Neil Dowling takes the shortest version of Renault’s van range for a workout.
RENAULT’S efficient Trafic van now comes with one less feature that will delight every delivery operator – a clutch pedal.
The 2020 Trafic, distinguished by a more imposing and arguably prettier face together with upmarket vertical taillights, now adds an automatic transmission to compete on a level playing field with rivals including the Hyundai iLoad, Fiat Ducato, Ford Transit and Toyota Hiace.
The upside of the six-speed, dual-clutch transmission – borrowed from the Megane hot hatch, incidentally – is that it only gets bolted to the new 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, leaving the existing 1.6-litre Trafic range only with a six-speed manual.
The downside is minor. The new drivetrain adds around $4000 to the Trafic 1.6-litre manual price, so the up-sell may not appeal to budget operators who prefer a stick shift and are fussy about fuel economy.
To be fair, the 1.6 is a great unit and the manual box is sweet, with not a lot of sweat. It’s just that the auto box and gruntier 2.0-litre can be deal makers for operators, elevating the Renault brand higher on the shopping list.
The short-wheelbase, low-roof Trafic tested here represents the cheapest way into the auto van Renault selection. By cheap, we’re talking $43,490 plus on-road costs which puts it close to the Transit and Hyundai.
But it’s not just the purchase price. Renault has ramped up its warranty and service programme to offer a five-year cover including roadside assistance. It has also chewed into the parts inventory, incorporating a lot of accessories into the schedule that were available previously at extra cost.
The Trafic SWB sits on a 3098 mm wheelbase (the long wheelbase is 3498 mm), and has an overall length of 4999 mm, a height of 1971 mm and a width of 1956 mm. Negotiating tight gaps with the mirrors in their standard position means the lanes have to wider than 2283 mm.
All the good news is in the cargo bay. It comes standard with barn doors at the rear and two sliding side doors, unlike rivals which list a second side door as an option.
The cargo area interior is lined with tough plastic up to the waistline, with options of full height protection, plus a timber floor.
Side to side for cargo carrying the interior is 1662 mm wide and 1288 mm at the wheel arches. The load length is 2537 mm but the lift-up flap within the bulkhead will extend the length to 3750 mm for objects like ladders and fishing rods.
The height is 1387mm with a loading lip height of 552mm, partially because of the Trafic’s front-wheel drive layout enabling a lower floor height.
You can get loads of up to 907 mm wide through each side door (though that measurement is at the half height mark) and 1284 mm high. The rear doors, which are clipped at 90-degrees but cleverly unclip with a neat handle to swing to 180-degrees, have a width access of 1391 mm and a height of 1320 mm.
All up its 5.2 cubic-metres of air that can take cargo up to a maximum payload of 1216 kg. It will tow 1714 kg and it’s nice to see Renault being so exact!
By comparison, the longer wheelbase Trafic has 6.0 cubic-metres and a smaller 1192 kg of payload.
The cargo area also has 16 tie-down points from the floor level through the waist and then up near the roof, so there’s not much that can’t be secured. The steel bulkhead also has a window that gives a view through to the rear barn-door glass windows.
Renault and Ford share the barn-door and taillight design, and also the twin wiper arrangement for each square of glass on the doors.
The pointy bit has limited access to the engine with only fluid pipes and a plastic cover under the protruding bonnet. A nice touch are the gas struts for the bonnet lid.
If you like a strong visual on-road presence the LED headlights and LED daytime running lights make the Trafic look a bit like a Christmas tree on the road, even during the day as the LEDs really sparkle. Country operators will really enjoy the clarity of the LED headlights on lonely roads at night.
That nose, however, is responsible for the Trafic getting a helpful three-star crash rating by European test agency EuroNCAP. However, the latest Trafic gets more safety equipment inside such as five airbags (the driver thorax bag being the fifth), ABS, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, stability control, hill-start assist, reverse camera and rear sensors and a steel bulkhead between the occupants and the load add to the package.
Inside, the cabin typifies both function and form and is only clouded by the acreage of hard, black plastic. To be fair, it’s a workplace and the design generally suits that role and even adds some surprises.
Surprise #1 is the three-occupant front seat with the middle pew able to fold down flat. It has a removable clipboard on its back and a velcro strap for tying down papers or order books, along with a scalloped area for more stationery and a cupholder.
Surprise #2 is the lift-up centre seat cushion to reveal the large secure box that can hide valuables. This is also accessed from the passenger nearside seat. The box has a door into the cargo bay and is also the load-through flap to carry objects up to 3750 mm in length.
There’s generous storage space on the dashboard and courtesy of the deep door bins. It starts with a dash top lidded bin, then the open indentation in the centre, a large glovebox, a fold-down cubbyhole in the lower part of the centre console and a handy hopper on the right side of the dash.
