Up against the likes of Ford’s all-conquering Transit, Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter and Volkswagen’s Crafter, Renault’s Master faces stiff competition and is in danger of being overlooked by some operators. That would be a pity, because although it’s not a number one player in the marketplace, it’s nonetheless a vehicle with several virtues.
They include strong diesel engines, roomy cargo areas, a respectable payload capacity and the availability of chassis cabs and chassis double cabs as well as vans in the range. What’s more, Master is up for grabs with two gearboxes; a six-speed manual and the Quickshift6 semi-auto.
We opted to sample a short-wheelbase standard roof 3.3-tonnes-gross Master van equipped with the latter ’box and married to the 120hp version of the vehicle’s 16-valve four-cylinder 2.5-litre dCi common rail diesel. Driving the front wheels, the engine is also marketed in 100hp and 146hp guise. Those 120 horses kick in at 3,500rpm while maximum torque of 300Nm bites at 1,600rpm. A fixed geometry turbocharger plus an intercooler come as standard; the 146hp variant gets a variable geometry turbo instead.
The front suspension set-up includes independent double wishbones and an anti-roll bar while the rear features a tubular axle plus composite variable-rate single leaf springs. Our demonstrator came with 16in steel wheels shod with Michelin Agilis 81 215/65 R16 C tyres.
Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is a standard feature on Master with 3.6 turns lock-to-lock and offering a 12.1m turning circle kerb-to-kerb. It widens to 12.5m wall-to-wall. Disc brakes with a diameter of 305mm are fitted to all four wheels; the ones fitted at the front are ventilated. ABS comes as standard along with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist.
Top payload capacity is a useful 1,475kg and our test vehicle could tow a braked trailer grossing at 2,000kg.
Swing open Master’s unglazed back doors — they can be pushed through 90°, or through 180° if you unlatch the easy-to-release stays — and you reveal an 8.0m3 cargo area with half-a-dozen load-tie rings. A sliding nearside door provides an alternative access point.
Unusually, the spare wheel is mounted inside the vehicle, just above the nearside rear wheel box, stealing some carrying space and slightly intruding into the rear door aperture. Forget to lash your load down and a full height steel bulkhead will stop it careering into the cab.
Maximum load length is 2,714mm. Maximum width is 1,764mm, narrowing to 1,282mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1,670mm. Rear loading height is a usefully-low 545mm. The rear door aperture is 1,515mm wide and 1,632mm high. Dimensions for the side door are 1,099mm and 1,555mm respectively.
Our Master was equipped with a single, rather than the more usual dual, passenger seat with enough space between the driver’s and the passenger’s perch for a large storage locker should you wish to install one. Both seats are height-adjustable and the single passenger seat adds £60 to the final bill; all prices quoted here exclude VAT.
Storage facilities include a bin in each door with a section that will hold a flask of tea, a lidded and lockable glovebox and a large bin mounted on the front of the dashboard into which paperwork can be stuffed. A document clip is provided too, along with overhead shelves above the driver and passenger. The deal also includes a cup-holder at each extremity of the dashboard and a radio/CD player — you’ll find a set of remote controls on the steering column — with a shelf underneath.
Hit a button near the courtesy light and you can lock/unlock all the doors. The remote control allows you to lock/unlock the cab and cargo area doors separately.
The gearstick emerges from a moulding that bulges out from the front of the facia and impedes cross-cab movement. It doesn’t create quite the barrier in a two-man cab, however, that it does in a three-man configuration.
Our demonstrator boasted a £1,250 Sat Nav+ Pack, including air conditioning, electric front windows and power-operated and heated exterior mirrors. On top of that it was equipped with a £525 Safety Pack made up of cruise control, rear parking sensors and a passenger airbag; a driver’s airbag comes as standard.
While vision ahead and to each side is good and there’s ample head and shoulder room, Master’s cab interior has a rather dated air about it. It could really do with restyling if it’s to match what’s on offer from the opposition.
There’s no denying that the Quickshift6 box is easy to use. Flicking the lever from automatic to manual and back again is a doddle, as is going up and down the ’box when you’re in manual mode. It does not like being rushed, however. Do so and you’ll have to put up with a pronounced jerk each time you move from one gear to the next and it’s not all that subtle at low speeds. That makes manoeuvring into parking spaces an awkward experience at times.
Hit a button on the dashboard and Quickshift6 will choose the right gear to move away in if the road is slippery. It will also select the correct gear to pull away in if you happen to be heavily laden.
Our Master offered a decent level of performance on all types of route. It handled well too, with a slight roll from the body as we entered bends discouraging us from doing anything really foolish. The brakes proved to be efficient, pulling us up quickly and safely on both dry and slightly greasy surfaces. All this was alas accompanied by an at-times-choppy unladen ride and rather too much wind noise and road roar for our liking.
Fuel economy during the test period averaged out at 34mpg.
Our demonstrator was finished in metallic paint for an extra £335 and it was amply protected by deep side rubbing strips. The back doors get similar protection.
Pop open the bonnet and you’ll gain ready access to the screenwash reservoir, the oil filler point and the dipstick. You won’t find the battery however. It sits underneath a cover in the cab floor.
Renault provides a respectable three-year/100,000-mile warranty, with no mileage limit in the first two years. A roadside rescue and recovery service is provided for the entire duration, but only reacts if the breakdown is the consequence of a manufacturing defect. Service intervals are set at a generous 18,000 miles. The paintwork is guaranteed for three years while the anti-perforation corrosion warranty lasts for 12 years.
Renault’s Master offers respectable performance, handles well and comes with a roomy cab and a practical cargo area, although on the downside the ride can be choppy at times and noise levels could stand to be better suppressed. As for Quickshift6, while it’s easy enough to use and should in theory improve clutch life and reduce fuel consumption, its drawbacks would make us think carefully before we specified it. After all, £800 is a lot of money to add to an invoice, especially when the standard six-speed manual gearbox is so user-friendly. Our view of Master is that although it is a competent enough package, simple competence is not enough in today’s hotly contested market. It really needs a radical revamp if it’s to continue to compete effectively with the best of the rest; and it needs it soon.