Old vs new: The evolution of Renault vans (sponsored)

Renault vans have come a long way. To find out how far, we put the classic Renault Estafette up against the new Renault Trafic SpaceClass

Renault’s light commercial vehicle range has been in something of a purple patch of late. New products endowed with advanced technology, some of it derived from the work of the Renault F1® Team, have closed the gap between Renault’s vans and its passenger car range. If it’s been some time since you’ve set foot in a commercial vehicle, the levels of comfort and sophistication in the latest Renault vans will surely impress.

To demonstrate just how far the new Renault vans have come, we brought together the latest Renault Trafic SpaceClass with one of its ancestors, the historic Renault Estafette microbus. The Estafette eventually gave way to the first Renault Trafic van in the early 1980s but had been in production for over 20 years by that stage. The classic van was hugely popular over its long lifetime and sold 533,000 units worldwide but how does it shape up alongside a people carrying Renault Trafic of today?

Renault Trafic vs Estafette: the design

Not only was the Renault Estafette a practical people-mover, it also helped forge Renault’s reputation as a forward-thinking, innovative maker of commercial vehicles. Featuring a flat floor, sliding doors and a compact turning circle, the Estafette is also significant for being Renault’s first ever front-wheel-drive vehicle of any sort.

Cutting edge though the Estafette was, it’s staggering just how far Renault’s technology has moved forward since 1980. The van’s nine-passenger minibus-style layout was the peak of practicality in its day, especially with its folding seat capabilities allowing for some degree of customisation within the cabin, but modern Renault vans are still streets ahead.

The Renault Trafic SpaceClass boasts a modular layout for the same number of people as can fit in the Estafette but with no fewer than 50 different seating combinations available. The seats are on rails so they can slide as well as folding and can be configured to meet just about any requirement. They can even be removed entirely to free up more space for cargo.

Renault Trafic vs Estafette: comfort and technology

The focus on passenger comfort is also telling. While the Estafette features leather-lined seats throughout, the chairs themselves are much thinner and shorter than you’d find on a modern Renault van, making them less suited to longer journeys. In the SpaceClass, the seats are ergonomic to deliver the optimum comfort and safety levels, and can be adjusted to fit occupants of any physical stature.

The executive feel is enhanced by the presence of other convenient features: the ceiling is adorned with six individual LED reading lights, while 12V and 220V three-pin plug sockets provide power for electrical devices on the move. Ample storage compartments help keep the cabin uncluttered, and privacy glass in the rear adds to the sense of exclusivity.

This high-specification philosophy extends to the front of the SpaceClass’s cabin, where heated seats for the driver and front passenger are optional. It’s striking how much attention has been paid to the driving experience, but it makes sense when you consider that Renault expects taxi companies and airport transfer operators to be its core customers for the Renault Trafic SpaceClass.

Renault Trafic vs Estafette: on the road

It’s in this regard that Renault’s tech has improved most since the days of the Estafette. While the old microbus has a tight turning circle, the lack of power steering means a lot of effort is needed to rotate the wheels from lock-to-lock, while the H-pattern gear lever isn’t as smooth or user-friendly as the manual in SpaceClass.

Like every other van of its era compared to modern counterparts, the Estafette is also incredibly noisy - even at low speeds. With the steering column intersecting the clutch and the brake pedals, it requires full concentration behind the wheel. The SpaceClass on the other hand takes all the stress of driving out of the equation. The relaxed engine delivers enough performance to be swift on the road, but is also refined enough to keep quiet once you’re up to speed.

While driving the SpaceClass is a breeze, the optional 7-inch R-LINK Evolution1 infotainment system helps make control of the van’s advanced features effortless as well. It offers smartphone replication via Android Auto², together with Bluetooth® and MP3 connectivity. A reversing camera is optional to aid tricky manoeuvres, while automatic headlights and windscreen wipers free the driver to focus fully on the road ahead.

We haven’t even touched on safety but while the SpaceClass protects its occupants with features including ABS brakes, ESC stability control and twin front airbags, the Estafette doesn’t.

The levels of specification, comfort and user-friendly design on the Renault Trafic SpaceClass could barely have been dreamed of in the 1980s, and given the gulf that has emerged between the Estafette and the SpaceClass in the last three and a half decades, it makes you wonder what leaps forward Renault vans will take in the years to come.

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