Renault Master rear-wheel drive

Date: Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Renault has seen the success enjoyed by Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter and wants some of the action.  With gross weights that now extend up to 4.5 tonnes, four body lengths, three heights, and up for grabs with rear-wheel-drive, the latest Master, our new Van of the Year, can be specified with twin rear wheels and a load area that goes up to 17.0c/m – that’s a clear indication that Renault wants to step on Sprinter’s toes.

The Mercedes, though, goes up to 5.0 tonnes and the Master also falls short so far as power is concerned. It comes with a new-generation 2.3-litre dCi four-cylinder diesel on offer at 100hp, 125hp or 150hp, but the Sprinter’s 2.1-litre diesel goes up to 163hp. What’s more, the German model can be specified with a mighty V6 3.0-litre diesel that’s good for 190hp. Unlike the Sprinter however, the Master is also marketed with front-wheel drive.
But the Master isn’t just taking on the Sprinter. It’s batting convincingly in the big league at last against a number of other key players at the heavier end of the market. Among them is VW’s Crafter, which covers much the same ground as the Sprinter; Ford’s market-leading Transit;å and Iveco, a key player at 3.5 tonnes and above. Add to that competition from Vauxhall’s Movano – a re-badged, slightly restyled Master – and the Fiat Ducato/Citroen Relay/Peugeot Boxer trio, and Renault’s new boy has its work cut out.

 

Technical

Having sampled the latest front-wheel drive Master earlier in the year we elected to try the rear-wheel drive version in standard trim. We selected the longest model in the range  with a medium-height roof, twin rear wheels, a gross weight of 3.5 tonnes and the 145hp engine under the bonnet.
Complying with the Euro5 standard, the 16-valve common rail lump produces maximum power at 3500rpm and is married to a six-speed manual gearbox. CO2 emissions are 245g/km.
With an unladen weight of 2324kg, our Master could handle a maximum payload of 1176kg. Top towing weight is, though, a pretty generous 3.0 tonnes.

 

Load area

Access to the long, tunnel-like, 14.9cu/m cargo area is by means of a sliding door on each side of the cargo box – the offside one adds £300 to the bill (all prices quoted here exclude VAT) –  plus twin, opaque rear doors. For £250 extra they can be swung through 270° and latched against the van’s sides thanks to magnetic catches. Steps are provided to make clambering in easier, but unfortunately they’re not complemented by grab-handles.
With a dozen floor-mounted lashing points plus three on each of the rear door pillars and two next to each of the side doors, there’s no excuse not to tie down potentially wayward loads. The points not mounted on the floor cost an extra £75 and you can stow the lashing straps on a shelf above the cab that’s accessible solely from the cargo area.
If an item does slide forward then it should be prevented from joining you behind the wheel by the full-height steel bulkhead. If it shifts laterally then the £400 lining kit, which protects almost the entire load bay including the floor and wheel boxes, would prevent any minor scrapes and dings.
Max load length is a seemingly never-ending 4383mm. Maximum width is 1765mm, narrowing to 1080mm between the wheel-boxes – twin rear wheels make them comparatively bulky but you can still slide a metric pallet between them – while maximum height is 1798mm. Rear loading height is 717mm. The side door apertures are each 1270mm wide and 1684mm high. Dimensions for the rear door aperture are 1580mm and 1724mm respectively.

 

Cab comfort

Settle down behind the wheel – it’s height-adjustable, as is the driver’s seat, with lumbar adjustment available for another £50 – and one of the first things that strikes you about the new Master is the staggering amount of storage space in its three-seater cab. Our model was also  fitted with a £575 digital tachograph, although the van was not equipped with a towbar. Slotted into a small, centrally mounted shelf above the screen that would probably usually accommodate sunglasses, it was, unfortunately, awkward to access. Just as well we didn’t need it.

Our test vehicle was also fitted with a Carminat TomTom satnav as well as an MP3-compatible radio/CD player plus Bluetooth and an aux point. We welcomed the way in which the screen giving audio and satnav information is positioned. Mounted just above the rear view mirror it’s easy to see and read, and swivels. There are also remote audio controls on the steering column.
Our Master featured climate control in a £1250 pack that included front fog lights and auto headlights and wipers. A 12V power point was provided along with a trip computer, electric windows (one-touch on the driver’s side for £50) and electrically adjustable and heated exterior rear-view mirrors with a separate wide-angle section underneath.

 

On the road

For a big van this Master handles remarkably well. The steering is surprisingly precise, offering ample feedback to the driver and tightening up nicely at high speeds. At the same time it makes the vehicle easy to manoeuvre at low speeds – or as easy as something of this size is ever likely to be.
With 145hp on tap there’s no lack of performance and progress is aided by a smooth, user-friendly change courtesy of the six-speed manual gearbox. A £60 engine speed limiter ensured we didn’t go too wild. At times, though, the engine felt and sounded a little rough around the edges, especially under pressure, and a few more horses might be required by somebody, say, towing a heavy trailer. Another 20hp should do the trick.
While the unladen ride could stand to be better controlled, our Master didn’t pitch about when empty as much as we thought it would. Put that down to its sheer size and long wheelbase.
Slightly more attention still needs to be paid to noise, vibration and harshness, and while the build quality was far better than we expected, the hole in the cargo area roof courtesy of a missing rubber grommet plus some creaking and squeaking from the rear suspension gave us pause for thought.
While reversing sensors (£200) made life easier when backing up, we’d have preferred a rear view camera, especially given the presence of a projecting rear step. But it was good to see that remote central locking with deadlocks was fitted, though – ours was controlled by a three-button key for an extra £50 – and that all the doors lock automatically above 5mph. Good, too, that the body and paintwork protection provided by the side rubbing strips extends to the rear – though not the front – wheel arches. The van is in group 15E for insurance.
Service intervals are set at 25,000 miles/two years and the Master is protected by a three-year/ 100,000-mile warranty – there’s no mileage limit for the first two years – with AA roadside assistance provided for the duration.

 

Verdict
With impressive handling, plenty of performance on tap, a user-friendly gear-change and one of the best-designed cab interiors in the business – check out the amount of storage space – the 150dCi rear-wheel drive twin-rear-wheel Renault Master is a handy bit of kit. With 14.9cu/m to play with, the model we tested had ample cargo space and could swallow items over 4.0m long. Drawbacks? There were times when the engine sounded a little ragged under pressure, we felt a bit more attention could have been paid to reducing noise, vibration and harshness, and the unladen ride needed to be slightly better damped. One or two small build-quality issues gave us pause for thought too. These are minor reservations, however. Renault has done more than enough overall with the new Master to elbow its way to a place at the top table so far as heavy vans are concerned. Its competitors should take note.



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