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Car reviews - Renault - Trafic - Crew Lifestyle

Our Opinion

We like
Punchy yet highly efficient engine, satisfying manual gearbox, car-like cab layout and ambience, good payload and cargo volume, excellent ride and handling, comfortable and well-appointed Lifestyle variant is great value
Room for improvement
Lack of auto transmission limits market, lack of storage or drinks holders for rear passengers, unconvincing brakes, no ANCAP rating

Renault logo11 Aug 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Overview

RENAULT reckons its Trafic Crew van might tempt a few people away from the ubiquitous dual-cab ute and canopy combination of other brands.

We already know the basic Trafic shames a number of passenger cars and SUVs – let alone one-tonne utes – with its excellent road manners and punchy yet efficient engine, so Renault could be on to something.

At least they will once an automatic transmission option arrives in the next year or so.

Until then, it’s a manual-only affair, but one that is well worth exercising your left leg for, because the already excellent and thoughtfully designed Trafic range gets even more appealing with the option of three more seats.

Price and equipment

The Trafic Crew is based on the L2H1 long-wheelbase variant and starts from $42,990 plus on-road costs.

We tested the top-spec $46,780 Lifestyle that includes a raft of worthwhile comfort, cosmetic and convenience upgrades. Renault finished our Trafic in a brown-with-hints-of-orange shade of metallic paint it calls Copper, which costs an extra $800.

Standard equipment on the Trafic Crew broadly reflects that of the L2H1, comprising manual air-conditioning with pollen filter, a two-speaker audio system with steering wheel controls, two USB ports, an auxiliary input jack and Bluetooth audio streaming, cruise control with speed limiter, a multi-function trip computer display, an armrest for the height- and lumbar-adjustable driver’s seat, and reach-adjustable steering.

The front passenger seats are bench-style with a large storage area beneath, accessed by tilting the squab forwards.

Glazed 180-degree opening rear barn doors with window demisters and wipers are also standard, but forego the wipers if 270-degree opening versions are optioned (a glazed tailgate is also available).

Front occupants get electric windows, but those in the second row are behind fixed glass. More storage is located under the rear seats, accessed in the same way as up front. The three positions share a pair of fold-down armrests and the rear passenger area is fully trimmed with headlining, door inserts and non-slip flooring.

Behind the second row is a fully sealed composite bulkhead with high-level window into the cargo area, where there are six anchorage points, a 12V power outlet, courtesy light, mid-height plastic lining scooped out space creating extra load-length beneath the rear passenger seats. Sixteen-inch steel wheels are standard-fit, with a full-size spare beneath the rear floor.

The six airbags do not include curtains for rear passengers, but helping prevent impacts are electronic stability control with load adaption control, trailer sway control, roll-over protection, hill-start assist and “Grip X-tend” for driving on slippery surfaces. Automatic headlights, windscreen wipers and fog lights are also standard, as are three-point lap-sash seatbelts for all occupants.

Security features comprise an immobiliser, remote central locking and automatic door-locking that activates when the vehicle is in motion.

The basic Crew can be upgraded with a $2490 Premium Pack that includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen providing access to a more advanced multimedia system with satellite navigation, piped through an Arkamys audio setup.

The upgrade’s plusher ‘Java’ cloth upholstery is complemented by a better dashboard with closed storage compartments, chrome instrument, gear selector and speaker trims, gloss black air vent surrounds, and a leather-wrapped gear knob.

Also included in the Premium Pack are body-coloured bumpers and mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, a heated driver’s seat (going for a two-seat step-through front setup provides passenger heating also), wide-angle mirror on the passenger sun-blind, security deadlocks, an anti-theft spare wheel cover and an 800A heavy duty battery.

Our top-spec Lifestyle variant had all the above plus a hands-free entry key card, push-button engine start, single-zone climate control and a more habitable rear passenger area with opening side windows, roll-down sun-blinds, LED reading lights, ceiling-mounted speakers and reclining seats (at the expense of under-seat storage) plus minor exterior cosmetic flourishes such as a chrome grille and a gloss black Renault badge surround.

The Trafic Crew’s closest rival is the Volkswagen Transporter LWB Crewvan priced from $46,890 plus on-road costs with a standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission but has a much more utilitarian rear passenger area that lacks a standard bulkhead or roof-lining.

Interior

Tough and practical can also be comfortable and attractive, as proved by the Trafic cabin – particularly with the premium dashboard and Java upholstery that are standard on the Lifestyle variant tested and optional on the base Crew.

