Warren Caves enjoys a little French distraction from Renault.
When you’ve been flat out all day, installing power points, swinging a hammer or laying carpet, the last thing you would want to do on the way home is swap cogs in a work van with a manual transmission.
While this may not bother some, Renault must have recognised that it is potentially missing out on sales by not offering an automatic transmission option in its popular Trafic van range.
Lazy left-legged drivers or apprentices of dubious driving ability can now choose an automatic transmission to wind down the work day on a more leisurely drive home.
For a little more insight, Delivery took control of a Renault Trafic LWB van for a week to see how it fared.
My initial introduction to the Trafic was with a 1.6-litre manual, crew- cab version back in 2019, of which I was quite impressed.
For this review an LWB van was supplied with a six-speed automatic transmission, and of equal importance, this was kitted out additionally with Renault’s larger displacement, 2.0-litre bi-turbo intercooled diesel engine.
The automated manual transmission, or more correctly a dual-clutch transmission for rapid ratio shifting, is shared with the Megane Renault Sport hot hatch.
The 2.0-litre engine, in similar fashion to the smaller 1.6-litre previously tested, is incredibly torquey at low revs, offering 125 kW of power at 3500 rpm. And the aforementioned torque? That’s a healthy 380 Nm at 1500 rpm.
All that extra power and torque doesn’t come at the expense of the environment, with the Trafic complying to Euro6 regulations achieved by selective catalytic reduction (SCR) or ad-blue, and a diesel particulate filter (DPF).
Tipping the scales with a kerb weight of 1820 kg, the Trafic LWB offers a maximum payload of 1250 kg to take it up to its 3070 kg GVM. There is the potential for some reasonable weights to move around for the 2.0-litre Trafic. Even so, Renault boasts a fuel economy figure of 7.3 l/100 km on a combined cycle, which if achievable is not too bad for a van of that weight.
Performance on the road is spirited enough for the task and in general driving conditions you won’t be left behind at the lights. Torque is on tap from the get-go thanks to the bi-turbo design and flat torque curve which eliminates any lag off the mark and provides snappy performance throughout the rev range.
In cab noise also benefits positively from the low revving nature of the engine, remaining quite subdued unless pushed which doesn’t achieve a lot in terms of performance anyway. A solid cargo bulkhead behind the seats also keeps things quiet with no drumming from the cargo area evident.
The all-new six-speed automatic transmission is well paired to the engine offering smooth transitions between ratios and it is only when hard throttle inputs are given do the gear changes become a bit coarser.
The auto-transmission gear selector is fitted in exactly the same position on the dash as the manual version of the Trafic, which in turn connects by cables to swap the six ratios. In theory it should have been possible to re-route the shift selection to gain a bit more room for the left leg, which would benefit a centre-seat passenger.
The new automatic offers a sports auto setting if manual gear selection is your thing. While the sports auto mode worked well and the selector was conveniently positioned, it seemed to me that the up and down shift (+ and -) orientation was reversed. With the vehicle in gear the selector rests at a 45-degree angle to the floor at which point you need to push it down for an up-shift and up for a down-shift, this seemed a little counter-intuitive.
There is an ECO button located adjacent to the transmission selector to enhance fuel efficiency.
The ECO mode promotes early upshifts and delays downshifts which keeps the Trafic’s engine right in its optimal torque range. Interestingly though, the ECO mode is not the default setting and it must be re-selected every time the engine has been switched off. For my mind if I were buying the Trafic for a company or fleet vehicle I would like to see the ECO mode as the default position. Contrary to that, the engine stop/start feature which switches the engine off when stopped in traffic is set to default without pre-selection, leaving it to the driver to turn off if not required.
Ride, steering and handling are on par with most commercial vans of this size. Cornering offers a confident experience albeit with a slight amount of oversteer if pushed too hard. Ride comfort is good for a load-carrying vehicle and this combined with the quiet cabin space yields and pleasant driving experience.
