When Renault launched the current Trafic in the UK around seven years ago everybody agreed that it looked stunning. The only worry was that its distinctive styling would look horribly old-fashioned horribly quickly and that residual values would plummet as a consequence.
It's a worry that's proved groundless. Subsequently updated, but still looking much the same as the first models to roll off the production line, Trafic is still capable of turning heads in the high street. Nor have its off-beat looks deterred fleet buyers. They've bought Trafic and Vauxhall's Vivaro — the two vehicles are identical aside from their badges and are the fruits of a joint venture between Renault and General Motors, Vauxhall's parent company — in impressive numbers.
Trafic has also helped turn GM into Britain's biggest light commercial vehicle manufacturer. It's built in Luton as well as in Spain, as is Vivaro. Don't forget either that Nissan markets its own variant under the Primastar banner.
Having spent a lot of time in a short-wheelbase standard roof Trafic over the past couple of years — it was one of What Van?'s long-term test vehicles — we thought we'd try out the long-wheelbase high roof. We also decided to ensure we had a bit of power to play with and opted for the 146hp 2.5-litre dCi diesel.
With four cylinders, 16 valves and common rail fuel injection, the 2.5-litre produces top power at 3,500rpm. Peak torque of 320Nm bites at 1,500rpm and the engine is married to a six-speed manual gearbox.
Independent wishbones with MacPherson struts are employed by the front suspension along with an isolated subframe intended to reduce vibration. Semi-independent suspension with progressive-rate mini-bloc coil springs with rubber bump stops is deployed at the back of the vehicle. Our Trafic sat on 16ins steel wheels shod with Continental Vanco 205/65 R16C tyres.
ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution are standard, with ventilated discs at the front and solid ones at the rear. Power-assisted steering is standard too offering a 13.2m turning circle between kerbs and a 13.7m turning circle between walls, with 3.2 turns of the steering wheel lock-to-lock.
Top payload is 1,205kg and our LH29dCi Trafic could tow a braked trailer grossing at 2,000kg.
Push open the high roof Trafic's full-height, unglazed, twin rear doors and you're confronted by an 8.4m3 load box with two interior lights and a full-height steel bulkhead. Bulging inwards at the top, it steals some space. You can swing those doors through 90° and through 170° if you undo the easy-to-release stays. A nearside sliding door is provided, but does not offer full-height access.
Cargo can be secured to eight load tie-down points. A shelf above the cab that's accessible from the cargo area looks like a handy place to store load restraint straps,
Maximum load length is 2,800mm. Maximum width is 1,690mm, narrowing to 1,268mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1,913mm. Rear loading height is 525mm. The side door aperture is 1,000mm wide and 1,285mm high. Dimensions for the rear door aperture are 1,390mm and 1,818mm respectively.
If we have a criticism to make of Trafic's styling it relates to the inside rather than the outside. The cab interior is starting to look rather dated and would benefit from a makeover. That's not to say that it's an unpleasant working environment; far from it. It boasts an excellent driving position with a clear view ahead and backwards down the flanks of the vehicle thanks to the big exterior mirrors with their separate wide-angle lens.
And there's plenty of storage space for oddments. You'll find a deep bin in each door with a moulding to accommodate a flask or a large water bottle, a lidded but not lockable glovebox with a shelf underneath and a half-obscured shelf beneath the steering column. In addition you get a small shelf plus a cup-holder at each extremity of the dashboard; one of the cup-holders plays host to the removable ash tray.
While in theory mounting the gearstick on the facia should make it easier to slide across the cab from the driver's seat and emerge safely on the pavement side, in practice it doesn't. That's because it sprouts from a moulding that bulges out from the middle of the dashboard and gets in the way. It also limits the amount of space available to the centre passenger in a three-man cab. Legroom for piggy-in-the-middle is certainly at a premium.
Good to see that there's a prominent button for the hazard warning lights next to the stick, however, and that there's a hook on which you can hang a bag containing your Friday night Chinese takeaway. Good too to see that you can lock all the doors automatically if you hit a button on the dashboard — remote central locking is provided as well — and that there are remote controls for the radio on the height-adjustable steering column.
Our Trafic came with a Sat Nav+ Pack including, as its name suggests, satellite navigation along with air conditioning, electric windows and electric heated door mirrors. It costs £1,250; all prices quoted here exclude VAT.
With almost 150 horses to play with our Trafic wasn't short on performance, although it should be borne in mind that with the high roof those nags are punching quite a large hole in the air. The engine is coupled to a well-mannered gearbox that allows you to slip quickly from one gear to the next and you get ample feedback through the steering wheel.
Push a tall Trafic hard through a corner and the slight lean warns you that it's a vehicle with a high centre of gravity and that it might pay to be cautious. Respect that warning and you'll find that the handling is safe and predictable. Things will only start to unravel seriously if over-confident creeps into the equation.
The early Trafics suffered from excessive wind noise, especially around the exterior rear view mirrors, and no serious attempt has been made to overcome this failing so far as we can see. As is the case with so many light commercials, the unladen ride could stand to be a lot better damped.
Producing a high roof version of a van the size of Trafic can result in a styling disaster, but Renault's designers seem to have got away with it. It certainly looks far better than the, downright ugly, high roof Mercedes-Benz Vito, for example. And as far as fuel economy is concerned we averaged a respectable 34mpg unladen.
Good to see that Trafic is well protected against minor damage by side rubbing strips. Our demonstrator was equipped with front fog lights for an extra £150 and with a £100 package that prompts the headlights, front fog lights and windscreen wipers to come on automatically when required.
Trafic is protected by a three-year/100,000 mile warranty — roadside rescue and recovery is provided for the duration but only reacts if the problem is due to a manufacturing defect — with no mileage limit in the first two years. Its paintwork is guaranteed for three years while the anti-corrosion warranty runs for 12 years.
Opt for a 146hp Renault Trafic — even a high roof one — and the last thing you'll suffer from is a lack of performance. In fact your biggest challenge will be reining all those horses in. Add to that a competent gearchange and safe handling, and you've got quite a few of the ingredients you need to concoct a winner. On top of that you get a capacious load area that's easy to access. On the downside, however, noise levels remain an issue, the unladen ride is unimpressive and the cab interior needs a redesign. Don't get us wrong; Trafic remains a highly capable van and has turned out to be a real success story for Renault. But it's soon going to require a fundamental redesign if it's to stay at the top of its game.