A pleasing selection of colours and textures, quality, pleasant fabrics finishes, the pleasant-to-hold leather-bound steering wheel and similarly tactile gear shifter lent our Trafic’s cabin an almost car-like ambience.

The usual Trafic layout flaws remain, such as the driver’s left knee being uncomfortably forced to rest against a bulge in the lower dash that houses the gear selector, and a lack of footrest beside the clutch pedal that is clearly related to the afterthought right-hand-drive conversion due to the presence of a redundant footrest in the passenger footwell.

But the rest is good news, particularly in Lifestyle trim that provides comfortable travel for all occupants and could even be considered as family transport for those who have a heap of stuff to lug around or want to use their business vehicle for pleasure on weekends.

Apart from the gripes we mentioned, the driver is treated to a comfortable seat that provides an uncannily car-like driving position with plenty of adjustment for both the seat itself and – unusually for a commercial vehicle – steering column adjustment for both angle and reach.

It gets better with attractive, clear instruments including large digital speed readout in lieu of an analogue speedometer and, in our vehicle, an easy-to-use touchscreen that is only let down by the vehicle’s sole USB socket being on its fascia – a recipe for trailing wires.

As well as the USB socket, cigarette lighter style 12V power outlets are found in three locations – on the lower dashboard, on the underside of the rear seat and in the cargo area.

The switchgear is logically placed for a Renault too, with almost everything on the dashboard itself rather than scattered around the cabin seemingly at random as the brand is prone to do. Even the automatic climate control system was simple to operate, with its large rotary controllers for temperature and fan speed.

Fans of cargo pants will delight at the Trafic’s long list of storage compartments, including huge door bins supplemented by smaller spaces beneath the door speakers that could be used for rarely used items such as torches or first-aid kits. Then there are the large upper and lower gloveboxes, a perfectly placed smartphone holster sprouting from a recess at the centre of the dash, accommodating a tablet or laptop of up to 13-inch screen size or paperwork – that in practice did not seem to cause the unpleasant windscreen reflections we were expecting.

At each end of the dash-top are cup-holders that initially seemed too shallow for us to trust them with a hot beverage, but our test using a tall take-away coffee cup and some twisty roads was completed without spilling a drop. The fold- down central cup-holder is not quite as useful, and the door bins are not particularly well suited to holding drinks bottles either.

Even with the premium Arkamys audio system fitted to our test vehicle, the sound quality is tinny. The rear ceiling mounted speakers were its saving grace, providing front occupants with enough sound to not require high volume levels during motorway driving that would cause the speakers to crackle and distort all too easily.

We had the step-through seating setup with a large space between the pair of front captain’s chairs. It was possible to access the rear passenger area without leaving the vehicle, although the driver had to take care when stepping over the handbrake, trying to not catch a knee on the protruding gear selector housing.

Unlike the front bench setup, the step-through configuration’s front passenger seat is as comfortable as the driver seat, with the same integrated fold-down armrest and lumbar support adjustment. These positions posed zero issues for long hours on the road. The seat heaters of our Lifestyle variant had just simple on/off controls with no temperature adjustment, and they quickly became uncomfortably hot when activated.

The Lifestyle’s three individually adjustable rear seats were at least as comfortable as those up front, with backrest reclining adjustments effected by pulling on a cord and shuffling forward or backwards on the squab. The squab moves only a few centimetres, having little effect on the generous legroom.

Outboard positions have Isofix child seat anchorages, but if you want to legally fit a child restraint in here – and therefore create an alternative to the ubiquitous ute with canopy – you must either somehow fit your own top tether points or wait for Renault to make these standard item and come up to speed with Volkswagen’s more child-friendly Transporter.

There is no Australian Design Rule requirement for child seat top tethers in commercial vehicles and Renault Australia informed GoAuto that the Trafic Crew’s Isofix points are installed for the van’s home European market.

Renault also said the bulkhead design precludes top-tether fitment, but that it has previously provided feedback to the factory about this matter and will do so again following GoAuto’s inquiry.

Storage for rear passengers is limited to map pockets and a small space under the front passenger seat, while there is nowhere to store drinks.

In our top-spec example, the rear third of the rear side window slide forwards to provide ventilation, which is just as well because there are no air-conditioning vents in the back. As such, the pull-down sun-blinds are useful. The Trafic’s air-conditioning is pretty powerful, so long as front occupants don’t mind freezing while rear passengers find the ideal temperature (or the opposite when it is cold outside).

Rear passenger area access via the large sliding doors is easy, helped by a slightly indented step area and usefully located grab handle on the B-pillar.

