Renault’s Trafic Crew blends business and pleasure – Words by Warren Caves, Images by Torque it Up. 

The European assault on the hotly contested, 1.0- to 3.5-tonne van market continues to gain traction, with the likes of Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Fiat and Renault all taking firm swipes at traditional Australian consumer choices, Toyota’s HiAce and Hyundai’s i-Load.

If you move more than two or three occupants around work locations, the Renault Trafic Crew provides a viable alternative to the dual-cab ute, offering a unique balance between increased occupant accommodation and a generous work or play vehicle, with a secure all-weather cargo area.

The Trafic crew-cab van comes with generous safety standards, refined on-road manners and miserly fuel consumption, backing up the reputation of its larger sibling, the Master van.

No doubt hoping to emulate the sales and popularity that the Trafic enjoys in Europe, Renault Australia is offering a sensibly priced alternative to the main competition comprising the HiAce Crew-Cab, Mercedes-Benz’s Vito Crew-Cab and the Korean built i-Load Crew-Cab.

The Trafic Crew runs with front-wheel-drive and a 1.6-litre, twin-turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine producing 103 kW of power and 340 Nm of torque.

Interestingly, the only transmission on offer at the moment is a six-speed manual. With the current trend, within Australia at least, leaning towards automatic transmissions, an automatic option for the Trafic was expected last year and is now rumoured to be not too far off.

This is a van that has no trouble keeping up with the flow of traffic on Sydney’s inner-city roads. The ample torque available from the twin-turbo engine made for seamless progression through the gears, devoid of any lag or unwillingness. Revving the engine much beyond 2500 to 2700rpm seemed counter-productive and produced little by way of increased performance. Higher revs simply increase engine noise and negatively impact on fuel economy. This is definitely a relaxed performer, quite happy to sit at the lower end of the tacho, where it performs well with light loads.

In testament to the low-revving feel of the engine, with the eco-mode button selected and indicated by a green light within the dash, the driving display actually encourages up-shifting as low as 1800 rpm to utilise the low-down torque availability.

The six-speed manual gearbox was refreshingly smooth with a short throw between ratios giving an almost sports-like feel. The gear lever is conveniently positioned and falls easily to hand without unnecessary reaching. I did feel, however, that the short-shifting encouraged by the computer management system left me with a hand continually on the gear lever as the duration from one gear position to the next seemed remarkably short.

Manoeuvrability was adequate enough not to give the feeling of driving a large bus. However, the 13.2 metres that’s required to turn the Trafic around (12.1 m for the much larger MB Sprinter Van, 11.8 m for the Vito and 10 m for the HiAce) would be a little limiting in tight situations, or for a quick U-turn after missing a driveway you should have turned into for a delivery.

Vision from the elevated driving position through the large frontal glass and around the A-pillars was excellent. The no-cost optional glazed rear door and transparent bulkhead panel provided adequate vision to the rear, backed up by the reverse camera display in the multimedia screen mounted in the dashboard.

The standard seating capacity for the Trafic Crew is six, although it can be ordered as a five-seat option if desired. When specified for six, the centre-front seat is quite small and would not comfortably accommodate a large person. The comfort level would also be influenced by the gear lever positioning encroaching into the leg space of the centre occupant.

For the driver, finding a comfortable position is made easy by the height-and-reach-adjustable steering column, height-adjustable seating with inboard armrests, and lumbar adjustment functions. Leg room was OK; however, the absence of a footrest was noticeable and a combination of the clutch pedal and transmission lever moulding rising up from the floor meant that stretching the left leg on long trips was not an option. Front seat passengers are able to extend their legs right underneath the dash, unhindered.

Atop the dash is an open storage bin in the middle, with USB and AUX sockets, plus a lidded compartment on the left side. Also on the dash top are two of the three drink holders. I found these poorly positioned, requiring unrealistic leaning forward to access and place any cool drinks, which then sit in direct sunshine. The other drink holder is a flip-down affair, positioned in front of the middle seat position. This is more accessible, but too shallow to hold cans securely and definitely not suited to bottles.

There is a secure phone holder on the dash, which was well-positioned for hands-free operation, although my Samsung Galaxy in its cover didn’t fit the holder. The seven-inch touchscreen multimedia unit provided Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation and vision for the reverse camera display.

