Renault has unveiled full details of its latest Master, with new engines, a Ford Transit-style choice of front- or rear-wheel drive, and a massive extension of the range, with over 350 variants and 40 different body options. Gross weights are higher and the completely redesigned cab interior is in our view without doubt the best in the business.
Thanks to a long-standing joint venture between Renault and General Motors — still Vauxhall’s parent — the newcomer, built in Batilly in France, will also be sold as the Vauxhall Movano in the UK.
The two models can be distinguished by different front grilles as well as different badges. Renault apparently plans to carry Master’s aggressive front styling over to other light commercials in its range. Unlike the outgoing model, Master will not be sold by Nissan as the Interstar.
Master/Movano power comes courtesy of a new-generation 2.3-litre dCi M9T four-cylinder common rail diesel available in both Euro 4 and Euro 5 guise so far as exhaust emission limits are concerned. Euro 5 variants are equipped with a particulate trap. The engine is offered at 100hp (285Nm of torque), 125hp (310Nm) or 150hp (350Nm) with CO2 output averaging 200g/km.
Better fuel economy is promised, with the front-wheel drive (FWD) version of the newcomer on average consuming 1 litre/100km less than the outgoing model, which was sold with FWD only. The new models return combined-cycle fuel economy figures that begin at 33mpg, equivalent to a CO2 output of 187g/km. The improvement is not just down to the engine. Better aerodynamics have played their part too.
M9T is married to a six-speed manual gearbox that can accept a power take-off (pto) and the two most powerful variants can be ordered with an optional semi-automatic gearbox instead.
No matter whether you opt for FWD or RWD — there are no plans for a 4x4 variant — you get the same choice of power options. In the former case, however, the engine is mounted transversely. In the latter case, it’s positioned in-line. As yet there’s no talk of a model that will be capable of running on an alternative fuel.
The van is on offer with three wheelbases, four lengths — L1, L2, L3 and L4 — and three heights; H1, H2 and H3. So far as FWD models are concerned load cubes run from 8.0m3 to 14.8m3 while RWD models go from 12.4m3 to 17.0m3. Gross weights are 2.8, 3.3, 3.5 and 4.5 tonnes.
L1 and L2 variants are FWD only, L4, which has an extended rear overhang and was not offered on the old model, is RWD only, while L3 is up for grabs with the choice of both. The longest cargo bed on offer stretches for 4,383mm.
Payload capacity goes up to 1,680kg if you specify FWD and to a hefty 2,260kg if you favour RWD. That’s because the 4.5-tonner is produced in RWD guise only, and can tow a trailer grossing at up to 3.0 tonnes.
The 4.5-tonner is marketed solely with twin rear wheels. The 3.5-tonner is on offer with either twins or singles depending on whether you specify rear- or front-wheel drive.
ABS, Emergency Brake Assist, ASR to prevent wheel-spin and Electronic Stability Programme all figure across the range. ESP and ASR are standard if you opt for RWD, with a diff lock available as an option.
Disc brakes are fitted all round and the newcomer’s quoted stopping distances are particularly impressive. They are stated as 44.7m from 62mph to standstill, laden, on a dry road surface if you opt for FWD and 46.6m if you favour RWD.
Fitted with bigger, beefier door handles and deeper side rubbing strips than the outgoing model, the Master/Movano van features a neat, triangular-shaped, high level rear brake light on its rear doors. All RWD versions are fitted with a step to ease rear entry and all models can be ordered with single or twin sliding side doors.
The amount of storage space for all the oddments that drivers have to carry around with them is stunning and far more comprehensive than we’ve ever encountered. For your money you get big bins in both the front doors with space for a 1.5-litre bottle, a pull-out and flip-down map holder in the middle of the dashboard, a lidded compartment on top of the dashboard, a vast glovebox that can be chilled and take two 1.5-litre bottles, shelves above the windscreen; the list goes on and on.
Look under the twin passenger seat and you’ll find a huge split storage compartment if you’ve specified it as an option; just the job if you need somewhere to stuff a high-visibility jacket, a pair of boots and a hard hat.
Flip down the centre of the backrest of the cab’s middle seat and it turns into a handy desk for the completion of paperwork — or to eat your lunch on — that swivels towards you for ease of use. It includes a pair of cup-holders. Good to see that the heating and ventilation system is governed by big, chunky controls.
