Renault’s big van offers convenience and versatility
As more large van options arrive on our shores, it pays to look at how they can change the landscape of our typical pick up and delivery (PUD) fleets.
There are benefits that come with a large van, as entry is only a one or two step up from the kerb, but there are disadvantages, especially if some of your loads are palletised and shunted in and out by forklift. Light trucks can cope with an over enthusiastic forklift driver, thanks to a strong steel coaming rail, but van interiors, doors and interior wheel arches don’t take kindly to brutal handling.
The increasing fitment of full bulkheads in medium or large vans behind the driver’s seat and at the front of the load compartment cuts the option of being able to access the cargo area as a walk-thru from the front cabin. For every negative there’s a positive, as this means a full dual passenger seat can be slotted in, or, you can stay with a single left-hand seat and mount a small electric fridge unit alongside the driver.
Having a full bulkhead also makes the heating and air conditioning more effective as the H-Vac system is less stressed, plus it cuts out a huge amount of transmitted noise that comes from the tyres and the big booming resonance that can echo around the load area.
The Master is the largest of the Renault light commercial breed, and it covers some interesting territory in terms of gross vehicle mass, tare weight and payload alternatives. It comes in three roof height variants (low, medium and high), plus four different lengths (short, medium, long and extra long).
Starting with GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass), the short-wheelbase version (with low roof), plus the medium and long-wheelbase versions (with mid-height roof), are rated at 3510 kg, leaving only the extra-long-wheelbase (with high roof), with a higher GVM of 4495 kg. The payload figures for each variant vary only slightly, with the first three offering from 1534 kg to 1642 kg, shifting up to 2200 kg for the high-roof, extended-wheelbase model.
Renault intentionally hasn’t fiddled around by trying to offer GVMs over 4495 kg, as this is the cut-off point for the van to be driven by a car licence holder. That said, if you are contemplating putting your youngest “P” plater on staff into the largest Master you’d be well advised to provide some proper driver training.
The element of Chain of Responsibility may come back to haunt you if you don’t, and common sense dictates that additional driver training is going to save near misses, dents and scratches, or worse. Visibility is excellent, but the dynamics of driving a large van are very different from that of a Hyundai i30.
The smallest Master is 5048 mm long and has a turning circle of 12 metres, something akin to a common ute. But the extra-long, high-roof model, with its overall length of 6848 mm meeds 15.7 metres to complete an about-face. So, as we mentioned, give the new recruit some driver training.
All the Masters come with the same 2.3-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine, producing 110 kW at 3500 rpm and peak torque of 350 Nm rated from 1500 to 2750 rpm. The long wheelbase mid-roof and extra-long-wheelbase, high-roof versions have rear-wheel-drive, the short wheelbase low-roof and mid-wheelbase mid-roof versions have front-wheel-drive, but it’s your call as to whether to go for the standard six-speed manual gearbox or the six-speed automated manual. Delivery’s pick here is to choose the manual and save a couple of grand off the purchase price.
Years ago it was very difficult to get excited about driving vans of any size. What’s changed is that the driving dynamics today are much more car-like, and with good performance, powered steering, easy gear changes and excellent visibility it really is now possible to get enthusiastic about your day behind the wheel.
Fuel economy for a combined consumption figure can be as low as 8.3 l/100 km, and if you are cruising down the freeway you could be seeing that figure drop to under 7.8 l/100 km. Not that long ago you couldn’t have achieved that figure from a Falcon or Commodore, and yet here you are with potentially a load area of 17 cubic metres and carrying a payload of 2.2 tonnes.
When it comes to safety, vans are not yet subject to mandatory ANCAP crash testing, but Master brings with it standard ABS (anti-lock braking), with ESC and ASR (electronic stability and traction control), front driver and passenger airbags, cruise control and upper speed limiter, Bluetooth, hill start assist, reverse parking sensors, trailer stability assist and eco stop/start. Additional driver and passenger head and side airbags and double optic headlamps with cornering lamps, are just some of the additional options.
If you are a one-van courier and you want something a tad more upmarket, then start ticking boxes such as the Isri driver’s suspension seat and go for the Pro Pack or Premium Pack that adds items such as rain sensing wipers, fog lights, revering cameras, some very cleverly designed storage systems that provide swivel mounts for laptops and tablets, integrated Tom Tom satellite navigation and good sense things such as plywood lining panels and an anti-slip timber floor for the cargo area.
During Delivery’s week behind the wheel of the long wheelbase, mid-roof Master, we travelled the freeways as well as negotiating the inner city peak hour traffic snarls and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Climbing in and out is easy, and once in the driver’s seat there’s plenty of adjustment to improve your relationship with the controls. The big mirrors are vibration free, and with convex spotter mirrors you can’t claim you missed anything unless you simply were not looking.
The big rear barn doors can be unclipped to fold back along the outer side panels, which is great if you are unloading in confined spaces. If we were looking for a gripe, it’s that you can’t stack boxes right up to the back door at the outer edges of the cargo area because the hinges extend back into that space.
If you are looking for cargo volume, the rear-wheel-drive, extended-length, high-roof version is more than capable of running intrastate or even interstate, but remember the roof height of 2808 mm is some 300 mm higher than the short-wheelbase version at 2310 mm. None of the Master range is going to slip comfortably into low-roofed underground car parks, and for something under 2200 mm you might need to look a little smaller at the Trafic, Delivery’s medium van of the year, as a solution to your cargo concerns.
With 24/7 roadside assistance for three years, and a three-year/200,000 km warranty, there’s additional peace of mind that comes in the form of capped-price servicing for the first three service intervals, hence no unexpected surprises.