Renault is expanding its product offering with the introduction of enhanced traction technology and four-wheel drive. James Dallas gets to grip with the developments
Renault is to extend its range of off-road light commercials with the introduction of enhanced traction X-Track models across its full line-up of vans.
The manufacturer claims the technology, which is expected to arrive in showrooms on Kangoo, Trafic and Master models in October, offers better traction in mild to medium off-road conditions compared to the Grip Extend system that it introduced on the Kangoo light van in 2013 and the Trafic medium van and Master heavy van in 2014.
The manufacturer classifies X-Track as an alternative to four-wheel drive when usage does not necessitate full off-road ability.
“It is designed for site use, building work, forestry working, tow paths, non-sealed access roads farmers and leisure use,” says the brand.
The X-Track vans employ 4x2 transmission in conjunction with a limited slip differential that is permanently activated, unlike the Grip Extend system that is engaged by pushing a button on the dashboard at speeds of up to 30mph.
X-Track vans also get metal underbody protection, a sump guard, all weather tyres and ground clearance raised by 30mm for the Kangoo and Trafic and 40mm for the Master.
French firm Poclain Vehicles carries out the X-Track conversions. Should one of the van’s wheels lose grip, the technology works by using the slip differential to transfer up to 25% of torque to the wheel with the most traction in order to pull the vehicle clear of the tricky terrain. By contrast, Grip Extend tries to deliver more grip by allowing the wheels to spin until they clear away snow or sand, for example, until finding the firmer surface underneath. All weather tyres are optional on Grip Extend models
Renault is also to launch a 4x4 version of its Master in the fourth quarter of the year that will see the brand offer a rival to the all-wheel drive Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter off-roaders.
In fact the 4x4 conversion is carried out by German firm Oberaigner, which also undertakes the work on the Sprinter.
The 4x4 Master is designed to tackle more rugged conditions than the X-Track models and, according to Renault, is suitable for “intensive use on very difficult terrain, including off-road use”.
Converted from rear-wheel drive models only, hence available just on the large van as the others in the range are exclusively front-wheel drive, the 4x4 Master gets a reduced gearing system for the most arduous terrain. Front ground clearance is raised by 65mm while rear ground clearance is raised by 58mm on single wheel and by 45mm on twin rear-wheel models. Renault will make the all-wheel drive system available on chassis cabs and both single- and double-cab panel vans. The driver can engage AWD transmission when the van is stationary or at speeds of up to 15mph and turn the reduced gearing on when at a standstill.
The 4x4 system can be switched off at speeds of up to 12mph and the gear reduction unit disengaged when the vehicle is not moving.
Both the X-Track vans and the 4x4 Master will be sold directly from Renault Pro-Plus dealerships with a single invoice and the same four year, 100,000 mile warranty as the rest of the line-up.
Renault claims its three enhanced traction systems are designed to meet customer needs that vary “depending on the type of terrain on which their vehicles operate and on whether [they] are used occasionally or intensively in difficult conditions”.
We got behind the wheel of an X-Track Trafic in extremely dry and dusty conditions in Spain and found the van able to cope with rough, stony tracks and steep climbs and descents with the minimum of fuss.
The technology should further widen the reach of the already popular Trafic to include customers who need to tackle difficult terrain but stop short of requiring full off-road ability.
We also tried out the 4x4 Master, which was able to handle hairier routes strewn with bigger boulders, sharper inclines, deeper ruts and steeper hills in the same dry terrain while giving every impression it could cope just as well with the wetter and muddier challenges it would be likely to face in the UK.
The introduction of X-Track and 4x4 technology to its range could be seen as Renault paving the way for the launch of its first pick-up, the Nissan Navara-based Alaskan, in January 2017.
Renault’s LCV boss Ashwani Gupta, admits the enhanced traction models will not sell in huge numbers but claims they not only widen the product offering but also improve the brand’s standing in the marketplace.
“It’s a high value low volume technology,” he says.
“Renault wants to provide customers with LCVs that match their needs.”