Renault Trafic 2700 2.0dCi 115 bhp SWB - Tested February 2007

Date: Friday, February 23, 2007

Any light commercial lucky enough to join What Van?'s long-term test fleet — if lucky is the word we're looking for — can look forward to a bit of variety in terms of both load and destination. Glamour alas is usually not on the menu.

 

In its relatively short time with us our long-term short-wheelbase standard roof Renault Trafic has travelled to such exotic destinations as Chester, Wolverhampton and Market Deeping in Lincolnshire carrying everything from bin bags full of old clothes to bags of gravel.

In true van driver style it has been bounced up over kerbs and parked in barely-legal locations with the hazard warning lights flashing.

We've got this theory that switching the hazards on magically keeps traffic wardens at bay. Up until now we've been proved right; but watch this space.

Technical

Trafic underwent a makeover last year, although even the most dedicated van anorak wouldn't immediately notice the difference between the current model and its predecessor. Both externally and internally the changes are little more than cosmetic.

Peer beneath the metal, however, and it's a different story. The old 1.9-litre diesel generating 82 bhp or 100 bhp has been unceremoniously junked in favour of a new 2.0-litre producing either 90 bhp or 115 bhp instead. The 2.5-litre diesel has been kept on, but again power has been increased, from 135 bhp to a meaty 145 bhp.

Another positive step is the move to standardise a six-speed gearbox right the way across the range.

Trafic is sold in long- as well as short-wheelbase guise, and customers can specify a high roof instead of a standard roof. It can also be ordered as either a short- or a long-wheelbase double cab van, as a nine-seater minibus and as a cleverly designed dropside.

Nominal gross weights are either 2,700kg or 2,900kg, but the true gross weights range from 2,770kg to 3,060kg.

Our long-termer is powered by the 115 bhp diesel. Maximum power makes its presence felt at 3,500rpm, while peak torque of 214 lb/ft kicks in at 1,600rpm.

A four-cylinder 16-valve unit, the engine is equipped with common rail fuel injection and meets the latest Euro 4 exhaust emission regulations.

You'll find disc brakes on all four wheels — ventilated at the front — and ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution is included in the package.

The front suspension relies on independent wishbones with MacPherson spring struts and makes use of an isolated subframe intended to cut vibration. A semi-independent set-up with progressive-rate mini-block coil springs with rubber bump stops helps to control the rear of the vehicle.

Power assisted rack-and-pinion steering comes as standard, with 3.3 turns lock to lock and offering an 11.8m turning circle kerb-to-kerb. It expands to 12.4m wall-to-wall.

Gross vehicle weight is 2,770kg with a gross payload capacity of 1,092kg. Our Trafic can tow a braked trailer grossing at 2,000kg.

If any of the foregoing sounds vaguely familiar than it may be because you've encountered either a Vauxhall Vivaro or a Nissan Primastar. Aside from the badges and one or two trim and equipment differences they're identical to Trafic.

That's thanks to a joint venture between Vauxhall's parent General Motors and Renault; Renault is in the driving seat at Nissan these days. The vans are built in Luton, at what is now Britain's biggest light commercial plant, and in Spain.

Load Area   

Swing open our long-termer's unglazed — and if we're honest, at present rather grubby — twin back doors and you'll find yourself looking at a 5.0m3 load area.

The doors can be pushed through 90°, or through 165° if you release the easy-to-unlatch door stays. A non-slip strip at the edge of the cargo bed makes loading and unloading a little safer.

Trafic comes with a sliding nearside load bay door, and our long-termer is equipped with one on the offside for an extra £250; all prices quoted here exclude VAT. Both doors conceal a non-slip step.

Our demonstrator is equipped with an unglazed, full height, steel bulkhead. Standard equipment, its presence plus the lack of glazing in any of the doors means that our test vehicle boasts a pretty secure cargo box.

A bulkhead's prime reason for existence, however, is to stop cargo shooting forwards and hitting the cab's occupants in the small of the back if the driver has to brake suddenly. A prudent van driver will of course ensure that whatever he or she is carrying is tied down if at all possible, and with that in mind Trafic is equipped with eight load lashing points.

All the doors are protected from minor scratches and scrapes by half-height panels, and the other vulnerable areas — including the wheel boxes — have been covered with non-standard plywood. The floor is defended by a tailored mat.

Maximum load length is 2,415mm. Maximum width is 1,663mm, narrowing to 1,268mm between the rear wheelboxes, while maximum height is 1,387mm. Rear loading height is 549mm. The rear door aperture is 1,320mm high and 1,390mm wide, while the dimensions for the side door are 1,285mm and 1,000mm respectively.

