Monday 18 April 2011
It’s hard to think that the futuristically styled Renault Trafic has been around for ten years, but it has. On the basis that there is only so much a designer can do with a commercial box on wheels, the Trafic (and Vivaro and Primastar) caused eyebrows to raise when it was first launched in the Year 2000. Since then it has contributed to Renault’s status as the leading LCV manufacturer in Europe and the Trafic is the third best selling van in its highly competitive panel-van segment. John Fife was at the launch of the Phase 3 model early last year and has just spent rather more time on home turf with one.
The last time I drove the Phase 3 Trafic was exactly a year ago. The location was southern France and the weather was sunny, dry and warm - ish! It would be very easy to be overly favourably influenced in such conditions, but I like to think I can rise above such physical charms and that even includes the excellence of the coffee and the meltiness of the croissants.
Mind you, it was miserable, wet and positively cold when then the Trafic was delivered to iVan HQ, but I brightened up when I saw the spec. This was a Sport model, with extras.
Now I must admit I never really took to the radical styling when it was first launched, but I have got used to it over the years, as it has become commonplace on British roads. And perhaps that is just one of the reasons it has become so successful, because it’s so different.
Another reason must be the drive itself. It’s a delight to drive. The seats are excellent, the range of adjustment more than adequate, and visibility from the driving seat is good for a van. Add in a slick 6 speed gearchange and light steering, and even the most grumpy Monday morning van driver must surely brighten up on the first commute of the week.
I also like the refined 2 litre dCi engine. It has more than enough grunt to soak up the miles in comfort and rarely does it let the driver know just how hard it is working. The first five gears are relatively short, which is what you need in a working van, but sixth gear gives very relaxed and economical motorway cruising.
If I have one criticism of the van, then it could also be argued that it’s a criticism of me. The cab is well equipped and comfortable, but if it was any smaller then I would find it cramped. As it was, it was just fine. A neat fit, but a reduction in the number of stops at lay-by caffs and caravans would create a lot more internal room I’m sure. Eat your heart out, Jamie Oliver, you’ll never change me!
That said, others who are even bigger and taller than average might find it a bit of a squeeze and there are other vans which offer more room – but at a trade-off.
Remember, you’re buying the van for the bit at the back, not necessarily the bit at the front.
And this is where the van scores highly. Even in short wheelbase form, the 5 cu.m loadspace will take a stack of 8x4s lying down and yet at less than 5 metres long (4782 mm) it retains a very compact footprint. Making the loadbox even more practical and accessible was the standard Sport option of an additional sliding o/s side door which is a £250 option on ‘standard’ spec vehicles. The test vehicle also came as standard with a steel bulkhead, resin ply floor and was lined to protect the interior paintwork, and there were sufficient lashing eyes to cope with most needs.
The cabin was equally well furnished but there was nowhere to rest my cup when parked up till I dropped the glovebox lid. Yes, there are a couple of can/bottle holders at each end of the dash, but the awkward shape meant I couldn’t rest my vacuum flask cup in them, so that was a fiddle when trying to top up for my second cuppa. Otherwise storage was good with a couple of large bottle holders (or flask!) in the door pockets and enough room above the central console for an A4 folder. There was even a curry-out hook!
The ‘Sport’ level in the title had nothing to do with performance, it was simple a ‘de luxe’ version of the standard van with metallic paint, colour coded bumpers and alloy wheels. But it did look smart sitting there with its fog lights and alloy wheels, which made me think, it might be desirable to the light fingered brigade. Renault have got that sorted too with anti-drill locks and deadlocking to protect goods and possessions.
There were two things that annoyed me, and they were so trivial it shows how good the rest of the van is. One was the lady with very posh voice on the excellent SatNav, so I switched her off, and the other was the extremely sensitive one-touch electric driver’s window. It took me ages, upping and downing, just to crack the window open a couple of inches. I shouldn’t need it with air-con fitted, but I prefer fresh air to the machine washed stuff.
And despite my misgivings about size, a 180 mile round trip across country roads proved an entirely comfortable in-cab experience. The driving position will accommodate most sizes with the light grey interior finish stopping it feeling at all claustrophobic.
Image 2 caption: The interior is supremely comfortable but for the bigger than average (pie-fed!) frame, it can be a tight squeeze.
Image 3 caption: Sport van came with resign floor and plastic panel lining.