Renault Master van video Review

By: Matt Wood


Renault has seen some sales growth of late with their LCV offerings. Matt Wood spends a few days with the Renault Master and finds that space really isn’t the final frontier in this light commercial

 

I found myself in the company of the Renault’s mid wheelbase (MWB) Master van, a deceptively large front-wheel drive offering that, along with the smaller Trafic, has been at the forefront of Renault’s foray into the Australian LCV market.

The last 12 months has seen Renault’s LCV sales jump by 70 per cent as the French brand gains traction in the local market.

Spending a few days with the Master would hopefully provide some insight as to what all of the fuss is about.

The Master is a big van and even in mid-wheelbase form has a very respectable 10.8 cubic-metres of cargo area.

It has a GVM of 3,500kg and a payload capacity of 1,600kg in MWB guise.

Inside, the Master differs markedly from its fellow Euro competitors. Where others lean towards a more no-nonsense functional cockpit, the Renault seems busy with differing tones and odd angles.

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Engine

Under the stubby bonnet out front is a 4-cylinder 2.5-litre turbo diesel power plant that generates 88kW of power and develops 300Nm of torque.

Transmission

All of this is put to the ground through a 6-speed transmission via the front wheels, and this is where it gets kind of interesting.

The Quickshift 6-speed transmission in my test vehicle was an automated manual transmission (AMT) not a conventional hydraulic auto.

This means the Renault has servo shifted gearbox with no clutch pedal.

You can, of course, go for the standard 6-speed manual if you wish.

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Cab and Controls

The Renault Master is a veritable universe of storage areas. There are countless hidey holes to lose a con-note and no less than five cup holders dotted throughout the cabin.

Centre stage on the dashboard is a Bluetooth enabled CD/radio combo, though the display for this is mounted at head height in a display unit next to the rear vision mirror.

There’s space for three people including the driver, and the middle seat flips down into a handy console which can also double as a computer table with a slide across tray.

Storage for driver knick-knacks certainly isn’t an issue with this van.

There’s a generous sliding door on the left side of the Master and barn doors at the back give easy access for forklifts loading palletised items. With the van floor just 540mm off the ground, stepping in and out of the load area is easy.

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Stepping up into the driver’s seat was easy as well. It was comfortable and visibility was excellent — except for the rather annoying satnav/ audio screen mounted at head height. I found it really distracting.

I realise that the idea is that you can glance at it without taking your eyes completely off the road but it only added to the busy-ness of the Master’s interior and ,on the whole, was very counterintuitive to operate.

A bulkhead between the driver’s compartment and the load area helped reduce driveline rumble through the van body and added to the light-truck feel of the Master.

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Performance

The Quickshift AMT does make the van feel a bit truck-like in performance, the engine is willing enough but the trick to driving the AMT is to go easy on the throttle to encourage smooth shifts.

A heavy right foot has the drive wheels scrabbling on the road surface from a standstill and only encourages rough, jerky gear shifts. You need to pretend you’re driving a manual but not shifting the gears yourself.

The advantages of an AMT over an auto are the relative mechanical simplicity and full power upshifts and downshifts — something that did come in handy when braking with a load on.

The transmission selector itself was an easy, intuitive use; plus for manual upshifts, minus for downshifts and side to side for manual mode, neutral and reverse.

The MWB Master will take a 1,600kg load though this hardly does the cavernous interior justice.

The 2.5-litre engine had enough torque down low to get the van up and moving at traffic speeds quite easily, and the tall overdrive gear ratio meant that the Master didn’t change into sixth until hitting the highway 100km/h limit.

The option of using a speed limiter came in handy as it was easy to creep up in speed as the van idled along, cruise control also helped.

The high profile of the Master does mean that it catches side winds out on the highway, a price paid for the vast load area of the vehicle. But I wasn’t really sold on the front-wheel drive handling of the big Renault; it made the van feel as if was on tippy toes on the open road.

No doubt a big load would help address this. A big load would also help the AMT’s performance as most auto-shifters like the extra momentum provided by having a bit of weight on board.

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Low-speed clutch engagement remains an issue, especially when backing into a tight area. The factory parking sensor helps but the van really could do with a reversing camera as well.

There was still a considerable amount of rumble through the body out on the open road.

Around town, though, the van was in its element and ducked and weaved through traffic with an agility that belied its size. Parking was an easy task as the big van manages to just about squeeze into a standard size car park — though, again, the jerky clutch engagement of the AMT made things difficult at low speed.

Where the Master really shines though is the size of the cargo area, which belies the relatively small footprint of the Master.

Over my week with the Renault, I experimented with all sorts of differing loads, my groceries, a Harley Davidson, barbecue. The Master swallowed the lot.

In fact I reckon if I’d tried hard enough I could have just about fit the whole lot in at the same time. Just imagine how many Scandinavian backpackers could sleep in there.

I’m not taken with the performance of the Quickshift. While the concept has its merits in theory, I still found it a bit too clumsy for my liking.

But the little 2.5-litre turbo diesel engine was a game performer that, while a bit harsh sounding when pushed, did a good job of punting the Master along, especially at metro speeds.

A claimed fuel economy figure of 8.7 litres/100km is may be another good reason to overlook the Master’s less-endearing attributes.

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Verdict

On the whole the Renault Master still manages to squeeze a lot of van into quite a compact space.

Specifications

Make/Model: Renault Master MWB Auto

Engine: 2.5-litre 4 cylinder turbo diesel

Power/Torque: 88kW@3,500rpm / 300Nm@1,600rpm

Transmission: 6-speed AMT or 6-speed manual

Load volume: 10.8 cubic-metres

Payload: 1,609kg

GVM: 3,500kg

 

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