Renault’s new Master Bus ticks all the boxes for a wide range of applications

Competition for the hotel to airport transfer section of the market is definitely hotting up. We’ve seen Mercedes-Benz add a raft of safety features to its Sprinter Bus that were developed from those available in the passenger car sector, and, from this January onwards, Ford has added a bus version to its Transit range. Volkswagen has a new joint venture product with MAN to replace the Crafter that’s due for production from a new factory in Poland this year, and Chinese manufacturer LDV has added a bus version of the V80 to its offering in our market distributed through ATECO.

Into this increasingly competitive market comes French manufacturer Renault, with a factory built 12-seater (including driver) that’s based on the Master L3H2 long wheelbase, and after Delivery Magazine scored a first drive evaluation we can confidently predict it will be a game changer.

As previewed in the last issue of Delivery, the Renault bus offers a very high standard of interior fit out, with an appealing specification of comfortable, seat-belt-equipped seating, good head and shoulder room, and great ease of access and egress.

The front-engined, front-wheel-drive format enables Renault to keep the floor height down lower than would be the case with a rear-drive configuration, due to the need for clearance over the drive shaft. That feature alone means fewer steps to enter the saloon area and the resultant lower roof height that reduces the restrictions on access into low roof car parks.

At 2.47 m, the roof height provides plenty of headroom for those entering or leaving the bus and there’s no compromise, with 1.88 m of interior cabin floor to ceiling dimensions preventing scalp dents for all but the very tall. Additionally, with an overall length of 6.2 m, there’s plenty of cargo space available to prevent the need for towing those extremely bouncy luggage trailers around. If you do need to tow, the capacity is 2500 kg and a further 200 kg can be carried on a roof rack.

Access into the cargo area is though two full-height and full-width barn doors at the rear. These open out to provide full access, and with suitable racking and a cargo barrier fitted behind the rearmost seats it will be possible to store luggage safety on different levels without the risk of it moving forwards in the event of an accident.

The seating configuration is based on a front left and centre seat alongside the driver, followed by three rows in the rear in a two-seat, three-seat and finally four-seat layout. Each seat is finished in a cloth trim, is capable of reclining (except for the rearmost row), and features lap/sash three-point seat belts. Two of the seats are also fitted with ISOFix mountings for child restraints.

Not wishing to harp on about the lack of anything worth discussing on the Toyota specification, a close look at the Renault Master reveals a really impressive list of features.

To cater for the modern traveller that demands immediate communication options, adjacent to each seat is a double USB point for charging phones and tablets. An auxiliary air conditioning unit in the rear looks after high demand heating and ventilation requirements and there are LED strip lights blended into the side panelling for ambient lighting, in addition to the main cabin lights. The side windows are also fitted with curtains.

Access into the main passenger area is though an electrically operated plug-type side door, and as this opens it triggers a slide-out step beneath the door opening.

The cargo area is more than sufficient for the expected cargo that comes with 11 passengers and the spare wheel does not impact on cargo space as it is mounted under the floor.

There’s a high specification of additional features available through two option packs – the Premium Pack and the Lifestyle Pack. The former adds automatic headlamps, an enhanced satellite navigation system, hands-free remote key, premium carpet on the floor, the aforementioned USB sockets adjacent to the passenger seats and the powered plug-type door. The Lifestyle pack adds leather seat trim, an alarm, auto headlamps with rain-sensing wipers, lane departure warning and duplicates the USB sockets, carpeting, powered sliding door and enhanced sat/nav.

Renault has adopted a common mechanical specification for all versions of the Master Bus that starts with the 2.3-litre, four-cylinder, Euro 5 emissions rated turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine. Producing 110 kW at 3500 rpm, and with peak torque of 350 Nm rated at 1500 rpm this engine is a willing performer and works well with a six-speed automated manual gearbox (AMT).

The shift protocol of the six-speed AMT provides smooth and well-calculated ratio swaps with none of the surge and decline feel of early AMTs when they changed gears. We’d still suggest starting from rest by using the handbrake to promote clutch engagement feed as this provides a more positive feel to the selection of first gear engagement, without any accompanying time lag as the gearbox apportions power to the front wheels.
There’s good service back-up with this Renault, adding maintenance intervals at 30,000 km periods, capped-price costs for the first three scheduled services at $349.00 each, a three-year/200,000 km warranty (extendable to 4-5 years) and 24-hour roadside assistance.

The Master Bus under test was fitted with an ISRI driver’s suspension seat and this is obviously a great bonus for a driver in a vehicle of this type. Despite a length of 6.2 m, the Master Bus is easily controllable and fits into spaces without any consternation on the part of the driver. Power-assisted steering and brakes, a turning circle of 15.7 m, and a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment make for a comfortable seating position and excellent driver control.

When it comes to passenger safety there can be no shortcuts, and the Master Bus comes with all the expected inclusions, such as ABS, ESC, EBD, driver and passenger front airbags, traction control and hill start assist. As mentioned, lane departure assist, auto headlamps and windscreen washers are optional and included in a specific add-on pack of items. There’s even a floor-mounted fire extinguisher fitted beside the driver. A roof-mounted clearview escape hatch is also fitted for the passenger saloon.

The overwhelming bonus of using a vehicle such as the Master Bus for passenger and customer transport is that it looks smart, it provides ease of access and plenty of space for luggage storage with 3.5 cu.m in the cargo bay, and it’s an absolute pleasure to drive.

The reverse park sensors and reverse camera are standard, a valuable asset where hoards of people and children gather, and the vehicle handles in a very predictable and safe manner on all types of road surfaces. Cruise control and lane departure assist are always good additions to the vehicle spec’, and the sat/nav with touchscreen is easy to view and use.

With pricing on introduction at under the $60,000 plus on road costs, in Delivery’s view this makes Renault’s commuter or tourist transporter a very appealing package. The Premium Pack adds $3590 with the Luxury Pack coming in at $7990.

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