With the Tahoe's 17-foot length and city/highway mileage of 15/23, using a vehicle like this for everyday chores just seems like a waste, regardless of one's position on the environment or climate change.
That thought was brought home to us recently when we spent more than a week in France with the Renault Scenic, a seven-passenger MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) that is almost three feet shorter than a Tahoe and boasts highway mileage of up to 68.9 in diesel trim. We highly enjoyed this Gallic cruiser, both on the autoroute and on back roads. Seating for all was very comfortable and there was ample room to fit luggage for four. Acceleration was brisk enough with the six-speed manual and the diesel proved true to form, sipping fuel in a miserly fashion.
You can find these comfortable, thrifty and practical MPVs from a number of manufacturers across Europe, but it's puzzling that they have never really taken off in the U.S. The closest similar vehicle in America is the rather tepid and tinny Mazda5, which seats just six and whose cargo space with the third row seating down is only 44.4 cubic feet (vs. the Scenic's almost 65). To add insult to injury, the Mazda's published mileage is just 22 city/28 highway with the automatic, a far cry from the French diesel.
Next to the Scenic, even a Honda Odyssey minivan seems downright gargantuan. It, too, is almost three feet longer. Yes, the Honda outclasses the Scenic in cargo room, but, just as with the Tahoe, buyers would have to decide whether they really need the extra space . . . and the extra cost of operation.
Some drawbacks to the Scenic: an almost $30,000 price tag for the base model in France, as well as questionable resale value and reliability (although we had not a single problem with ours). Still, the concept of a high-quality, efficient MPV in the U.S. is intriguing, especially as automakers focus on higher mileage standards in the coming years. Which manufacturer will make the first move in advancing the MPV as a viable alternative for American soccer moms and dads? Stay tuned.