LARGE LOAD LUGGERS

Stuart Martin reviews the large-van segment

Some vehicles find a way of becoming greater than the sum of their parts, and the Renault Master is one that manages to achieve such a feat.

The big French commercial van has the forklift-friendly barn rear doors and a sliding door kerbside that can also take a load on a pallet; the test van was also fitted with the driver’s-side optional sliding door.

The 8.0-cubic metre loadspace claims a payload of 1663 kg in this $44,580 (before on-road costs) L1H1 short-wheelbase guise, as well as 560 mm load lip height, 2.5-tonne braked towing capacity, both of which are more than the Sprinter but less than the mammoth IVECO.Large_van_testing-20

There’s a steel bulkhead with a window fitted as standard, keeping unwanted noise (and cargo) out of the cabin.

But where the Master scores heavily is on the road. Once set up behind the wheel, the driver gets height-adjustable seating, an armrest and a height adjustable steering wheel, the latter not ideal, as well as room for two passengers on the bench seat, with the ability to fold down the centre seat and access an integrated seat-back table.

It has a six-speed manual hooked up to the 120 kW/360 Nm twin-turbo diesel four-cylinder, and, while the 1847 kg DCi165’s outputs are not class-leading, the engine is a smooth and conscientious worker.

The gearbox is a sweet-shifting unit that allows the power plant to be kept in its comfort zone, with a flexible torque spread.

But its road manners are where the Master impresses – ride quality on the firm side but not jarring like the Iveco, smaller bumps are no great issue, and the larger intrusions are dismissed without serious attitude change.

The French brand has made a hallmark of safety, and there’s plenty in the Master – anti-lock brakes, stability control (including trailer sway control), hill start assist, auto door locking, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera are all now standard, as well as possessing good exterior mirrors for manoeuvring in tight spots. The cabin also has two USB inputs, Bluetooth connectivity, a 12-volt socket, cruise control and speed limiter, front step in bumper, kerbside unglazed door (standard), myriad side sliding door options, and manual air conditioning.

There’s no standard sat/nav, but it, like climate control, automatic headlights, windscreen wipers and fog lights are on offer in option packs. The Master carries a three-year/200,000 km warranty with 24-hour roadside assistance and 12-month/30,000 km capped-price service intervals, while wearing a price tag under $45,000 (before on-road costs). No contest.Large_van_testing-15

The big Benz Sprinter offers an imposing street presence, dominated by the large three-pointed star that has history and a reputation for getting it right.

The brand has enjoyed much success in the light-commercial realm and, from behind the wheel of the Sprinter, it’s not hard to see why.

Entry to the cabin is as easy to achieve, as the interior’s layout is to use. While there’s a hand-me-down element from the passenger-car side of the brand’s global business, it’s still a cabin package that works.

The test van’s cab was separated from the cargo bay by a bulkhead with sliding door (an option), with a small passenger’s side ‘jump’ seat to allow for easy walk through access to the load bay.

Powered by a 2.2-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder with 120 kW and 360 Nm, the Mercedes’ outputs are similar to the Renault, but being asked to haul an extra 200 kg before loading does take the edge off its performance a little. It is rear-wheel-drive with a standard six-speed manual gearbox, but with the option of a seven-speed auto.

Where the Sprinter, to some extent justifies, its $78,032 (plus options) price tag is in its safety features list, which includes adaptive stability control, cruise control with limiter and crosswind assist, as well as dual front airbags, with the option of collision warning system, lane departure, blind spot warning, rear camera, and front and rear parking sensors.

It’s a relaxed vehicle to drive, due in part to being backed by electronic nursemaids, but it doesn’t feel unwieldy or awkward to get through tight spots, as well as sitting comfortably on rutted road surfaces.

The driver only gets a plastic steering wheel (which feels a little cheap), as well as Bluetooth and USB connections for the phone and sound system.

The barn rear doors and standard kerbside sliding exterior door allow forklift access to the 10.3 cubic metre load space, which has a 614 mm load lip height, a 1440 kg payload and 2.0-tonne braked towing capacity. It’s not the best, but far from the worst in the segment.

The IVECO 35-170 Hi-Matic boasts plenty of features, but put it all together and the overall package is less than the sum of its parts.