Sensible cloth seating with good rearward travel provide a comfortable platform from which to work. The driver’s seat also offers height and lumbar adjustment along with an inboard folding armrest. The steering wheel offers tilt and telescopic adjustment options.
The seven-inch infotainment system is a carry over from the previous model, incorporating DAB, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are standard on Premium and Lifestyle variants. The system is sensible to negotiate with and pair devices and is fitted with a good satellite-navigation system, although I preferred to go around rather than to go over the roundabout, as instructed by my undoubtably English navigational assistant. Steering wheel controls are fitted for frequently used features although there is still no illumination in the switches for night driving.
The Trafic Premium auto also carries over the same awkward cup holders which are poorly positioned and too shallow. There are however two dash-top storage compartments, one open and one with a lid.
Clever storage is also incorporated into the centre seat. When the vehicle is not being used as a three-seater the centre seat folds down to provide a small desk or workspace perfect for writing up quotes on the go. This then doubles as a convenient removable clip board. The seat base can also be lifted up to reveal a small storage space to place valuables and keep them secure and out of sight.
Adding to the appeal of a clever business partner, the Trafic’s cargo area also features sensible well thought-out inclusions.
Dual-sliding doors provide easy access to the front section of 6 cubic metres of cargo space. For load restraining, the Trafic LWB is fitted with 18 tie-down points which include fitment positions almost to roof level. This I find is a feature wanting in many vans and this inclusion offers secure strapping potential for tall, narrow items against the side wall of the van, while retaining floor space (this gets a big tick from me).
Accessing the cargo area from the split rear doors is also a simple task. The doors open up to 90-degrees before hitting the stops, upon which if you need greater access for a forklift or similar, a clever latch can be activated to open the doors out to 180-degrees. Closing the latch then resets itself to open only to 90-degrees, which as a handy safety feature could prevent the door accidentally opening into traffic.
The cargo area has generous proportions and can accommodate selected longer items such as lengths of timber or PVC pipes to a length of just under 4m by using the load-through flap under the passenger seat.
The cargo area is 1600 mm at its widest and a pallet-accepting 1250 mm wide between the wheel arches with around 3m of total length available in the main space from the bulkhead to the rear doors.
Interesting to note, the Trafic automatic has a reduced, braked towing capacity, down to 1630 kg from the 2000 kg of the manual 1.6-litre version.
Rounding out the Trafic package is a suite of active and passive safety features including parking sensors and reverse camera, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, ESC, driver/passenger and side air bags and seat belt pre-tensioners. The addition of LED headlights has also improved night time safety and visibility.
At the end of our test period the Trafic showed a fuel usage figure of 8 l/100 km over a combined cycle of just under 600 km.
At $48,252 drive away – which includes a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and 30,000km or 12-month service intervals – the Trafic auto could prove a prudent business partner.
A day spent in Sydney at the wheel of the new Trafic auto proved to be a delightful experience, despite picking up the peak-hour slog out west on the M5 from Sydney airport to the head of the Hume Highway at Minto.
This is one very refined van and with performance to impress even the most jaundiced delivery driver the Renault is a quantum leap ahead of many competitors. With its bi-turbo engine and automated dual-clutch transmission it also has the ability of being very quick off the mark, even to the extent of demonstrating early onset of torque steer from the front drive wheels for those that lean heavily to the right.
Driven gently it’s an effortless experience with an almost silent cab environment and fuel figures in the centre of a heavy traffic that showed 7.9 l/100 km are easy to replicate, suggesting that the 6.6 l/100 km figure touted for open-road touring is also long realistic.
With such a high safety spec’ one item missing if blind-spot assist from the wing mirrors. The long wheelbase aspect requires a more cautious approach when shifting between lanes on a fast-moving freeway and this feature was a surprise omission.
Certainly, very highly recommended by Delivery Magazine and the auto should give Trafic a major boost in sales.