.”

Renault developed the tires with Michelin and Continental with the requirement that the 20-in. tires would cost the same as the 17-inchers used on the current Scenic. The factory also insisted on achieving low-rolling resistance to improve fuel economy for the six diesel, two gasoline and one hybrid engines being offered on the new car. Power output for the diesel units range from 94-158 hp while the gasoline models produce 113-128 hp.

“We had to keep the rolling resistance to a minimum and to achieve this we have made the tires quite narrow, a 195, and not the wide ones you'd normally see on a 20-in. wheel,” De Andria says. “This will allow an A rating for low-friction-boosting fuel economy.”

While denying there had been a focus on making the new car attractive to the swollen ranks of SUV fans, De Andria says the Scenic’s distinctive looks are intended to stir emotions.

“The purpose was to make the customers want to buy it, not because they need it but because they love the look. We also needed to let them know that despite the redesign we have not lost any of the strengths of the current Scenic because, first and foremost, it is a car for the family.”

De Andria says the interior is another key area for Renault’s MPV customers to whom ease of use and flexible seating and storage configurations are important.

Convenience provisions include two USB charging ports and, apart from the base model, all models get two digital displays. One is an 8.7-in. (11.2-cm) vertical touchscreen on the car’s floating center console, housing the R-Link 2 infotainment system, and the other is a 7-in. (17.5-cm) horizontal display behind the steering wheel replacing dash instruments. A head-up display is included.

There’s 20.2 cu.-ft. (572 L) of luggage space, up from 19.6 cu.-ft. (555 L) on the current car, with more available when the 60:40 split rear bench is folded. An optional One Touch Folding facility can lower the rear seats electrically via the touch of a button in the cargo area or through the car’s infotainment system.

Customers indicated their priorities were flexibility, so we included sliding seats and one-touch buttons that eliminated the need to remove seats weighing 6.8 lbs. (15 kg) to liberate more space. We also gave the second-row passengers the same amount of space as those seated in the front row, something you don’t see in crossovers.”