Renault’s Master single cab looks a cut above the average. Words and images by Dave Whyte.
The light-truck market in Australia has long been the domain of Japanese manufacturers, with only a modest share of the market occupied by offerings from European brands. However, in recent years the Europeans have been making inroads, with the combination of good load capacity and car-like comfort. With the light-truck task mainly being around town duties, handling and vision also have a big effect on sales figures.
In typical European style, the Renault Master cab/chassis is powered by a 2.3-litre turbo diesel. This engine produces 110 kW and 350 Nm of torque, the latter of which is available across a wide band from 1500 rpm to 2750 rpm. This is driven through a six-speed transmission, available in either manual or automated manual (AMT) form, and delivered to the road through the rear wheels. With a GVM of 4500 kg, the Master offers a payload of just under 2.5 tonnes (depending on tray weight), and 3 tonnes braked towing capacity.
European cars and trucks have a reputation for driver comfort, and the Master is no exception. With wide opening doors, large steps and well-positioned grab handles, access is easy – an important factor when you are doing multiple drops or pickups throughout the day.
The seating layout consists of three seats, with the ability to fold the centre seat forward to provide extra work space. This work space offers a rotating table top, a couple of small storage areas for pens, your phone or any other small items, and two extra cup holders. I found these useful as my cup wouldn’t actually fit in the cup holders below the dash. For my time in the Master the centre seat was mostly in the folded position.
Once in the seat, it is clear that the Renault cab is designed with the driver in mind. All controls are within reach, with easy identification and operation. The small steering wheel makes for good vision through to the instrument cluster while providing great steering control, but more on that later.
The stubby indicator and wiper stalks can be easily operated without the need to remove your hands from the wheel, as can the controls for the radio, which are located on a separate stalk mounted on the steering column. The cruise control is operated by buttons mounted on the steering wheel, with a selector switch on the dash that allows the driver to choose between limiting the maximum speed and setting the cruise control as normal. By using the speed limiting function, the truck will not go over the set speed, unless coasting downhill, until it is deactivated – a simple idea that could save your licence and your job!
There is plenty of storage available in the cab, with a large glove-box compartment (which is also chilled), two overhead compartments, some room on top of the dash for paperwork, and a small area below that includes two cup holders. Inside each door there is a deep pocket at the bottom with a space ideally suited to a 1.25-litre drink bottle. There is also plenty of room behind the seat for larger items, or lunchboxes if you’re travelling three up.
Mounted above the windscreen, near the centre rear-view mirror, is the display for the GPS unit. This also displays information relative to the radio, CD or Bluetooth functions. I found the Bluetooth connection easy, but the sound quality for those on the other end of the phone was poor, sounding very distant. While streaming music, though, the sound quality was good. The GPS itself was easy to operate, using a dash mounted remote control to enter destination details and swap between views. In a nice touch, the icon that shows the vehicle’s location is an image of the rear of a Renault van – now that’s product placement!
Given all this technology, you still need to drive the Master. The test unit Delivery drove was the manual version, fitted with an alloy tray. We put it to work in various roles including furniture removalist duty, transporting car parts, delivering gym equipment and moving a little freight – all in a week’s work for this type of vehicle. The little Renault truck took it all in its stride.
The driving position is very comfortable, with a high seating position and very good vision all around the vehicle. Large mirrors with a lower convex spotter on each door offered great vision down both sides and behind the truck, while the centre mirror above the windscreen was useful while the tray was empty. The bonnet is barely visible from the driver’s seat, and the large windscreen offers uninterrupted forward vision. (While the short bonnet is handy for the driver, you may need to find a seven-year-old to do any mechanical work – there’s not much room under there!)
Foot room for the driver is limited, but not uncomfortable for someone of average height. The gear lever is mounted on the dashboard, saving room for the centre passenger and within easy reach for the driver. The shift gate is quite narrow, with the short lever offering quick and short action gear changes. The gear ratios made first gear all but redundant when driving empty, and meant there was no need to work the engine too hard before a change, whether loaded or empty.
The biggest difference between empty and loaded driving was the ride quality. While the ride was good when empty, a little weight smoothed out the harshest bumps and gave excellent ride quality. There was no roll or harsh thumping under load, and the 2.3-litre engine proved more than capable, even with 1700 kg on board.
Handling was impressive, with the small steering wheel providing good feedback and direct response to any input. Manoeuvrability was excellent, making easy work of warehouse and shed doors, whether travelling forward or in reverse. The steering was light, but not vague, and there was no sign of under or oversteer in any conditions. Braking was well balanced to provide plenty of stopping power while loaded, and without any harsh braking under lighter load conditions. The environment in the cab didn’t alter, offering a quiet interior and relaxed driving under all conditions, while the air con proved it was up to the task over a few very warm Melbourne days.
The Renault Master would seem to offer a nice all-round package for the tradie or transport operator. With room for three people, plenty of power, a driver-friendly cab and the ability to carry a couple of pallets, it ticks a lot of boxes. The high level of standard equipment, ride and handling, and ease of operation, also make it suitable for the weekend activities like towing the horse float or boat, with room for a couple of mates.