Renault shows that flair and clever design can also apply to the humble one-tonne van
There are times when you can’t get enough of a good thing, and that’s a great way of explaining why Delivery Magazine has a continuing flirtation with the Renault Trafic.
For so long we’ve been driving one-tonne vans around the city streets that did the job but lacked any discernible personality traits that might have meant you wanted to sing their praises to your workmates. Sadly, when I tot up the years, I can claim almost half a century has passed since I delivered fridges and TVs around London’s Notting Hill area, usually having to climb four or five flights of stairs to appease a satisfied customer.
My steed in those days was a Thames 15 cwt 400E van, complete with column gearshift that selected three forward gears (synchro on the top two), and a 1703 cc petrol engine it shared with the Ford Consul that was prone to backfiring on over run. It did actually have a personality, albeit probably unpleasant, as it was extremely happy when it managed to lift a rear wheel on full acceleration in a corner while emitting a squeal of delight.
With 40 kW of power produced at 4400 rpm, you could swap all that performance for fuel economy and specify a 1.6-litre Perkins diesel alternative that produced a lesser power output of 31 kW.
Why wax lyrical about the old days? Well, it enables me to compare that, while both the Thames and the Trafic were created to move fridges and make deliveries, we’ve come a long way.
If you can use the word ‘lovely’ to describe a van, then you’d probably be on the right track when evaluating the Renault Trafic.
With a payload of 1118 kg, it’s capable of carrying a fair bit more than the 15 cwt or 763 kg of the Thames, and with 103 kW produced at 3500 rpm it’s a fair bit niftier. It’s also a fair bit more economical, thanks to six gears instead of three, with a 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 10.8 seconds, a claimed maximum velocity of 181 km/h and a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.2 l/100 km.
The Thames didn’t come with a lot of creature comforts. On a hot day the metal engine cover that separated the driver from the front-seat passenger just became unbearably hot to the touch. The in-cab cooling system depended on how wide somebody opened the window, and, the noise levels, even when not backfiring, could never have made it under the 80-decibel level.
Contrast that level of refinement to the Trafic, where the air-conditioning works admirably, interior noise levels are car-like, all controls are basically effortless and you see every dial and reach every control without having to move around the cab, even when wearing a seatbelt, which wasn’t part of the standard kit supplied with the Thames.
The description of “crew van” is wide ranging when you start comparing different models. In some, it means there’s an aftermarket bench seat bolted into the front part of the cargo area and supplied with seat belts to strap in the second-row occupants. If lucky, the centre-row passengers may have a rubber mat beneath their feet, but probably the roof above their heads is painted metal, matching the interior of the doors and surrounding panels.
The Hyundai iLoad Crew changed that low level of fit-out by featuring a fixed bulkhead behind the centre row of seats and trimming the interior of the body forwards of the bulkhead to match the driver and passenger cab.
The Trafic Crew copies that idea, but does it so much better. The bulkhead design merges with the flow of the three seats across the centre to look as though it was designed from the outset to appear fully integrated, and not just bolted in at the end of the production line. The seats are cloth trimmed, each featuring three-way lap/sash inertia-reel safety belts, and there’s high-quality headlining with speakers for the audio system and individual interior lights. There are also two storage boxes, one under each of the centre and nearside seat bases.
The driver and front-seat passenger get to play with all the toys, including sat/nav, a multimedia unit with seven-inch touchscreen and an Arkamys audio system.
Centre seat access is via two sliding side doors, each with opening windows, and there are 17-inch alloy wheels, a heated driver’s seat and automatic climate control, dependent slightly on whether the buyer chooses the Premium Pack as an option that costs $45,480 or the Lifestyle Pack that costs $45,980. If you want to stay basic with the standard Trafic Crew, the price is $42,990.
The bit at the back of the Trafic Crew is a fully self-contained, four cubic-metre cargo area, accessed by either a tailgate of barn doors, that offers a load length of 1740-2423 mm (dependent on where you put your tape, but with a width of 1662 mm and an interior floor-to-ceiling height of 1387 mm. The distance between the wheel arches is 1268 mm. Items like ladders can be slid in at floor height under the centre row seats.
The best description of the Trafic Crew to a non-believer is to suggest this is one way to avoid buying a ute while still thinking of the family and its transport needs.
All your tools, spare parts, accessories or stock can go in the cargo hold, together with items such as mountain bikes, boogie boards, the local cricket team gear and the makings of a picnic tea. Meanwhile, the interior caters for six, including the driver, and provided you opted for the bench front passenger seat.
Service intervals of 30,000 km with capped-price servicing costs of $349 for the first three services will get you to out to 120,000 km before you need a team on the spanners, and still leave you with warranty out to 200,000 km within three years.
But, finally, when you’ve done the maths and worked out that it stacks up on paper, what’s the kicker?
Well, it’s all down to how it drives. Yes, at this stage you have to change the six gears manually, which alienates it slightly from the major fleet buyers, but an automated manual is on the way before Christmas.
The gear shift itself is light and easy, and the lever falls conveniently close to your hand. The controls are mainly based off the steering column, including the radio volume and station selection, and it’s easy to pair your mobile.
The twin-turbo diesel is responsive, and for a van it’s surprisingly nimble and surefooted. From a comfort perspective, and also for the standard of ride and handling, it’s running at a far higher standard than most would expect.
Not only is the Trafic really pleasant to drive, it’s quiet, spacious and well appointed. The biggest hurdle in buying one for work, rest and play isn’t just the already overwhelming acceptance of a ute, but also the stigma attached to buying a van, which doesn’t illustrate the nature-loving, head-for-the-bush-at-weekends profile of a ute driver.
Before making a decision to stay with a ute, get behind the wheel of a Trafic and compare driving a van. The increased cargo security advantages are obvious, and the additional interior space for carrying passengers is really a benefit, especially if you happen to be the passenger.
The one Achilles’ heel of the Trafic is the non-availability of an automatic transmission at this stage of its development. Supposedly, there is one on the way, but the timeframe seems to be moving away rather than closer.