The floor is flat, too, and the view out is pretty good – especially from the central position of our step-through variant that felt particularly airy due to an unimpeded line of sight through the windscreen.

For the driver, forward vision through the large and deep windows is excellent, but the Trafic’s door mirrors were lacking compared with many vans. That said, the glazed side doors helped overcome some blind spots and the interior mirror provided a good view through the glazed bulkhead and rear barn doors.

The huge passenger side sun-visor mirror did not seem to be of much use, but although mirror-mounted reversing camera displays split opinion, they do help the driver maintain use of their peripheral vision compared with vision piped through a lower-mounted touchscreen.

Helped in part by a fully sealed plastic bulkhead with a broad glass window along the top that separates the passenger compartment from the cargo area, the Trafic’s cabin is respectably quiet and refined on the move, with most road surfaces not causing overly intrusive sounds for occupants and the main source of noise being from wind rushing over the windscreen.

In the cargo area are only six tie-down points, all located close to floor level. We would like to see some mid-way up the walls as well for securing taller items, as well as a brighter cargo area light.

There is no floor covering as standard, but plastic half-height wall linings create one less job for the aftermarket fit-out specialists – or indeed Renault’s in-house Pro+ customisation service. Wheel arch intrusion is fairly low-profile, making positioning of wider items easy and safe.

Long, low loads up to 2424mm can be accommodated due to a recess in the bulkhead that extends beneath the rear passenger seats. Otherwise, the load length area is 1740mm while height is 1387mm and the widest point is 1662mm (1268mm between the wheel arches).

It all adds up to a decent 4.0 cubic-metre load area, whereas the short-wheelbase three-seat Trafic L1H1 has 5.2 cubes and the long wheelbase L2H1 from which the Crew is derived takes 6.0 cubes.

The Trafic Crew’s 1118kg payload is 99kg heavier than the equivalent VW Transporter LWB Crewvan, which can tow 500kg more braked than the Renault’s 2.0 tonnes.

An overall longer load length of 1967mm and slightly (7mm) taller load height in the VW are offset by its narrower cargo area (35mm less overall and 24mm less between the wheel arches).

Engine and transmission

Despite its diminutive 1.6-litre displacement, the Trafic Crew’s 103kW twin-turbo diesel delivers its outputs in fast and strong manner, with peak torque of 340Nm arriving at just 1500rpm and providing a sense of urge usually reserved for much bigger engines.

These outputs match the larger 2.0-litre turbo-diesel used in the Volkswagen Transporter Crewvan, which also produces 103kW at 3500rpm but spreads its 340Nm of torque between 1750 and 2500rpm. And it comes standard with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

But Renault has the heavier VW licked on fuel consumption, with an official combined-cycle figure of 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres substantially lower than the German van’s 7.7L/100km.

It works in practice, too, and although in the Renault we only saw 6.2L/100km after a motorway journey, we averaged a pretty impressive 7.4L/100km after a week of mixed driving. This crept up to 8.6L/100km when duties were more weighted toward urban and suburban driving, which we expect would be even lower if the idle-stop system cut the engine more often than it did during our test.

Try getting these types of figures in a dual-cab ute.

Unladen and even partially laden, the Trafic’s chubby torque delivery never failed to impress, even though we certainly felt the additional 139kg over an identical-engined H1L1 we drove previously.

If anything, the extra bulk made the eager Trafic engine a bit more manageable, particularly under part-throttle acceleration that could feel so aggressive that we preferred driving the smaller version it in Eco mode while unladen.

The light clutch action and slick, satisfying six-speed manual are a pleasure for those who enjoy shifting gears, but we don’t buy Renault’s line that the grunty engine negates the need for frequent stick-stirring as a way of getting manual-dubious buyers over the line.

But this thing deserves to sell in serious numbers once an automatic option becomes available.

In addition to its efficiency, the engine is quiet, smooth and refined – not just by commercial vehicle standards – and although it will rev cleanly to its 4500rpm redline, the folly of this is revealed by up-changes being met with a bit of a dead spot in the rev-range that hampers aggressive driving.

This engine works best when leaning on its low-down grunt, short-shifted and at used the upper half of its accelerator pedal travel. Driven like this, it is far more satisfying than attempting to go flat-out everywhere.

Ride and handling

Brands selling commercial vehicles often talk up the car-like driving experience of their products. This is mostly nonsense, but the Trafic’s well-weighted, sharp and accurate steering, impressive levels of grip and surprising ride comfort at any speed, even unladen, add up to a driving experience superior to many passenger cars and SUVs, let alone the one-tonne utes Renault hopes to poach a few sales from.

