Renault Master

Date: Monday, May 10, 2010

Customers contemplating Renault’s all-new Master cannot complain about a lack of choice. Also sold by Vauxhall as the Movano, the French manufacturer’s new offering is up for grabs in over 350 different versions and with no less than 40 different body options. Gross weights have gone up and Renault has followed Ford by marketing the newcomer with the choice of either front- or rear-wheel-drive.

 

Master van is produced with three heights — H1, H2 and H3 — three wheelbases and four lengths; L1, L2, L3 and L4.

L1 and L2 are front-wheel drive (fwd) only while the L4 option, which has an extended rear overhang and was not offered on the previous model, is produced solely with rear-wheel drive (rwd). A kind of half-way house, L3 is produced with the choice of both.

Opt for fwd models and you can pick from a line-up of load cubes that runs from 8.0m 3 to 14.8m 3 . Rwd models go from 12.4m 3 to 17.0m 3 . Gross weights are 2.8, 3.3, 3.5 and 4.5 tonnes. Adding a 4.5-tonner to the line-up takes Master into a whole new weight category. Payload capacities run from 994kg to 2,254kg.

Engine Choice

Pop open Master’s bonnet and you’ll find a new-generation 2.3-litre dCi four-cylinder common rail Euro 4 diesel. If you want to upgrade it to the stricter Euro 5 exhaust emission level then you can do so by specifying a particulate trap.

The engine is on offer at 100hp (285Nm of torque), 125hp (310Nm) or 145hp (350Nm). CO 2 output averages 200g/km and a six-speed gearbox comes as standard. The two most powerful lumps will be available with an automated manual transmission as an option some time down the line.

Fitted with disc brakes all round, Master comes with ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist, and rwd versions get load-adaptive Electronic Stability Programme as standard with understeer control. It’s a pity that it’s not standard on fwd models too.

On the Road

Having driven the fwd Master already in an exclusive preview we decided to get to grips with the rwd version this time round. So we took to the highways of southern France in an L4H2 3.5-tonne van with a 4.3m wheelbase and 145hp on tap.

CO 2 emissions for this model are set at 249g/km. Average fuel consumption is said to be 30mpg on the combined cycle.

With a 14.9m 3 cargo area it could handle a 1,254kg payload and had an 800kg test weight onboard. Fitted with twin rear wheels, it was capable of hauling a trailer grossing at 3.0 tonnes.

While France’s billiard table-smooth roads typically don’t pose as much of a test to a van’s suspension as the pot-hole-peppered Third World cart tracks we have to live with on this side of the Channel, we were able to find one or two uneven stretches. As a consequence we can testify to Master’s remarkably composed ride and to its sure-footed handling.

With the most powerful powerplant in the line-up sitting in front of us, performance certainly wasn’t an issue. Although it occasionally sounded a bit ragged under pressure it pulled strongly and a smooth user-friendly gearchange allowed us to exploit its full potential.

Aside from the occasional growl and grunt from beneath the bonnet, overall noise levels were well-suppressed. The standard full-height steel bulkhead helped.


Venturing along a gravel-strewn and lightly-rutted rural road, we were impressed by the rwd Master’s traction. The triple-leaf rear springs protested at times, but we kept going. We were equally impressed by its manoeuvrability; one of the advantages of rwd.

Cab Comfort

Master now has the best cab interior in the business; no question about it. As well as being comfortable and roomy, it offers an astonishing amount of storage space. There are compartments and cubby-holes everywhere, including big bins in both the doors, shelves above the windscreen and a huge glovebox.

Our demonstrator featured an assortment of useful goodies — standard on most Masters to be sold in the UK, but not on the entry-level Freeway — not the least of them being a Carminat TomTom satellite navigation system with a swivelling display positioned above the windscreen.

Such displays are usually mounted on the dashboard and we had to train ourselves to look up rather than down for information. After a few minutes at the wheel, however, we’d got used to the set-up and were perfectly happy with it.

The TomTom package installed includes IQ routes. It makes use of real-time traffic speed measurements to calculate the fastest possible route to the driver’s destination. The display also acts as the screen for the MP3-compatible radio/CD player in a package that additionally embraces BlueTooth. It allows drivers to make full use of the multi-media connectivity that’s available for USB devices or an iPod.

Steering wheel-mounted fingertip remote controls can be used to select albums and tracks while the song titles are shown on the display.

We were equally happy with two other goodies on our test van. When we flipped down the centre of the backrest of the three-man cab’s middle seat it turned into a handy desk that could be swivelled towards the driver to make it easy to use a laptop or complete paperwork. There was a huge split storage compartment under the twin passenger seat (a £30 option; all prices quoted here exclude VAT) and paperwork could be kept tidy by a pull-out and flip-down clipboard (£70).

Although it fitted well enough, some of the dashboard plastic was a bit low rent and we weren’t happy with the positioning of the grab handle the driver uses when entering the cab. It should be on the A-pillar; not stuck awkwardly above the door aperture.

The overhead positioning of the slot that accommodates the digital tachograph — necessary if you’re venturing much above 3.5 tonnes — is awkward too.

Load Area

Twin rear doors and a sliding nearside door come as standard on this model. Our test vehicle was equipped with an offside sliding door (£300) and its glazed back doors could be swung through 270° (£360, or £410 if you want heated windows). Solid rear doors that can be swing through 180° are the standard offering in Britain.

Maximum L4H2 load length is 4,383mm, maximum height is 1,798mm while maximum width is 1,765mm narrowing to 1,080mm between the wheel boxes. Rear loading height is 717mm. The sliding side door aperture is 1,684mm high and 1,270mm wide while the dimensions for the rear door aperture are 1,724mm and 1,580mm respectively.

All Masters sold through official sources on this side of the Channel are protected 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 duration.

Service intervals are set at 25,000 miles/two years. The engine coolant should last for 100,000 miles/six years and the timing chain requires no maintenance. What’s more, the brakes should last 20 per cent longer than the brakes on the outgoing model says Renault.

Master prices start at £20,795 and Renault’s newcomer is also produced as a crew van, a minibus, a chassis cab, a chassis double cab and a platform cab. Factory-installed dropside, tipper and box bodies will be on offer too.

Verdict

With few if any major drawbacks, Renault’s new Master is a real winner, no question about it. It should boost the manufacturer’s sales and market share significantly over the coming months and years as a growing number of customers come to appreciate its virtues.

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