Renault Trafic review
Economy, comfort and clever design mark out Renault's mid-sized Trafic panel van as one to watch
Renault has a crown to defend and it thinks the Renault Trafic is the van for the job. The French marque was Europe's top light commercial vehicle (LCV) manufacturer in 2013 with a lucrative 14.6% share of the market and 2013 was its 16th consecutive year at the top. That sizeable chunk of the LCV action must have tasted all the sweeter to Renault in light of its recent travails in the passenger car segment and this new Renault Trafic panel van is tasked with hanging on to it.
That task might not be a simple one. The previous generation Trafic II van model proved a runaway success, its bold yet sturdy design becoming a firm favourite with operators over a mammoth 12-year lifecycle. That only made it a target to be sniped at, however, and now Ford has directly entered the Trafic's mid-sized panel van segment for the first time with the Transit Custom while the Mercedes Vito and Volkswagen Transporter offer a sterner challenge than ever.
In the UK, the Trafic's Vauxhall Vivaro sister vehicle is traditionally a bigger seller while cost-sensitive buyers may also be drawn to another platform-sharing partnership that gives birth to the Citroen Dispatch, Peugeot Expert and Fiat Scudo triplets. The market for mid-sized panel vans is packed and this Trafic needs to stand out.
To that end, Renault is offering a panel van range of two load lengths and two roof heights yielding load volumes from 5.2m3 to 8.6m3 and a maximum payloads up to 1,269kg. There are four engine options, all are diesel and all are versions of Renault's advanced 1.6-litre dCi common-rail unit. The 89bhp (dCi 90) and 113bhp (dCi 115) engines prop up the range with single, variable geometry turbochargers while the 118bhp (dCi 120) and 138bhp (dCi 140) versions get twin turbos for extra oomph. Combined cycle returns of 47.9mpg from the 118bhp unit make it one of the most economical vans on sale but there are efficiency improvements of 5% across the range.
The Trafic trim levels are Business, Business+ and Sport with all models getting a DAB radio with Bluetooth, ESC stability control, a full steel bulkhead, remote central locking and a sliding side door on the left. Business+ adds air-conditioning, rear parking sensors, the clever load-through bulkhead and Renault's Mobile Office (dashboard device cradles plus a middle passenger seat that folds down to reveal a clipboard and lab-top storage). Sport models get all that plus alloy wheels, touchscreen sat-nav and cruise control as well as other styling add-ons.
The Trafic may not have the visual wow-factor of its predecessor but in every other respect it feels like a significant improvement. The success of the old Trafic allowed Renault to focus on developing key areas with this model rather than returning to the drawing board and the approach has paid off. Although around a quarter of the van's parts are carried over, efficiency, cabin quality and the driving experience are now more than a match for most rivals, while a series of well-judged features help make the van brilliantly easy to work with.
MPG and Running Costs
The headline combined economy figure for the Renault Trafic is the impressive 47.9mpg achieved by the dCi 120 model with CO2 emissions of 155g/km but none of the engines are slouches on this score. The dCi 120 is the only unit that comes with Renault's Stop & Start as standard but it can be specified as an option on the dCi 90 and the dCi 140. They achieve identical figures of 43.5mpg without it or 46.3mpg with it. That leaves the dCi 115 which also returns 43.5mpg and, like the others, emits 170g/km of CO2.
The Trafic's efficiency can be further enhanced by engaging the ECO mode via a button on the dash. This dulls the throttle response on the van to keep the engine revs in check. Gear shift indicators on the dash and the tips to improve your driving style from the various infotainment system options can also produce a real-world economy benefit if the driver takes any notice.
The Vauxhall Vivaro is all but identical to the Trafic but the warranty cover on the vans isn't. You get an extra year out of Renault with a 4-year/100,000-mile package that includes unlimited mileage in the first two years.
Operators may well be casting an anxious eye towards the Trafic's huge front light clusters and the big painted bumpers on the vans pictured but Renault assures us that repair costs on the Trafic have been kept firmly in check. The urge to use the expensive and in-vogue LED lighting technology was resisted to keep replacement costs low and the lights at both ends of the van are mounted high up, out of harm's way. The bumpers on the entry-level versions are unpainted as standard.
Load Space and Practicality
Operators didn't think there was much wrong with the load space on the old Trafic and Renault opted to keep the boxy dimensions largely unchanged on the new van so that existing conversions or storage racking can be easily transferred across.
There are a few crucial differences though, the most salient being the 210mm extension in the length of the van to 4,999mm. Roughly half of that extra length goes on the load bay, increasing the carrying capacity of the short wheelbase, low roof model by 200 litres to 5.2m3. Crucially, this enables the smallest Trafic to carry three Europallets or 11 standard sheets of plasterboard.
Moreover, Renault includes a special 'load through bulkhead' on Business+ models and above. This is basically 2 flaps, one at floor level in the bulkhead behind the passenger seat and a second under the passenger seat itself. Open the first and the planks or piping of up to 2.94m in length can be accomidated, open the second and you've got 3.75m to play with. Again, that's in the short-wheelbase model. In the long wheelbase Trafic with the load through bulkhead the maximum load length is a class-leading 4.15m.
Renault also fits a clever catch for the asymetrically-split rear doors. This allows the left hand door that carries the Trafic's rear numberplate to be locked in place so very long items can be poked out of the right hand door and carried with rear lights and numberplate visible. An internal ceiling rack is also available as an option along with Renault's Ready4Work range of fully warrantied internal racking and storage solutions.
