Car reviews - Renault - Trafic - Energy dCi 140 L1
Terrific engine performance and low real-world fuel consumption, welcoming and well thought-out cabin, comfortable ride, surprisingly good handling, well specified
Room for improvement
A couple of cabin ergonomics issues, doors need a good slam, brakes not the most confidence-inspiring – even unladen
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10 Jul 2015
Price and equipment
THE L1H1 (short wheelbase) Trafic variant tested is priced at $36,990 plus on-road costs and ours was fitted with the $1990 premium pack that includes various comfort, cosmetic and convenience features.
Standard kit comprises manual air conditioning with pollen filter, a rear window demister, electric front windows, cruise control with speed limiter, height- and reach-adjustable steering column, a driver’s seat with armrest, height and lumbar adjustment, a fixed two-seat passenger bench, a multi-function trip computer display and a two-speaker audio system with steering wheel controls, two USB ports, an auxiliary input jack and Bluetooth audio streaming.
In the cargo area are 16 anchorage points, a metal bulkhead with window, a 12V power outlet, two lights, mid-height plastic lining and a hatch through to the space under the passenger seats to extend load length.
Safety gear includes driver and passenger airbags, anti-whiplash headrests for all three seats and anti roll-over protection, while security features comprise an immobiliser, remote central locking and automatic door-locking that activates when the van is in motion.
The Premium pack adds side curtain airbags, a flexible phone cradle, satellite navigation, upgraded sound system, wide-angle mirror on the passenger sun-blind to increase rear vision (although we couldn’t figure out how), plusher Java cloth upholstery, heated seats, premium dashboard trims/storage areas and 17-inch alloy wheels to replace the standard 16-inch steelies.
It is a pretty compelling package given the pre-options price is just $500 more than the diesel Hyundai iLoad, while other Euro contenders like the Volkswagen Transporter and Mercedes-Benz Vito are priced between $1500 and $2000 north of the Trafic. Fiat’s Scudo, however, is just $31,000.
With the Trafic, Renault has achieved a cabin that is tough and practical yet comfortable and attractive.
Our week with the van uncovered a couple of flaws though, including a sore left knee caused by being forced to rest against a bulge in the lower dash that houses the gearstick and a lack of footrest beside the clutch pedal (related to the right-hand-drive conversion as the passenger footwell has a redundant footrest), while the two passenger pews are a bit too upright for comfort and lack both side and thigh support.
For the driver, the cabin is generally a happy place, with a comfortable seat, pleasantly car-like driving position, clear instruments – with large digital speed readout instead of an analogue speedometer – and easy-to-use touchscreen.
Switchgear is logically placed for a Renault too.
There are storage compartments galore, including huge deep door bins, a double glovebox and the area beneath the passenger seats accommodated a week’s grocery shop for two (when it wasn’t being used to extend the load length of the cargo compartment).
It is a great mobile office, with our optioned-up example featuring a perfectly placed smartphone holster to go with the little desk and clipboard arrangement revealed by folding the central passenger backrest down. More paperwork can be stored easily to hand in a recess at the centre of the dash, which does not seem to cause distracting windscreen reflections.
The way the satellite navigation interrupts the audio output is annoying and even with the premium audio system fitted to our test vehicle, the sound quality is tinny.
Compared to many vans, we thought the door mirrors were lacking, leading to a large blind-spot down the left-hand side while the interior mirror was rendered almost useless with the central seat up because of the fixed, stitched-in head restraint. As mentioned above, the wide-angle mirror in the passenger sun-visor didn’t help much.
The reversing camera built into the interior mirror is excellent though and helps the driver maintain use of their peripheral vision compared with dash-mounted systems.
In the cargo area, sealed off by a metal bulkhead with wide window at the top, plenty of tie-downs and plastic half-height lining make this van practical without visiting the aftermarket fit-out specialists. The wheel arch intrusion is fairly low-profile too, which made positioning wider loads easy and safe.
The bulkhead helped keep the passenger compartment quiet and refined too, although the loud auto-locking echoed around inside like a firecracker, making us think we’d hit something more than once. All doors required a really firm slam too, although this may loosen off as the van ages.
