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The van market is changing - and this Renault Trafic has needed to change with it: it has. We especially like the careful touches: the load-through facility in the full-steel bulkhead that lets you poke long items into the cab. The 'Eco Mode' driving option that makes it easy to lower your running costs. The Mobile Office package with its folding front seat. The way you can mount your smartphone or tablet on the dashboard to work with Renault's clever R&GO app. And the wide-angle passenger sunvisor mirror that helps when reversing. Though we've seen some of these things before in other LCV products, they've been delivered here with a greater level of thought and thoroughness that operators will like.
Renault's Trafic is one of those vehicles that has quietly inveigled itself into an almost invisible ubiquity. They're everywhere, but are such a part of the automotive landscape that they barely register. Unless, that is, you're looking to run a fleet of vans and then the Trafic registers front and centre of your buying decision and has done since it first appeared in Renault dealers back in 1981.
That first generation model is still doing sterling service under licence in India as a TATA Winger but was replaced here in 2001 with a second generation model that saw service for thirteen years. In 2015, this third generation model waded into the fray against rivals like the Volkswagen Transporter and the Ford Transit Custom, not to mention its design siblings, the Vauxhall Vivaro, the Fiat Talento and the Nissan NV300.
Renault passenger vehicles have embraced the idea of the downsized turbocharged engine to boost efficiency and now the commercials follow suit. The engines that power the Trafic are both relatively small 1.6-litre turbodiesel units but punch above their weight. Most buyers will be drawn to the single turbo 1.6-litre unit, available in either dCi 90 or dCi 115 power outputs. In order to match the sort of grunt Mercedes can deliver with its rival Vito, Renault also debuts the Energy dCi 120 and 140 engines. Powered by two turbochargers working together, these engines combine excellent performance with decent fuel economy. From just 1,500rpm, the Energy dCi 120 cranks out a hefty peak torque of 320Nm, while the dCi 140 variant delivers 340Nm so there's plenty of muscle even if you're loaded to the roof.
Renault claims that these power and torque figures are what you would have previously expected from a 2.0-litre engine in this class and that view is borne out by the figures. A Volkswagen Transporter, for instance, comes in 84 and 102PS power outputs at the entry level, while the Trafic now comes in 90 and 125PS guises, so it's even better than Renault's word. The driving position, though not as lofty as in some models, nevertheless affords a decent view up the road. You get big door mirrors to help with manoeuvring and tried and tested transmissions.
True, there's only so much a van designer can do with a rectangular box with a wheel at each corner, but there's clearly been a concerted effort to distinguish the Trafic from the workaday LCV norm. As is the vogue with current Renaults, you get an outsized bonnet badge, flanked in this instance by a black trim strip and a pair of huge headlight pods that seem to have started climbing towards the windscreen pillars. The outside of the Trafic isn't the big story here though.
Renault has really gone to work on the cabin. Gone are the expanses of uninspiring grey plastics, with higher-end versions getting a chromed console surround, along with a chromed gear lever knob and chrome-finished front speaker trims, plus lidded dashboard stowage and Java upholstery. Much improved seats offer more shape and higher density foam padding. The front bench seat incorporates lateral strengthening for both the seat cushions and passenger seat backs. Comfort is further enhanced by the inclusion of an armrest built into the door panel. Compared with the previous generation Trafic II, the driver's seat cushion has been lowered by 36mm, while the seat back is more reclined in order to get closer to the sort of driving position associated with MPVs. Combined with the height- and reach-adjustable steering wheel, the number of ways the seat can be adjusted (height, fore-aft and seat back angle) enables the driver to find the most comfortable position. Thanks to a pump system, the height of the driving position can be adjusted through a range of 60mm.
The Trafic is offered in two body lengths and two roof heights and now features a range of up to ten different paint finishes, which makes a change from a choice of silver or white. As well as solid finishes like Glacier White, Laser Red, Mole Grey and Bamboo Green, there's a metallic palette that comprises Copper, Oyster Grey, Mercury, Stone, Panorama Blue and Jet Black. Prices start at just over £18,000 and there are 'Business', 'Business+' and 'Sport' trim levels across a range of four diesel engines, including the twin-turbo ENERGY dCi 120 and 140 units, plus the older dCi 90 and dCi 115 powerplants.
The entry-level audio/infotainment system features a DIN radio complete with Bluetooth hands-free and a fascia-mounted USB port and AUX-in socket. Another USB port is provided if you choose the optional mobile phone cradle. The premium audio set-up available combines with the Renault R-Link Evolution multimedia system, incorporating a slot for an SD card to enable mapping management, the reading of audio tracks and display of photos on the seven-inch display. R & GO is an app for both Android and Apple that allows smart 'phones and tablets to talk to the vehicle, performing 3D navigation, hands-free telephone, multimedia control and display the vehicle's trip computer. Renault has clearly though long and hard about how commercial vehicles are used these days.
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