The only real dynamic downfalls of this van included steering kickback can get alarmingly intrusive on poorly surfaced corners, resulting in a strong self-centring sensation that requires the driver to keep a firm grip on the wheel if they are to avoid being thrown off-line.

Also, the brakes were a letdown. While they are progressive and easy to modulate with none of the grabbiness typical of French vehicles, they do not instil the much confidence under hard deceleration, even unladen.

Perhaps these gripes were amplified by the fact the Trafic is so competent in every other regard, including fantastic ride quality at any speed, on any surface, whether unladen or laden.

At speeds up to around 80km/h the Trafic genuinely can be driven like a car and is rewarding to do so. The high seating position sets an expectation for body-roll, but it is so well contained as to be considered almost absent.

This is great news for passengers, who can be driven along a challenging road without feeling as though they are being thrown about, or having to beg the driver to slow to a snail’s pace.

Compared with the L1H1, the Crew’s longer wheelbase and extra weight around the centre makes also it feel more planted when on a twisty road, aiding this vehicle’s ability to hide the fact it is van.

Eco-focused Dunlop Econodrive tyes provide a lot of grip and traction, only calling the electronics into play when over-ambitiously accelerating out of tight corners.

But nobody is going to drive this vehicle like that, even if its potent engine and fun-to-drive character encourage it.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP is yet to rate the Trafic but Euro NCAP awarded it three stars in 2015, in a specification fitted with far fewer airbags than fitted to Australian-delivered examples. Our money is on a local crash-test occuring once the long-awaited automatic transmission draws near.

Standard safety equipment includes driver and passenger frontal airbags, side curtain airbags (for front occupants only), anti-whiplash headrests and three-point seatbelts for all seats and an anti-roll-over system.

Also standard are electronic stability control with load adaption control, trailer sway control, hill-start assist and “Grip X-tend” for driving on slippery surfaces.

Renault’s much-publicised five-year aftercare plan does not extend to light commercial vehicles, which instead get three years and 200,000km of coverage. A five-year extended warranty plan, but with the same kilometres, costs a hefty $2790.

Maintenance intervals are 12 months or a barely believable 30,000km. Renault offers a capped-price servicing program costing $349 for each of the first three workshop visits.

Verdict

The Renault Trafic Crew is uniquely well appointed for rear passengers, especially in the top-spec Lifestyle trim tested here. A well-insulated and pleasantly trimmed cabin with comfortable seats is far removed from the utilitarian offerings of Volkswagen and Toyota. It all contributes to the Trafic’s car-like qualities.

Even though there is much to like about the manual transmission of this vehicle, in Australia the lack of an automatic seriously hobbles Renault in the sales stakes. No ANCAP rating also leaves a question mark over its ability to be sold to certain fleets, but then the only five-star crew-cab van in Australia is the much more expensive Mercedes Vito.

But otherwise, the Trafic Crew is good value, useful and great to both drive and be driven in.

It’s our pick of the two-row van market and those considering a dual-cab ute but not requiring off-road ability would do well to consider this well-thought-out Renault.

We reckon it is good enough for those requiring a versatile load-swallowing family hauler or surfing/fishing/cycling/camping vehicle, too.

Rivals

Volkswagen Transporter Crewvan TDI 340 LWB ($46,890 plus on-road costs)Pretty basic for rear passengers compared with the Renault, while rear seats uniquely combine both Isofix child seat anchorages and top-tether mounts to create a dual-purpose – if austere – family chariot. Apart from the standard fitment of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the Transporter’s options list is longer than that of its standard equipment. But it has a longer load area and superior towing capacity to offset a slightly lower payload and load width than the Renault.

Hyundai iLoad Twin Swing Crew Van CRDi ($41,340 plus on-road costs)Like Renault, Hyundai offers a crew-cab van that can seats six and features a solid bulkhead behind the rear bench. The iLoad also has a grunty engine on its side, if not up to Renault standards of fuel efficiency. On the up-side, there is an automatic option available right now. The iLoad’s small 2.5 square metre cargo capacity is poor in this company, but competitive payload and towing capacities help. It is old, but still drives well and of course, has plenty of creature comforts.

Toyota HiAce LWB Crew diesel ($39,570 plus on-road costs)The Toyota HiAce is hideously dated, noisy and uncomfortable with below-par payload, towing and gross combination mass plus a basic rear-seat setup that belongs in a bygone era of lap-only seatbelts. Its low purchase price is the main redeeming feature, especially if you are buying a fleet of them. Self employed? Treat yourself to something better. An employer? Treat your workers to something better (and safer for those in the back).

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