With outputs of 125 kW and 430 Nm from the 3.0-litre direct-injection intercooled variable-geometry turbodiesel and an eight-speed auto, the specs suggest a decent, punchy driveline, and it’s reflected on the road.

But also reflected from the road is every bump, lump and crevice – ride quality shot the IVECO down last year, and it seems little has changed to remedy that. It’s little wonder the sprung driver’s seat is standard, but it rattles and jumps around on the road and becomes tiresome to drive.

Pricing is also a problem – at $51,359 for the 10.8 cubic metre van it’s not a cheap starting price, but add the bigger power plant and auto, airbags and a multimedia system and it hits $61,000, well above similar machinery and up against the Benz, which is far closer to being value for money than the IVECO.Large_van_testing-18

The Big Bertha of the group here, the biggest of the IVECO New Daily line-up, boasts a cavernous 20 cubic metres of cargo space in the rear of its long-wheelbase and extended rear unit (2520 mm of it) that totals over 7.7 metres in length.

Forklift loading from the rear barn doors and the sliding side door, as well as an internal length of just over 5.0 metres, width of 1.7 metres and 2.1 metres of load height is on offer.

The new Daily’s trump card is its twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, which produces 150 kW and 470 Nm from 1400 to 3000 rpm – teamed with a ZF eight-speed automatic. This Italian load-lugger has pulling power whenever it’s required and an economy mode for when driving unloaded.

Given the Daily’s 1804 kg payload and a 2.0-tonne kerb weight, it’s got its work cut out for it, but the road drive showed it is up to the task.

The cabin is an improvement on its Italian heritage, with a dashboard more logically laid out than its compatriot from Fiat competing in the medium van segment; useful external mirrors with wide-angle lens are also helpful when turning such a large machine.

The features list has climate control, plenty of door, dash and overhead storage and a suspension seat for the driver, but the plastic steering wheel cheapens the appeal of the $75,000 asking price; so is the absence of standard stability control.

Cabin noise is down on its smaller sibling thanks to the presence of a bulkhead, with the features list also getting the optional sat/nav multimedia system. Dual front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control are all on the safety features list.

At this point, the IVECO is well established in the mix as a top-grade van, but taking price into consideration brings some perspective, and the road manners takes it back several pegs on the pecking order.

Granted it’s not laden to near its maximum payload, but the ride is far too rough – it’s no wonder the suspension seat is standard, but that doesn’t help the feedback coming through the wheel or kicking the rear end around on a mid-corner bump.

The New Daily is backed by a three-year/200,000 km warranty and has service intervals of 12 months/40,000 km; there’s also roadside assistance but no capped-price servicing.

Counterpoint

_WKP8880Rob Randazzo finds that with four vans contesting for the title of Delivery’s Large Van of the Year 2016, you would be mistaken if you thought the decision would be an easy one.

Yes, only four vans, but they ranged in price from $49,230 up to $78,032, and cargo-area volumes leaped from 8000 litres for the Renault up to a whopping 19,600 litres in the IVECO.

The IVECO Daily 35S17, with its powerful 125 kW/430 Nm, 3.0-litre, diesel engine and spectacular eight-speed ZF Hi-Matic (auto) gearbox shot around Delivery’s test route with amazing agility. That said, with less than one third of its maximum payload in the cargo area, the Daily was not the smoothest ride, especially on the uneven surface of the country-road section of our test route.

At 100 km/h on the highway section, the engine was revving at a leisurely 1750 rpm, which is outstanding for a van that stands 2580 high. In its favour, this height allowed standing room in the cargo area; however, it would also make entry into covered carparks a crunching experience.

The ginormous IVECO Daily 50C21A8V dwarfed everything in the paddock at Delivery’s head office, but still proved to be a worthy contender. It handled the widely varying road surfaces of the test route commendably, considering its size, and even stayed composed as it went through “the bump” – a section of sunken road surface halfway through a sweeping curve at the bottom of a hill. The driver’s suspension seat took out much of the shock and the full bulkhead damped most of the booming from the cargo bay. The cabin was definitely a little noisier than others, but not hugely so.

Highlights, besides the huge carrying capacity, included double-passenger seat, reversing camera, dual wheels on the back, heavy-duty anchor loops in the cargo area, GPS, incredibly fast ZF Hi-Matic auto gearbox, rear barn doors that opened to 270 degrees and a payload that can be optioned up to 2509 kg (1804 kg is standard).

