Renault has completely revamped its Master with a new internal and external design, a Ford-style choice of either front- or rear-wheel drive, gross weights that now extend up to 4.5 tonnes and load areas that go up to a roomy 17.0m3. Flip open the bonnet and you’ll be confronted by a new generation 2.3-litre dCi four-cylinder diesel up for grabs at 100hp, 125hp or 145hp.
Like its predecessor Master is marketed by Vauxhall as the Movano, but unlike its predecessor it’s not being sold by Nissan as the Interstar; the Japanese manufacturer plans to go its own way in this sector of the market.
Both Renault and Vauxhall are doubtless hoping that the newcomer will have more of a chance of stealing sales from Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter, Volkswagen’s Crafter and the bigger versions of Ford’s Transit than the vehicle it replaces did.
We elected to sample a front-wheel drive MM33 van — the letters and numbers stand for medium-wheelbase, medium-height roof 3.3-tonner — powered by the 125hp four-cylinder 16-valve diesel.
Maximum power bites at 3,500rpm while top torque of 310Nm makes its presence felt across a 1,250rpm-to-2,500rpm plateau. Fitted with a fixed-geometry turbocharger, the engine is married to a six-speed manual gearbox.
Delivered in standard trim, our test vehicle complied with the Euro 5 exhaust emission regulations — Euro 4 versions are up for grabs too — and was equipped with a particulate filter. CO2 emissions are set at 221g/km.
New Master’s front suspension employs MacPherson-type struts and an anti-roll bar while single-leaf springs helped support the rear of the model under scrutiny. Our demonstrator’s 16ins steel wheels were shod with Continental 215/65 R16C tyres.
Disc brakes are fitted all round and ABS comes as standard along with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist. Yet while rear-wheel drive Masters are equipped with Electronic Stability Programme as standard too, you have to pay extra for it if you want it on a front-wheel drive model.
We’re unhappy about this and believe that as an important road safety feature it should be fitted to all Masters and included in the price as a matter of course.
Power steering is included in the deal and offers a 13.6m turning circle between kerbs rising to 14.1m between walls.
Maximum payload capacity is 1,415kg and the MM33 can haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 2,500kg.
For you money you get a 10.8m3 cargo area with a shelf above the cab accessible solely from the load bay that can be used to stow lashing straps and other bits and pieces.
A sliding nearside door comes as standard, but we benefited from a sliding offside door as well for an extra £300 — all prices quoted here exclude VAT — plus opaque twin rear doors that for an extra £250 could be swung through 270°.
The floor had a resin-coated non-slip cover and the wheel boxes and sides were fully lined thanks to a £400 package. Big door apertures plus a low loading height of 548mm courtesy of front-wheel drive make it easy to hop in and out of the back of the vehicle.
There was no shortage of tie-down points. We counted six on the floor — they’re standard — three positioned vertically on each side of the rear door and two mounted vertically just inside each of the side doors; 14 in all. Additional anchorage points cost you £75. If your cargo does start sliding forwards then a full-height steel bulkhead will separate it from the small of your back.
Maximum load length is 3,083mm while maximum width is 1,765mm narrowing to 1,380mm between the wheel boxes. Maximum load height is 1,894mm. Side door aperture height is 1,780mm with a width of 1,270mm. Dimensions for the rear door aperture are 1,820mm and 1,580mm respectively.
Master offers a simply staggering amount of in-cab storage space; so much that you’re in danger of having items disappear for days on end because you forget which of the many compartments you put them in.
There were no less than four bins in each of the three-man-cab’s doors — lights in the bottom-most bins on each door cost you £35 — an overhead shelf above the windscreen for the passengers to use, one for the driver to use and a shelf between them that can be used to stow sunglasses. That’s where the tachograph goes if your activities are subject to the Drivers’ Hours rules.
There’s a cubby hole at each extremity of the dashboard, a deep lidded glovebox, a pair of shelves on top of the fascia on the passenger side and a big shelf on top in the centre.
Incorporating cup-holders, the two centre-mounted bins positioned above one another towards the bottom of the fascia are useful, but restrict the middle passenger’s leg room.
One feature we really like is the £70 pull-out and flip-down map holder positioned in the middle of the dashboard. Another is the vast, split, storage area under the passenger seats; the best £30 you’ll ever spend. To access it you pull up the seat cushions.
Don’t forget either that Master is available with a centre seat backrest that turns into a table that can be swivelled towards the driver.
A 12v power point sits towards the rear of the instrument binnacle and there’s an Aux-in socket for your accessories.
Good to see big chunky controls for the heating and ventilation system. Our Master boasted highly effective air conditioning as part of a £750 Convenience Plus pack that also includes one-touch operation for the driver’s electric window and rear parking sensors.
Power-operated windows are standard as are electrically-adjustable exterior mirrors with a lower wide-angle section.
We benefited from cruise control too (£250) as well as from a radio, CD player and Carminat TomTom sat nav system that all use a swivelling overhead screen to display the information you need. You soon get used to glancing up rather than glancing down. The package includes MP3 and Bluetooth (£50) compatibility.
Both the driver’s seat, which has an inboard arm-rest, and the steering column are height-adjustable so most people should be able to achieve a comfortable position behind the wheel. With our vehicle that was particularly the case because the seat was fitted with lumbar adjustment for another £50. The driver is protected by an airbag.
While the 120hp engine’s on-the-road performance wasn’t quite as sparkling as we hoped it would be, an efficient, user-friendly gearchange allowed us to get the best out of what was on tap. Master is sure-footed and stable through bends, with plenty of feedback through the steering, and noise levels were well under control.
That said, at one stage an alarming rumbling sound made us wonder if there was a major problem with the engine. We tracked it down to the heating and ventilation system’s somewhat-unwell booster fan, which grumbled away at us intermittently during the course of our test.
At times Renault’s good-looking newcomer appeared to have some difficulty coping with Britain’s patched and ragged road surfaces; it is of course not alone in that. Matters calmed down once we’d put some weight in the back and while doing so we noticed once again how easy the vehicle is to load and unload. With two good-sized lights, the interior is well-lit too.
As far as fuel consumption is concerned we averaged a healthy 35mpg during the test period.
Side rubbing strips help protect the body and (in our case) its £330 metallic paint finish from minor scrapes while the optional front fog lights should help you see and be seen in murky weather. They cost £250 as part of a package that includes automatic headlights and wipers.
A three-button remote (£50) allows you to lock the cab and the load area separately. All the vehicle’s doors lock automatically at above 5mph anyway.
Master is covered by a three-year/100,000-mile warranty with no mileage limit in the first two years. AA roadside assistance is provided for the entire three years. Service intervals are set at 25,000 miles.
Good looking, and with a remarkably-well-thought-out cab, Renault’s new Master is a major improvement on its predecessor. In front-wheel drive guise it handles competently, its gearchange is perfectly acceptable, noise levels are well-suppressed and it’s easy to load and unload. It boasts long service intervals and offers decent fuel economy. On the downside it doesn’t always ride that well, especially when lightly-laden, and it’s a great shame that front-wheel drive models — unlike their rear-wheel drive stablemates — aren’t equipped with Electronic Stability Programme as standard. On balance though there’s far more to like than there is to dislike about Renault’s newcomer; a vehicle that’s turned the French manufacturer into a much more serious contender in the panel van market than it was previously.