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Car reviews - Renault - Master - Van range

Our Opinion

We like
Strong and quiet diesel, light manual gearbox, practical and well laid out cabin, excellent ride, light steering around town, flat handling at speed for a big van, exceptionally quiet cabin, strong warranty, well priced
Room for improvement
Quickshift transmission can be fussy, some quality issues in the cabin, no RWD option, annoying satellite navigation placement

17 Feb 2012

FEW vehicles live a harder life than a working van. Day in and day out, the van is expected to endure the hustle and bustle of the city and the strain of work sites and delivery depots with the minimum of fuss.

It needs to be comfortable too, since few people spend more time behind the wheel than a typical working van driver. The modern van is expected to be a multifaceted beast, simultaneously tough and cosseting, practical and comfortable.

Lucky, then, that the Renault Master has the kind of spacious and well laid-out cabin the market has come to expect from big Euro vans such as this.

Most controls are within easy reach, visibility is excellent thanks to the huge windows and mirrors and high-mounted seat, while the steel bulkhead keeps road noise down and stopped echoes and rattles from the loading intruding into the passenger compartment.

Not all dash plastics are up to the standard of, say, the VW Crafter, but there are countless hidey-holes littered throughout and a clever split backrest on the passenger bench that doubles as a portable ‘office’, with room for clipboards, cups and other clutter.

Ergonomic quibbles are introduced when the optional Premium Pack is selected, however. The odd roof-mounted satellite navigation system distracts the driver from the road (and can only be operated via a naff remote control) and the reversing camera mounted in the windscreen visor has a flimsy and cheap-feeling screen.

A reversing camera really is a must in a vehicle of such bulk that is likely to be used in tight confines for much of its working life, and should be fitted as standard. It is doubly disappointing that the addition of the $1490 Premium Pack removes the reversing sensors too.

The engine performed admirably in both city and highway driving, providing plenty of low down grunt, fast pick up and surprising refinement levels.

These characteristics were especially notable when matched with the light and fuss-free manual gearbox mounted nice and high on the instrument fascia.

The Quickshift robotised manual transmission didn’t fare quite so well as its self-shifting brother, exhibiting indecisiveness on inclines under load or when pulling into traffic.

Driving the tricky ‘automatic’ in manual mode was more pleasant, however, and its lack of a conventional clutch is sure to appeal to many a foot-weary delivery driver.

The Master’s ride quality was a strong point at all times, across an array of surfaces including smooth tarmac, corrugated back roads, concrete, gravel and car parks full of speed bumps.

Renault Australia loaded half the test vehicles with a 500kg slab of concrete and it really was hard to distinguish the difference between the loaded and empty vans – a strong endorsement for the compliant suspension if ever there was one.

Steering is light and easy around town and acceptable at speed, body roll is well contained and its turning circle is about on par with the rest of the class.

The loading area is commodious for a van in this price bracket, with a high roof (your 194cm correspondent could stand fully upright) and a large sliding kerb-side door.

The rear barn-style doors open at 270 degrees, sitting almost flush with the side panel (and secured in place by magnets), giving easy access to the rear for a forklift.

We suspect that the lack of a rear-wheel drive option may deter some buyers, even though Renault claims its traction control system keeps the front tyres glued to the road under heavy load while on slippery roads.

We would need to fill the van to capacity and take it out on a wet day to determine this once and for all – something we were unable to do on the brief press launch.

The benefit of this is a simple and uncluttered line-up. Renault Australia has not ruled out importing other variants – such as RWD and chassis cab – in the future, but for now the choice is limited to MWB or LWB with either manual or Quickshift.

In most ways, the Master is exactly what a big van should be. It is comfortable, gutsy, practical and quiet. It also has the benefit of a three-year/200,000km warranty (superior to those from Ford, VW and Mercedes-Benz) and a raft of long-life components.

The 3.9 per cent finance rate being offered at launch is a juicy carrot as well.

While not perfect, the Master has a lot to recommend it. We cannot think of many reasons to not advise small business owners or fleet buyers to put it on their short lists.

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