Car reviews - Renault - Trafic - dCi 140
Numerous clever innovations, surprisingly punchy engine, very easy drive, comfortable cabin
Room for improvement
No automatic transmission, no passenger seat adjustment
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5 May 2015
IN THE 2.5 to 3.5-tonne van race, Renault's Trafic finished last year on the podium with 1643 sales behind Hyundai's iLoad with 4344 and the popular HiAce from Toyota with a whopping 6432 registrations.
There's no doubt money talks in the commercial vehicle segment and while the entry level prices of the competition seem to vary, it's in the frugal cash-saving diesel offerings where the entire Trafic range competes.
Renault's offering kicks off with the more about-town focused dCi 90 at $33,490 before on-road costs, but we cut straight to the chase and the $36,990 Energy dCi 140, which places it right alongside the most affordable diesel versions of the Hyundai and Toyota at $36,490 and $35,990 respectively.
On paper you would be forgiven for thinking that the Renault's two main rivals out-gun the Trafic by a fair margin. After all, the iLoad packs a 2.5-litre four-cylinder and the HiAce has an even beefier 3.0-litre.
But here's the first of the Trafic's pleasant surprises compared to equivalent manuals, the Trafic's tiny 1.6-litre engine actually produces more power than either of the bigger engines.
To be precise – 4kW more than the Hyundai and the same torque, and a sizable 24kW/54Nm over the Toyota. Throw in an ultra-frugal fuel consumption figure of just 6.2 litres per 100km and the Trafic is already making a lot of sense.
On the road, the effect of sequential twin-turbos becomes patently clear. Our test van was loaded up with 300kg of concrete and one passenger – an average load in many instances – and the tiny diesel still had plenty of go left in it.
Lag was detectable but minimal and the second larger turbo spools up fast enabling an effortless dash about Adelaide's suburban streets. We liked the involvement of the six-speed manual gearbox, which in many commercial applications is preferable.
Renault claims the new Trafic has a more MPV-like driving character and we couldn't agree more. The driving position is half car, half commercial with a fatigue-mitigating upright position but with the comfort of an average SUV.
The position also allows a very good view of the surroundings allowing confident maneuvering. For those not familiar with medium-sized van driving, the Renault does have a good selection of toys to help the less experienced.
A reverse-camera image is displayed behind the rear-view mirror glass, a generous rear cabin window allows a good rearward view when not fully loaded, and the side mirrors have convex twin-section glass.
As if that wasn't enough vision, the Traffic has an additional large mirror behind the passenger sun-visor that offers a widened view of the nearside. An award-winning feature.
The Trafic can accommodate two passengers too, but they are treated to fewer comforts with no seat adjustment and an impaired view ahead when the extended mirror is in place.
The Trafic cabin is very much focussed on the driver and has some unique features many users would find handy day to day.
Folding the middle seat back flat creates a solid centre bench and incorporates a laptop storage cubby and a special clipboard holder, which can be mounted to face either the driver or passenger.
An incorporated dash-mounted phone and optional tablet holder are other features that allow a driver/operator to keep an eye on a day's schedule and communications without taking their eye off the road.
Our test-driver's 122mm x 63mm phone sat snugly in the holder but larger phones such as the industry leaders would not.
While the expansive rear cabin window allows a good rearward view, it can create a distracting reflection that appeared to be another vehicle in the nearside blind spot.
Generally, the cabin is very well thought out offering genuinely useful features for a working driver and very high levels of comfort. Road and load area noise levels were relatively low and only a slight booming when driving on rougher surfaces was the only intrusion.
The ride was also impressively car-like, absorbing larger imperfections where other vans might rattle occupants.
With two wide-opening rear barn doors and one sliding side door, access to the load area is ample and the bay is generous with 5.2 cubic meters and 6.0 cubic meters in the L2 longer wheelbase version ($38,490).
If more space is required – especially for longer items – the Trafic has a clever bulkhead flap that pops open and allows thin objects up to 4150mm to protrude into the cabin under the passenger seats.
The space boosting feature is another example of innovative thinking from the French van-maker, and makes use of a large volume of storage normally wasted in the Trafic's competitors.
Want more clever touches? Well there's even a coat hook in the load area to prevent a damp waterproof jacket fogging up the cabin.
Leaving the bustling rush-hour traffic behind we headed for the Barossa wine-region – prime case-lugging van country – for an opportunity to stretch the Trafic's legs.
On open roads the 1.6-litre diesel powered along effortlessly with minimal cabin noise and settled to low fuel-preserving rpm thanks to the well-matched six-speed gearbox.
With abundant torque from just 1750 rpm, the Trafic is very easy to pilot under all circumstances with a very progressive clutch, smooth manual shift and sharp throttle response.
We understand there are a number of organisations that require automatic fleet vehicles for a large pool of drivers, but for those that accept manual LCVs you won't find many more pleasant to use than the Renault.
The Ford Transit Custom may match the Trafic for driving enjoyment but its awkward looks are no match for the prettier Renault – another big improvement over the second generation, which wore a curious surprised expression.
While on the subject of aesthetics, we give a big tradie thumbs up for one of three new colours. If you are a fresh produce supplier, environmentally conscious business or eco-retreat operator, you would have to go for the Bamboo Green. It looks fantastic.
With its third-generation Trafic, Renault is showing its maturity and deep understanding of the commercial vehicle segment, and although it can't currently offer an auto version, it is still a very accomplished package.
The relatively tiny engine should certainly not put you off because it is surprisingly versatile and efficient and, while it doesn't completely make up for the lack of auto, it certainly is one of the Trafic's finest features.
Combine that with great looks, clever comfort and convenience innovations and a competitive price, and the Renault Trafic is both a shrewd and savvy option for both business-owner and driver alike.
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