Another surprise is the humungous vanity mirror behind the passenger-side sunvisor. Clearly someone needs to feel well-manicured before arriving at the location.
A phone mount is also above one of the centre air vents. Phone development is obviously outpacing dashboard design as while appreciated, the mount won’t take the bigger smart phones and didn’t even accept my average-size iPhone 7 in its protective case.
Together with the secrets of the fold-down centre seat, there’s space in the Trafic’s cabin for everything from a clipboard full of papers to a packed lunch and a takeaway coffee.
On the road the first big plus is the side and rear visibility. Generally, the forward view is great but let down only by the invisible bonnet and front bumper line. Practice will probably either make your parking perfect or expensive.
Huge mirrors with supplementary concave lenses enhance the view through the centre mirror to make the van easy to punt through traffic and reverse down narrow lanes.
It is a comfortable van to drive with suspension that soaks up most bumps, even with the cargo bay empty. The driver’s seat is easy to get into, and out of, though the Trafic design means there’s a bit of a climb, made worse by not having grab handles for either front door.
But it’s not a van that comfortably seats three adults because it simply gets too much of a squeeze. Steering wheel placement is a bit off to the right of centre and there’s no left-foot rest, but the driver does benefit from an armrest and having plenty of adjustment within the seat. The steering wheel is also adjustable for height and reach so everyone can feel at home.
The instrument panel is beautifully clear and concise with a digital speedo up centre, with a tacho to the left, and the fuel gauge to the right.
Renault has put the cruise control master switch on the dashboard, then added two switches on each of the steering wheel spokes – one for restoring the previous speed and the right-side for 2 km/h graduations in the chosen speed limit – which is all a bit fussy compared with rivals, notably Toyota.
The 7.0-inch centre colour monitor is appreciated but the graphics aren’t as sharp as some of Trafic’s contemporaries. This incorporates satellite navigation, a digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and four speakers with 20-Watt output. There’s also two USB ports and a 12-Volt outlet.
Faced with minimising driver distraction, the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) controls are big and bright, with large dials to make them easy to operate while on the move.
The 2.0-litre turbodiesel is new to the Trafic and is a great performer with 125 kW at 3500 rpm and a fat 380 Nm of torque at 1500 rpm. Renault claims 7.3 litres/100 km and it’s pretty much on the money because Delivery magazine averaged 7.5 l/100 km on its rounds of service bays around town and lots of suburban and freeway runs.
The six-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission gets torque to the front wheels very efficiently, though there can be some lag off the mark and occasionally when upshifting. The bonus with this set-up is the quick ratio changes and the reduced fuel consumption compared with the traditional torque-converter automatic.
Operators will appreciate the 11.8 metre turning circle and the low-ratio steering box that makes light work of squeezing into tight spaces. The Trafic runs on Goodyear Efficiency Grip tyres at 215/65R16 mounted on steel wheels, with alloy wheels as an option.
If you look at the Trafic as a first-time van for a driver more used to passenger cars, the transition is pretty much seamless. It is as easy to understand as a car, drives as quietly and easily, is comfortable and as a machine to earn a crust from, satisfyingly docile.
It’s all a matter of service
Renault has extended its light-commercial vehicle warranty and capped-price service programme to five years, reducing the cost of ownership for owners.
LCV models have now been brought into line with passenger vehicles with the Easy Life programme that bundles capped-price servicing (CPS) with roadside assistance for Kangoo, Trafic and Master models.
Renault Australia Aftersales manager Matthew Wright told Delivery magazine that the new programme also includes as standard some items that were previously additional to the published service schedule. These include some air filters, belts, coolant and brake fluid.
“Trafic owners are travelling about 25,000 km a year, which is well above the average 19,000 km that was recently published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for van use,” he said.
“Our Master, according to our data, covers the greatest distance with the average owner driving up to 30,170 km each year.”
Mr. Wright said the new CPS and roadside assistance package retains the service interval of 12 months and 30,000 km which means the van only has to be off the road once a year.
“On that basis, an owner could drive Sydney to Canberra return every week for a year before needing to book in with one of Renault’s 57 dealers for a capped price service.”
“Our survey showed some customers would be happy with the first three services but unsure about future costs,” he said. “The addition of the transparent pricing now gives more certainty about what they will pay.
“The fourth service at around 100,000 km, is more expensive than the first three. That was always a challenge because that’s when a significant amount of work has to be done, including replacement of belts and so on.
“We took onboard customer feedback about the fourth service pricing, so we wanted to make it as transparent as possible. The answer was to extend the cover to five years.”
The Trafic service programme will cost $599 a year for the first three years, $899 for the fourth year and $599 for the fifth year. It includes most parts.