Cab Comfort

Even though the driving position is slightly offset, it remains one of the best we've ever encountered. It never ceases to amaze us just how comfortable and relaxing the seat feels when you settle down into it after having driven, say, a Nissan Cabstar.

It offers bags of lateral and lumbar support, it's height-adjustable — the steering wheel is adjustable too — and gives the occupant a clear view both ahead and to either side of the cab. A driver's airbag is a standard feature.

Few users will complain that the three-seater cab lacks storage space. Receptacles for all the bits and pieces drivers have to carry around with them include a lidded glovebox with a shelf beneath it, another shelf underneath the steering column and generously proportioned bins in each of the doors with a moulding that will clasp a flask of tea or a large bottle of water.

After you've poured yourself a drink you'll be glad to see that there are cup-holders at each end of the well laid-out facia — one of them can be used to accommodate the removable ashtray — with two small cubbyholes beneath them in each case. The dashboard also features a hook from which to hang the paper bag containing your Friday night take-away meal.

With the button for the hazard warning lights prominently positioned next to it, the gearlever is mounted on a moulding projecting from the dashboard that obstructs cross-cab movement. That's unfortunate since the main justification offered by manufacturers for relocating the 'stick from the floor is to make it easier for the driver to slide across the cab and hop out safely on the pavement side of the vehicle.

Our goodie-laden Trafic boasts electric windows and electric mirrors (£275), air conditioning (£650), a satellite navigation system (a hefty £1,250) and a passenger airbag (£220). The radio/CD player can be controlled via remote buttons on the steering column.

On the Road

Looking back through our notes during our first few weeks with Trafic we found no reference to an absence of low-speed torque. That was a concern we expressed when we drove left-hand drive Opel Vivaros — Opel is Vauxhall's European sister company — in 2006, but it's not one that affects our long-termer.

Instead, we've been praising the 115 bhp Trafic's competence as a long distance, high speed dual-carriageway and motorway cruiser, happily loping along for hour after hour.

We've been less happy about the handling, feeling that the over-assisted steering sometimes spoils it. The steering system — and the reverse warning sensors — come into their own, however, every time we try to park in Peterborough city centre.

Engine noise isn't an issue, but wind and road noise can build into a real irritation over a long journey. The former seems to emanate from around the mirrors.

We're not so critical about the unladen ride as we were initially. Either it's better than we thought it was when we first took delivery of the vehicle, or we've got used to it. It's certainly not an issue.

As far as fuel economy is concerned we're averaging 37mpg and we're quickly learning to thump the fuel flap hard to make it shut after we've filled up; the only fault on the vehicle so far.

Safety is aided by an adaptive Electronic Stability Programme with ASR traction control in a £400 package. Shame, however, that it's not a standard feature.

On the security front Trafic is fitted with remote central deadlocking and there's a button on the dashboard the driver can hit to secure all the doors. They all lock automatically anyway once you're underway thanks to RAID; Renault's Anti-Intruder Device.

The three-button remote allows you to lock and unlock the cab and load area doors separately from one another for an extra £50.

Initially we thought the central locking was malfunctioning because it repeatedly refused to release the cab's passenger door. We were wrong; all we needed to do was hold the button down for a fraction longer to unlock it.

Side rubbing strips should help protect the body from minor damage, but they might be more effective if they were at waist rather than sill height. The rear parking sensors (£175) should also help prevent bumps. Good too to see front fog lamps; an additional £150.

Service intervals are set at 18,000 miles and Trafic comes with a three-year/60,000 mile warranty, with no mileage limit during the first couple of years. You also benefit from a roadside rescue and recovery package for the first two years — it used to be three — but it only addresses breakdowns caused by manufacturing defects.

The body panel anti-perforation corrosion warranty lasts for 12 years and you get a three year paintwork warranty too.

VERDICT

We're growing increasingly fond of our long-term short-wheelbase standard roof 115 bhp diesel Renault Trafic as the miles begin to pile up. It boasts a comfortable, user-friendly cab with an excellent driving position, a sensibly-designed and easily-accessible load area and is just what you need if you're looking to tackle a lot of long-distance motorway trips. On the downside the over-assisted power steering can upset the handling at times — although it's a boon when it comes to low-speed manoeuvring — and there's too much road and wind noise. On balance though it's a competent working tool and the pluses outweigh the minuses. It looks good too.

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