Within the steering wheel are the buttons for cruise control and Bluetooth functions; however, the buttons were not illuminated, making night operation a braille affair for the unfamiliar.

Rear seating is generous in proportion, providing a comfortable place to sit between jobs and/or decent width to keep the kids from squabbling. The seats are firm and supportive, featuring arm and head rests and three-point belts. The seat backs are not overly upright, a feature often experienced in smaller dual-cab utes. ISOFIX points are available on the two outward rear seats.

Sadly, the rear occupant environment slips into mediocrity from here. There are no cup or drink holders or any in-door storage, with the only stowage option being a traditional sleeved pocket in the rear of the front seats.

The sole 12-volt accessory socket is awkwardly positioned below the offside seat and although under-seat storage bins are optional, these would be difficult to access while travelling. These bins were not fitted to our test vehicle, which was specced with a bias towards cargo length – more on that later.  Rear passengers do benefit from roof-mounted speakers and reading lamps, although they miss out on rear aircon vents.

If Renault is serious about attracting buyers with a crew of young, tech-reliant apprentices or a family with kids, there’s a need for an upgrade to include storage and charging options in the rear seating area.

For the driver, car-like steering, handling and cornering provided a secure driving experience, with predictable manners and compliance from the suspension. Road and tyre noise, so often experienced from many vans, were almost non-existent, putting the Trafic ahead of some rivals not featuring a sealed solid bulkhead. This benefit does come at the expense of not being able to fold the seats forward to accommodate longer loads.

A successful, dual-purpose vehicle needs to be able to tick all the boxes when it comes to moving occupants and all their gear, be it tools for the tradie or motorbikes on the weekend. The Trafic doesn’t disappoint.

With a dedicated, completely sectioned-off cargo area totalling four cubic metres of load space that’s completely weatherproof and securable, it places the Trafic on the short-list of those wanting a crew cab, but not necessarily needing a four-wheel-drive with a large towing capacity. Trafic has a braked towing capacity of 2000kg, double that of the HiAce Crew Cab and just 500kg less than the MB Vito.

The light tare weight of the Trafic at 1822 kg, combined with a GVM of 2940, equates to a healthy payload of 1118, or much more than most dual-cab utes. Additionally, a GCM of 4940 kg allows the Trafic to tow its maximum permissible weight whilst carrying a full payload in the van. That said, 1.6 litres of engine burdened with nearly five tonnes of weight could be stretching the bounds of longevity, even with two-stage turbocharging.

Internal cargo dimensions are admirable, with a width of 1622mm, length 1819mm, height 1387mm and 1268mm between the wheel arches − sufficient for a full- sized pallet. If palletised loads are going to be part of your daily routine, make sure you option 270-degree-opening barn doors replacing the tailgate, in order to access a forlkift.

Clever use of the space beneath the rear seats enables long loads to slide under the rear seat space, facilitating a total length of 2423 mm at floor level.

The down-speeding of the engine from the two-stage turbocharging yielded some impressive results in the fuel economy stakes, with the trip computer recording 6.8 litres/100 km at the end of our test. I must add that this was all empty running with the stop/start function left on, and came in just short of the claimed combined cycle usage of 6.2 litres/100 km, as stated by the manufacturer. Given the 80-litre fuel tank capacity, a safe range of 1200km is possible at this consumption rate.

As expected from a European-sourced van, built-in safety features include front/side and lateral airbags for front-seat occupants, rollover mitigation, EBD, ABS, ESC, BA, disc brakes to all wheels, cornering fog lamps, and hill start assist, providing a package that matches or exceeds the competition.

Renault is offering a three-year, unlimited kilometre factory warranty to back up its products. Combined with 30,000 km or 12-month service intervals, the cost-of-ownership figures look like a solid proposition.

The biggest barrier to success for the European manufacturers intent on gaining increased market share would be addressing the global force of the dealer service and aftersales network to match the likes of Toyota and Hyundai.

The Trafic is a worthy product and if Renault tackles this area with a gutsy dose of aftersales back-up and service through conveniently-located service outlets, the competition may well get a little nervous.

Our Renault Trafic LWB Crew Cab Van as tested was priced at $43,990 driveaway.

In summary, the Trafic − although lacking in some rear seat passenger refinement − has a lot to offer and is worthy of consideration.

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