Don’t be surprised if you suddenly start noticing more Renault light commercials in your high street. There’s never been any doubt that Renault made good vans. The problem for Renault in Australia was that nobody knew.
A change of management, a new impetus in marketing and a desire to prove its worth has seen a massive change in the public face of Renault. With over 100,000 Masters sold in Europe last year, it’s market leader on its home turf, but had never reached its true potential Down Under.
A clear example of this improved performance is through seeing sales for the first half of this year top out at 362 registrations, a 52.7 percent sales increase over the same period of 2011. In June alone, Renault light commercial sales peaked at 115 registrations, a 59.7 percent increase in performance over the corresponding month of June 2011.
These are still not big figures, but it does show that, with the right level of attention, there can be a turn around in company performance.
The brand is offering a choice of three different vehicles over three weight ranges. Starting with the small van market is the Renault Kangoo. This leads into the medium sector one-tonne van segment where it offers the Renault Trafic. After that, a move into medium and large van segment sees two versions of the Master: one a medium size with a cargo volume of 10.3 cu.m called the L2H2, and the other slightly larger called the L3H2 and offering 12.5 cu.m of cargo volume.
In terms of Master sales, the first six months of this year has seen a total of 187 registrations, for a segment of 3.1 percent, a direct contrast to the miserly total for the first six months of 2011 that reached just 32 units and 0.5 percent. That’s five more sales than the Ford Transit in this weight category that covers competitors in the 3,501-7,500 kg GVM range.
It also has to be said that Renault’s growth is also reflected across the medium sized Trafic that fits into the weight range category of 2,500-3,500 kg. This model achieved 2.2 percent segment share, with total sales of 198 units for the year. In June alone, this share increased to 3.2 percent, up from 2.0 percent of the same month in 2011.
The payload for our medium-sized Master is impressive at 1,645 kg, well above the average one-tonner and yet not taking up much more road space. Actually, the gain from taking the larger L3H2 model is not made in extra payload, as each carries around the same weight. The benefit is in cargo volume.
Under the bonnet of either Master lies the same 2.3 dCi, four-cylinder diesel engine that gets a power increase of 19 kW to reach 107 kW at 3,500 rpm. Peak torque is also elevated over the previous engine, ranking at 350 Nm rated at 1,550 through to 2,750 rpm.
The transmission options provide a choice between a six-speed manual gearbox and a six-speed automated manual that Renault calls the Quickshift. At Delivery Magazine, we are not too impressed by AMTs in small and medium-sized vehicles, and, for Renault buyers, we’d suggest the manual gearbox is a better choice.
The gearshift lever sprouts from the dashboard, conveniently close to the driver’s left hand, and the shift quality is light and positive. It’s actually a delightful gearshift, and the ratios are well suited to the performance available for the four-cylinder diesel.
We haven’t so far mentioned the comfort and the quiet interior, but the full impact of how good the Master is, as a total package, becomes more evident when you hit the highway.
For freeway cruising, this van is a delight. It sits well on the road, the interior noise levels at maximum highway cruise speeds are very low, and the handling is amongst the best in class. Those heading for long -distance travel can also option up their purchase with a fully-suspended driver’s seat.
Also impressive is the fuel efficiency. Expect a combined fuel consumption figure of 9.0 l/100 km for the manual version, improving to 8.5 l/100 km for the AMT-equipped model. With a fuel tank capacity of 105 litres, that gives you a fair range, of over 1,100 km, while you haul your payload around of 1,645 kg. Emissions are 238 g/km of CO2.
The styling is attractive, externally, but, when you climb aboard, it’s very evident just how much thought has gone into making the interior very user friendly, especially for those who work all day in the cab.
Well, almost everything is user friendly. Pairing your phone and coming to grips with the audio controls isn’t that self educating, and it helps to have someone show you how everything works. One good feature here, though, is that the audio controls are all on column stalks, meaning you don’t have to reach across to the radio itself.
Access and egress is easy and the seat gives a comfortable and commanding view of everything in front and to each side of the van without any obstructions. The side mirrors are excellent, and so too is the view of the dashboard and controls.
Both the driver and passenger get crash protection from individual SRS airbags, and ABS, EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution) and ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) are standard.
One of the first points that a driver will notice when, compared to a standard walk-through van, is the reduction of interior noise. The Master comes with a full-height and width bulkhead that screens off the cargo area, making the cabin a separate entity. Consequently, there’s no noise coming through from the rear, making the cabin quiet and easier to heat or cool, as the air conditioning only has to cope with a much smaller area.
There’s been some serious thought given to interior cab storage. There’s a full-width parcel shelf above the windscreen, space on the upper section of the dashboard to hold a laptop or A4 sized documents, and a large tray to hold slidey things like sunglasses and keys.
The really clever bit is the incorporation of a rotating computer base in the back of the centre seat. Fold the seat back forwards, and the driver has a desk alongside his seat that holds the computer. There are even two cupholders adjacent to the desk, enabling that all-important cup of coffee to be drunk with minimal risk of pouring it over the keyboard.
Renault does offer an integral Sat/Nav, but we think this is one instance when you are better off with a suction cup on the windscreen and your own unit. Because the Renault system operates off a remote control unit, it’s really annoying to use.
Bluetooth comes as standard, meaning communication for your mobile is achievable without stopping all the time. The Master also gives you somewhere to put your mobile, with a charge point alongside. Design detail like this is not rocket science, but so few seem to get it right.
There’s cruise control, and an upper speed limiter, and a full-sized cargo barrier behind the bulkhead inside the cargo area. The rear barn doors and the sliding side load door are both wide enough to allow forklift access with a standard pallet, and there’s room in the medium-sized van to hold two pallets, with three fitting in the larger van version.
Service and maintenance has also come under review for the Master, with Renault adopting more long-life and maintenance-free components. There is a fitted-for-life timing chain, longer lasting coolant (now 60,000 km/48 months), longer-life brake pads (20% longer) and clutch, and a no-maintenance particulate filter for the exhaust system. Service intervals are every 15,000 km.
There are further option packs available at purchase that add extra SRS airbags and more upmarket items, such as dusk-sensing headlamps, cornering headlights, rear parking camera and sensible inclusions such as plywood lining for the interior of the van walls and an anti-slip wooden floor covering. Pricing starts from $43,990, and buyers receive a three-year/200,000 km warranty and 24/7 breakdown assist.
There’s a reason why Renault’s Master became the top selling van in its class in Europe. Once you drive one, you’ll understand how that happened.