Including a clock, the display for the MP3-compatible radio/CD player is on a screen above the windscreen. It forms part of a package that embraces Bluetooth and a Carminat TomTom satellite navigation system on most models and the screen is used to show sat nav information too.
It can be swung to the right or to the left, is very easy to see and allows you to make full use of the multimedia connectivity that’s available for USB devices or an iPod. Albums and tracks can be selected by means of the steering wheel-mounted fingertip remote control while the song titles are displayed on the screen.
The TomTom includes IQ Routes. It employs real-time traffic speed measurements to calculate the quickest possible route to your destination.
The digital tachograph is positioned overhead too, and is a bit awkward to access. You will of course only have to specify and use one if you are running a 4.5-tonner — the Drivers Hours rules which require the use of a tachograph kick in at above 3.5 tonnes — or possibly if you are towing a heavy trailer with one of the lighter models in the range.
A height-adjustable steering wheel is another feature and a mechanically suspended driver’s seat is among the options. It can be adjusted in line with the weight of the occupant with settings up to 130kg.
Other options include air suspension, climate control, lateral airbags, fixed cornering lights that illuminate bends more clearly and hands-free door locking and unlocking. One option that really stands out is a reversing camera with the screen mounted in the driver’s sun visor.
A lot of work has been done to reduce operating costs. Service intervals are set at 25,000 miles/two years, the timing chain requires no maintenance and the brakes should last 20 per cent longer than the brakes on Master/Movano’s predecessor. The engine coolant should last for 100,000 miles/six years. A 90-litre fuel tank comes as standard with a 105-litre tank offered as an option.
Master/Movano isn’t just available as a van. It’s produced as a crew van, a minibus, a chassis cab, a chassis double cab and a platform cab.
Factory-fitted tipper, dropside and box bodies will be available and it will be interesting to see how popular they are in a UK market that tends to favour domestic bodybuilders.
Examples of Renault’s prices include £20,795 to £26,645 for the FWD van and crew van and £27,245 to £29,945 for the RWD van. Vauxhall pricing spans £21,660 to £27,985 for the FWD van and crew van and £23,995 to £29,135 for the RWD van. All prices exclude VAT.
Official UK launch date is 9 April with the entire line-up gradually arriving over the next 12 months.
In yet another exclusive, What Van? was spirited off to a hush-hush test track not far from Paris to find out; and we weren’t disappointed.
We vanished into the early morning mist in a 125hp 13.0m3 L3H2 3.5-tonne front-wheel drive Master van with an 800kg load in the back. It pulled strongly right the way across the rev range and handled well, with plenty of feedback through the steering.
Engine, wind and road noise were all well suppressed and while the ride could have been slightly smoother, it was by no means uncomfortable. A deep windscreen and deep windows in the three-man cab’s doors meant that vision ahead and to either side was good, and the view down the vans flanks to the rear was aided by large exterior mirrors with a separate wide-angled section.
Aside from the occasional squeak from the rear, Renault’s latest offering seemed well-put-together; far better put together than Masters we’ve encountered in the past.
Examining the load area, with its tall, wide door apertures and a shelf above the cab accessible solely from the cargo bay, we saw that our demonstrator boasted no less than 20 tie-down points. Fail to lash your cargo down and the full-height steel bulkhead (standard on all vans) should stop it from joining you in the cab. The back doors could be swung through 270° and latched against the vehicle’s sides; an optional facility.
Lower-grade plastics than we would have expected made the dashboard look a bit cheap and the middle passenger, if we’d been carrying one, would have suffered from restricted legroom. There was nothing major to the newcomer’s detriment otherwise.
With a nod to General Motors we then sampled a front-wheel drive 10.8m3 L2H2 Opel Movano — Opel rather than Vauxhall is the name GM uses in most European markets — 3.5-tonner with the same engine as its Renault stablemate. It was equally impressive.
Following a brief drive in a right-hooker we can confirm that the pedal/steering wheel/seat alignment remains spot-on.
We’re smitten, no question about it. Master/Movano has all the signs of being a winner and a credible challenger to Ford’s all-conquering Transit. The only question is how capable Renault and Vauxhall dealers will be of maximising the product’s sales potential. With a massive expansion in the range, including the introduction of models that gross at above 3.5 tonnes, it’s going to be a steep learning curve for them. Let’s hope that they’re up to it.