Renault Maxity — February 2007

Date: Friday, February 23, 2007

If the new Maxity chassis cab from Renault Trucks looks vaguely familiar, then that's probably because it's virtually identical — aside from the badges and one or two styling differences — to Nissan's latest generation Cabstar. Both are assembled in Spain at a plant in Avila, to the north of Madrid, go down the same production line and share the same engines, gearboxes and cabs.

This means that the rear-wheel drive Maxity — due to go on sale in the UK in March and solely as a 3.5-tonner — is up for grabs with a choice of two common rail diesel engines.

Choice Engines

The 2.5-litre DXi 2.5 is on offer at either 110 bhp or 130 bhp with top power kicking in at 3,600rpm in both cases. The former achieves peak torque of 184 lb/ft at 1,600rpm while the latter offers 199 lb/ft at 1,800rpm.

If you want a bit more beef then opt for the 3.0-litre DXi 3 instead. Equipped with a variable geometry turbocharger it generates 150 bhp at 3,400rpm. Maximum torque of 258 lb/ft bites at 1,600rpm. Each engine is fitted with a high-capacity battery and alternator.

Customers can select either a five- or a six-speed manual gearbox depending on the model — with the 110 bhp derivative it's the five-speed only — and pick from three different rear axle ratios; 4.111, 4.375 or 4.625.

The shortest ratio can be specified solely with the 110 bhp engine. “It is especially suitable for refuse collection applications, for use on construction sites and for customers who do a lot of work in hilly areas of the country,” says a Renault spokesman.

An automatic or semi-automatic 'box could be a possibility in the future.

Cab Comfort   

Two different cabs are on offer; a standard two-door cab that's tiltable heavy truck-style for easy engine access and a four-door crew cab. The former is 2,135mm high and 1,754mm deep with an interior width of 1,645mm.

Buyers can choose from three different wheelbases; 2,500mm, 2,900mm or 3,400mm. Renault reckons that the medium-wheelbase 130 bhp chassis with a six-speed gearbox will be the best-selling Maxity.

So far as overall length is concerned Renault contends that Maxity is typically 500mm shorter than its key semi-forward control competitors, but without suffering a reduction in load bed length. That aids manoeuvrability — the 2,500mm-wheelbase version offers a turning circle as tight as 9.6m between kerbs — as does its maximum exterior width of 1.87m.

Top body and payload allowance is 1,820kg. Typical front and rear axle capacities are 1,750kg and 2,200kg respectively, and Maxity is up for grabs with either single or double rear wheels.

Independent suspension is fitted at the front while parabolic leaf springs and a rigid axle help support the newcomer at the back. You'll find an anti-roll bar at each end.

Standard features include EHS (Easy Hill Start) which makes it easier for the driver to pull away on gradients without rolling backwards. Disc brakes are installed all round, and ABS and EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) are either standard or optional depending on which model you choose. The rack-and-pinion steering is power assisted.

All Maxitys come with driver and passenger airbags, electric windows and remote central locking and the steering column can be adjusted for reach and rake; just as well given that the driver's seat can't be altered for height. An onboard computer is standard on the 150 bhp variant and offered as an option on its stablemates.

Two different trim levels are being marketed in the UK — Dynamic and Advantage — together with a variety of optional packs.

Dropsides & Tippers

Dropsides and tippers are likely to account for the vast majority of registrations and Maxity's truck-style chassis is being marketed with factory-fitted examples of both.

The dropside features alloy sides, an alloy tailboard and a plywood floor set into a steel frame and can be ordered in two different widths. The tipper is all-steel and can be specified with a storage box when mounted on a single cab chassis.

Ingimex will be offering dropside and tipper bodies too and Renault hopes to market Maxity with a fridge box for city centre delivery work. Despite its urban ambitions the newcomer won't be immediately available with a semi- or fully automatic gearbox or with a congestion-tax-dodging alternative fuel option.