At $75,675, the big IVECO Daily is not cheap, but with this van, even your pet elephant could go along for the ride.

The Renault Master SWB Van and the Mercedes-Benz MWB 316 Sprinter were difficult to separate.

With both products having full height and width bulkheads, the Master’s cabin was well appointed, less clinical, but not as roomy as the Sprinter.

The Master’s 2.3-litre engine attached to a fantastic six-speed manual transmission produced 120 kW at 3500 rpm and torque of 360 Nm at 1500 rpm. This was almost identical to the Sprinter, which was also a manual six-speed, and both sat on 2000 rpm at 100 km/h in top gear.

The Merc’s cargo area at 9000 litres was 1000 bigger than the Renault’s, but the 1663 kg payload of the Master was 163 better than the Sprinter. The side step into the back of the Master was 475 mm high, while it would be slightly easier on the your legs with Sprinter’s 400 mm step.

Both had reversing cameras, stop/start technology that turned off the engine while waiting in traffic, rear barn doors, excellent torquey engines, lights and tie-down anchors, and both performed faultlessly over our test route. These vans were built to carry loads, and both did it well. So, what was the point of difference between the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 316 and the Renault Master? $28,802!

Yes, at just $49,230 (on the road), the Master was $28,802 cheaper than the Sprinter as tested. This makes a huge difference to any buyer’s TCO (total cost of ownership) and is why I would select the Renault Master as Delivery Magazine Large Van of the Year 2016.

Second Thoughts

_WKP8883“Large vans rule in urban delivery work, especially when outsized packages are the norm and underground carpark height restrictions don’t apply,” says Chris Gable.

Durability, practicality and efficiency are top-of-mind checklist factors when fleet managers shop for large vans. As with all categories in Delivery Magazine’s massive annual assessment programme, fleet managers also are finely attuned to potential vehicle whole-of-life costs.

Also high on the fleet managers’ checklists are drivability, driver comfort and safety. After all, driver discomfort can lead to fatigue, and we all know about that.

The big-gun vans here tick a lot of boxes in most of the categories fleet managers, no matter how big or small their fleets, are looking for. And, let’s just say, some leave boxes unticked.

IVECO again submitted its big, and even-bigger, Daily vans for judging. And, as per last year, they were praised for their willing drivetrains, including eight-speed autos.

The big, big Daily 19.6 cubic-metre cargo capacity 50C21AB V – to give it its proper name – again had its size relative to its competitors helpfully indicated via painted profiles on its flanks. Apart from indicating the relative enormity of the big Daily, the silhouettes down its sides also made you aware of just how long its rear overhang really is. Yes, it’s all useful extra cargo space, but more than one judge wondered aloud if forklift drivers might be tempted to load heavy pallets too far behind the big Daily’s rear axle.

Still noisy and rough-riding – the latter only partially masked by IVECO’s preferred sprung driver’s seats – the Dailys again failed to impress the scorers in the large van category. However, their drivetrains got deserved recognition. Some judges felt the Daily’s drivetrain deserved relocation to a better chassis, perhaps the Ducato’s. Given IVECO’s family ties to Fiat, the all-Italian link-up seemed feasible.

The Renault Master was more on the money in this category and came well featured, although it was still criticised for its ride harshness over parts of Delivery’s assessment course. Other judges were okay with its on-road dynamics and felt it didn’t do a lot wrong. Most liked its 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel engine, although fleet managers, Kurt and Terry, had reservations about its six-speed manual transmission.

The cabin is comfortable enough, and the big doors make access easy. Well thought-out features include the useful big ‘desktop’ surface accessible when you fold down the middle front seat. Pivoting the cover reveals useful laptop storage, two cupholders and another smaller, deeper storage bin. Clever.

Instrumentation and controls are straightforward, but the ’90s-look audio system appears to have been added as an afterthought. Its tiny tuning and volume knobs somehow don’t seem right in a big, beefy van, either. At mid $40K (before on-road costs), however, the Master has a lot going for it, including a rear-view camera, albeit with the image displayed in the rear-view mirror.

Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter MWB 316, however, came bristling with even more high-tech features, including Benz’s impressive Adaptive ESP, Collision Prevention Assist system, Parktronic and Reversing camera. Behind the lockable sliding door from the cabin into the rear was a cargo area in which you could just about throw a small dance party. Fitted timber sheets offer side- and rear-door panel protection, and banks of overhead LED lights work a treat in the cavernous interior.

The Benz didn’t just bring its tech-fest to the large-van assessment programme. On the road, it proved exactly why it was the contender the rest had to beat.

Where the IVECOs lurched and rattled over Delivery Magazine’s course, and the Master took the occasional hit to the suspension in the dips and bumps, the big Sprinter just felt composed and in control.

In fact, even with its six-speed manual, rather than the five- or seven-speed automatic, mated to that impressive diesel, the Sprinter felt the goods.

However, the auto-equipped Sprinter disappointed. The test vehicle’s five-speed auto – rather than the Autobahn-special seven-speeder – was considered disappointing in some circles.

Overall, despite the lofty pricetag on the partitioned-off and well-optioned MWB 316 for the second year running, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter remains Delivery’s Large Van of the Year.

_WKP8872Fleeting Impressions

No stranger to large vans, Kurt Grossrieder assesses the current crop of all-European contenders.

“The IVECO Daily really is a very, very average vehicle – and it’s very loud on the road. All of which is a shame, because the drivetrain is fantastic. If you could take the drivetrain out of the Daily and put it into the Ducato, Fiat would be onto a winner.

“The big Daily was even harsher than the smaller one over the test route. At one stage, the whole van was thrumming and booming while I was driving it.

“I think the big van was fortunate that it had a bulkhead in it that helped reduced the road-noise levels a bit. But it was still noisy.

“In the smaller Daily – if you can consider any Daily ‘small’ – it appeared that whoever prepared it forgot to put the cargo barrier in, because the trim behind the driver’s side had been cut, ready for them to fit something else.

“The other deal-breaker is that IVECO ’s pricing is just way too high. It makes Ford’s pricing on Everest seem reasonable.

“The Renault Master doesn’t do a lot wrong in my opinion. There’s an AMT available, too, although this one’s a manual. It’s definitely worth consideration if you’re shopping in this category.

“The Sprinter’s ride is just fantastic. It’s typically Mercedes-Benz. The features, the safety, the technology, the way it drives all make it hard to go past this one as my large-van pick,” said Kurt.

_WKP8857Fleet Thought

For Terry Bickerton the all-Euro showdown came down to a Sprinter to the finish.

“The Master’s suspension does nothing for me. In my book, it’s too harsh. But I like a lot of other things about Renault’s big van.

“The engine’s willing and the cargo area access is good. I also like the combination table-top/storage area in the centre console.

“In fact, other than my criticisms about its ride, the Master’s a good truck. It doesn’t do a lot wrong.

“You can fit a pallet in the mid-wheelbase version, too. It’s snug, but it will go in there. However, it won’t go into the long-wheelbase version because it has dual wheels, and the wheelarches are bigger to accommodate them.

“I’ve got two words to say about the IVECOs: “Fit” and “Finish”! On one of them, the wiring was unplugged and hanging out of the driver’s seat, it seemed someone started to fit a cargo barrier but didn’t finish the job, and wiring was gaffer-taped along the floor behind the front seats.

“The drivetrain in the Daily is very good, but not much else. It’s noisy, and that suspension seat does a pretty good job of masking what really is a very harsh suspension tune. And there are a lot of rattles.

“And the Sprinter? To my mind, there’s no question – it’s the best big van on the market,” said Terry.

_WKP8905Last thoughts

Chris Mullett polarises the various views.

At the end of the week, the test results showed a clear appreciation of the merits of both Renault and the Master together with Mercedes-Benz and the Sprinter.

The fleet guys prefer the Sprinter, and with a history of these in fleet use there’s every reason to respect that decision as it’s made on practical firsthand experience. That’s not to say the Renault Master doesn’t rank up there as an alternative, and, although some of the safety features are not a direct match, the lower price structure adds appeal.

The big bonus that comes with the Sprinter is the availability of a seven-speed automatic transmission versus a six-speed AMT in the Renault. For most buyers it’s a case of personal choice, but for Delivery Magazine it tips the scales in favour of the Benz.

One comment

  1. We LOVE our sprinter van!

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