Engine and transmission
This van feels dominated by its engine. Do not be fooled by its diminutive 1.6-litre diesel displacement, for the twin turbos come on fast and strong, providing urge that feels like far more than 103kW and 340Nm.
Unladen and even partially laden, the Trafic’s chubby torque delivery never fails to impress. In fact part-throttle acceleration can often feel too aggressive and we preferred driving it in Eco mode – we thought we would never write that – which tames the boost somewhat and makes unladen power delivery feel more manageable.
Put it this way, accelerating from 80km/h to 110km/h in sixth, using the cruise control, pushes occupants back in their seats – unless Eco mode is selected.
But apart from under deliberately aggressive shifts between first and second gear, the various traction and safety systems are well calibrated enough that it never overwhelms the front tyres.
The grunty engine is part of the argument why Renault doesn’t really need an automatic version of this van, as is the light clutch action and satisfying gear change feel. Frequent shifts are not required and it will trickle along in high gears happily. Even if it sounds like it’s lugging, watching the instant fuel-efficiency readout reveals it uses less fuel when driven that way.
Talking of fuel use, on a 110km/h stretch of motorway we saw 5.5 litres per 100 kilometres on the fuel consumption display. In urban use the gauge crept close to 8.0L/100km and we averaged 6.8L/100km during a week of mixed driving. Not bad considering the official combined figure is 6.2L/100km.
For a commercial vehicle, the engine is impressively quiet, smooth and refined, pulling hard and revving more cleanly than many petrol engines all the way to the 4500rpm cut-out. It is quite an achievement.
Ride and handling
The Trafic delivered two firsts the aforementioned preference for Eco mode and stepping out of a European warm hatch into a van and thinking, “this thing is fun to drive”.
We also missed driving it after giving it back and swapping into a high-spec but comparatively dull-driving Japanese hatchback.
Well-weighted, sharp and accurate steering, impressive levels of grip and surprising ride comfort add up to a driving experience superior to many one-tonne utes and SUVs.
At speeds up to around 80km/h the Trafic really can be driven like a car and is rewarding in the process. Body-roll is well contained, while potholes and speed bumps are expertly isolated – even better with a bit of weight in the back – and there is that engine.
Above these speeds, it cannot hide the fact it is a van and gently discourages ambitious country road blasts. This is a good thing for employers wanting to make sure their staff – and the contents of the van – get home in one piece.
Only the brakes let the experience down. While they are progressive and easy to modulate, they do not instil the greatest confidence under hard deceleration in wet or dry conditions, even unladen. We did not try heavy braking with a full load but the unladen performance gave us reservations.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP has not rated the Trafic but standard equipment includes driver and passenger frontal airbags, anti-whiplash headrests for all three seats and an anti roll-over system.
Also standard are electronic stability control with load adaption control, trailer sway control, hill-start assist and “Grip X-tend” for driving on slippery surfaces.
Renault supplies a five-year, 200,000km warranty with five years’ roadside assist and the first three services cost $349 under the company’s capped-price maintenance scheme, with intervals at 12 months or up to 30,000km.
If you are self-employed and choosing your work wheels, bear in mind how enjoyable we think the Trafic is to drive. If you are an employer, this van might contribute to staff loyalty – it really is that good.
To drive, it is a world away from the ancient forward-control Toyota HiAce, beats the still-impressive Hyundai iLoad and shapes up as great value against other Europeans that are about to be superseded.
And while it may never be as iconic as the Honda CT110, posties will no doubt be pleased as punch to be driving their Trafics at work.
This van comes highly recommended.
Hyundai iLoad CRDi Single Cab from $36,490 plus on-road costs
An automatic transmission option and powerful diesel engine give the Trafic a run for its money for the price, but the iLoad is starting to show its age and matching the Trafic’s barn doors costs an extra $550.
Toyota HiAce 3.0D from $35,990 plus on-road costs
Ubiquitous, ancient and agricultural. Recommended for bulletproof reputation, resale value and little else.
Fiat Scudo from $31,000 plus on-road costs
The last survivor of the Fiat Scudo/Citroen Dispatch/Peugeot Expert triplets on the Australian market. Cheap to buy but an old design, and it cannot match the Renault’s fuel consumption to engine performance ratio.
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