Nissan has, however, developed a Cabstar with environmentally friendly hybrid drive and if possible Renault hopes to take advantage of this development in future.

On the Road

So, what's it like to drive? We took to the rain-sodden highways of the south of France in a 130 bhp short-wheelbase dropside to find out.

With plenty of performance on tap, this version of Maxity tackled steep gradients without breathing hard and more than held its own on dual carriageways. Safe and predictable, the handling was far better than we expected it to be and we were greatly impressed by the little load lugger's wet grip.

We were equally impressed by its manoeuvrability and the low level of in-cab noise. With a forward control vehicle you sit on top of the engine and right at the front of the cab. Traditionally that's meant that the driver has had to put up with a lot of racket from the powerplant; but not in this case.

On the downside the gearchange was notchy at times and the unladen ride was poor; so poor that we had to slow right down over any stretch of highway that was less than billiard table smooth to avoid having the fillings shaken out of our few remaining teeth.

The fully laden 110 bhp tipper we sampled next rode a bit better, but we still felt every bump. Don't dismiss the least powerful Maxity, incidentally; even on hilly sections of our route, it still packed plenty of punch.

The 150 bhp Maxity we sampled on outing number three was the quickest of the trio, but also, surprisingly, the roughest so far as engine noise and general refinement were concerned.

Talking to our colleagues from other publications, we found that noise varied markedly from vehicle to vehicle. While it was well suppressed in the 2.5-litre Maxitys we sampled, that apparently wasn't the case with the Maxitys driven by other journalists.

Cab Space

What they all had in common, however, was a generous amount of in-cab storage space. Facilities include two big lidded bins in the dashboard along with a lidded glovebox, a deep central shelf, four smaller shelves and a cup holder at each extremity. There's a slot for an A4 clipboard above the instrument panel plus a shelf above the driver.

While space in the three-seater standard cab is a bit tight width-ways if all the perches are occupied, it's bearable on short trips. Rather less bearable so far as the centre passenger is concerned is the absence of a lap-and-diagonal belt — all you get is a lap strap — and a head restraint.

Forward control vehicles are never as easy to climb in and out of as their semi-forward control counterparts — think Ford Transit or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter — because you have to scramble up over the wheelarch, but Maxity is better than most. The step and the grab handle on the A pillar help.

Safety

Of rather more concern is the extent to which you feel woefully vulnerable to serious injury in a front-end collision because you're positioned at the sharp end of the chassis. There seems to be precious little separating you from whatever you might collide with, or might collide with you.

In response, Renault Trucks says that the cab has been strengthened in several places — the floor, front panel and doors have been beefed up and a reinforced energy-absorbing front bumper has been fitted — and that Maxity has passed the company's own crash tests and those required by legislation.

UK marketing director, Bruce Allison, declined to speculate on likely annual UK Maxity registrations. Renault, however, aims to sell 10,000 next year across 17 European countries. Viewed as a key market, Britain will at the least be expected to contribute several hundred sales annually to the total.

Like the Renault car and van operation, Renault Trucks sells Master, but will be pushing Maxity — not on offer through the car network — as its light commercial chassis cab offering. Its dealers will continue to have Master chassis cab available, however, alongside Master van.

Maxity prices had yet to be announced at the time of writing.

VERDICT

While we weren't enamoured with the ride, it's a package that's definitely worth investigating if you're a builder, a landscape gardener, a tree surgeon or engaged in a similar trade.

The big difficulty Renault Trucks will face, however, is convincing customers to buy from one of its outlets rather than trot off to the local Nissan dealership. While most light commercial customers will know where their nearest Nissan dealer is, they may have no idea of how to find their nearest Renault Trucks agent.

To overcome this handicap Renault aims to make heavy use of electronic media, but getting the message across will require a lot of hard work.

Maxity will make its UK exhibition debut at the British Commercial Vehicle Show in April. If you haven't already seen it at a dealership by then and you're going to the exhibition — and we'd recommend you do — then check it out there.

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