As well as the panel vans in two wheelbases and two roof heights Renault offers a six-seater crew van, a nine-seater minibus and a platform cab ready to take a host of conversions. There's even a hint that a luxury MPV-style Trafic may emerge to take on the Volkswagen Caravelle and Mercedes V-Class.
Reliability and Safety
As standard, the Renault Trafic has a solid safety specification. The full steel bulkhead forms a robust barrier between occupants and cargo, then there's a driver's airbag, ABS with EBD and ESC stability control with hill start assist and Grip Xtend to help out on slippery surfaces. Extra airbags are cost options.
The Business+ model adds the 'Wide View Mirror' which is a giant vanity mirror on the underside of the passenger sun visor. It eliminates the Trafic's blind spot by increasing the driver's field of vision down the offside flank of the van. The only problem is that any passenger is left staring at their reflection for the duration of the trip, which is fine, if you have the self-esteem of Cristiano Ronaldo. On the security front, all models get dead locks an immobiliser and pre-wiring for an alarm should you wish to fit one.
Renault makes the familiar claims as to the extensive testing and durability of the Trafic with the 1.6-litre dCi engines said to be good for 400,000km. Should something still go wrong, Renault's PRO+ network of van centres offers a van-for-van courtesy vehicle while yours is off the road, a diagnostic report within the hour and a maximum 48-hour lead time for servicing and repairs.
Driving and Performance
The Renault Trafic's 1.6-litre engines might sound small but there's no need for operators to worry, performance is in plentiful supply. The dCi 90 (89bhp) variant is earmarked as the option for van users in urban areas as its 15.9s 0-62mph time and 95mph top speed indicate a lack of legs when the road opens up.
The dCi 115 (113bhp) is a better all-rounder, its 0-62mph time of 12.4s being much more like it. The engine is smooth and refined with 300Nm of torque at 1,500rpm (up from 260Nm in the dCi 90). It can struggle to pull the big sixth gear anywhere other than on a motorway cruise but otherwise in-gear performance is pretty good.
In fact, the twin turbo dCi 120 Trafic (118bhp) is scarcely any quicker than the dCi 115 with a 12s 0-62mph time. The main reason for upgrading would be that model's superb fuel economy. The dCi 140 is the strong van of the range with a 10.8s 0-62mph sprint and 340Nm of torque. Progress is lively, if not quite as effortless as in the most powerful versions of some rivals but, surprisingly, there's more noise and vibration in the cab than with the single turbo dCi 115 model.
The Trafic generally rides very well and is comfortable to drive. The steering is well weighted and the dash-mounted gearshift is one of the best we've encountered in a panel van. The three-way adjustable driver's seat and two-way adjustable steering column help produce a relaxed and car-like driving position but you're still sat quite high in the vehicle for a commanding view out. The wide window sills are perfect for propping an elbow on in the time-honoured van driver fashion.
Cab and Interior
Renault has brought a number of passenger car touches to the interior of the Trafic but the van's cabin is still designed primarily as a working environment. The two-tone dash is constructed of tough, solid-feeling plastics and although there are some areas where the fit isn't as good as it could be, the general ambience impresses. The funky instrument cluster with its big digital speedo display are lifted straight from the Renault Clio supermini and the air-vents with their piano black surrounds are a nice touch, assuming they stay scratch free.
There's up to 90 litres of storage space inside the cab, depending on which of the 14 possible storage spaces are present. The highlight from a user-friendliness point of view is Renault's Mobile Office which is found on Business+ models and above. It's a middle front passenger seat with a fold-down back that reveals a table with detachable clipboard and a laptop storage space. It doesn't seem to be quite on a par with the rest of the cabin in terms of robustness but it will definitely be a useful addition for those with paper work to do on the move.
Also on Business+ models is a built-in smartphone cradle that locates your phone with in easy reach and sight. A larger cradle for tablet devices can also be specified and once you've got your devices installed it's possible to fully integrate them with the van's systems through Renault's R&GO app.
Available to iOS and Android users, R&GO provides trip computer functionality, satellite navigation, entertainment and telephony all through your phone. It's a great way of getting these high-tech features without going to the expense of Renault's slick built-in touchscreen infotainment solutions, the basic version of which only comes as standard on Sport models.
Finally, another great piece of kit that we'd certainly consider from the options list is Renault's hands-free key card. With this drivers can open the Trafic's doors, start the engine and drive away without ever having to take the key out of their pocket.
|SWB Low roof||1,971mm||1,956mm||4,999mm|
|SWB High roof||2,465mm||1,956mm||4,999mm|
|LWB Low roof||1,971mm||1,956mm||5,399mm|
|LWB High roof||2,465mm||1,956mm||5,399mm|
Width including door mirrors: 2,283mm
Load area dimensions
|SWB Low roof||1,387mm||1,662mm||2,537mm||5.2m3|
|LWB Low roof||1,387mm||1,662mm||2,937mm||6.0m3|
|LWB High roof||1,913mm||1,662mm||2,937mm||8.6m3|
- Length: 4,999mm - 5,399mm
- Width: 2,283mm
- Height: 1,971mm - 2,465mm
- Payload: 1,079kg - 1,269kg
- Load volume: 5.2m3 - 8.6m3
- Load length: 2,537mm - 2,937mm
- Power: 89bhp - 138bhp
- 0-62mph: 15.9s - 10.8s
- Economy: 43.5mpg - 47.9mpg