Commercial vehicles: Renault Trafic 111
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RENAULT TRAFIC III
1.6-litre four-cylinder twin turbo diesel (103kW, 340Nm)
The last thing any motoring writer touting anything approaching self-respect wants to do is roll out the dreaded “carlike” cliche when it comes to a light commercial vehicle. Unfortunately, Renault has pushed me into a corner and given me a shoulder massage.
Taking a widescreen view of the situation, this is a good problem to have. Because the Trafic III is a revelation. It’s quite possibly the best van I’ve driven in… well, ever.
Renault has been a smaller player in the New Zealand light commercial market until this point, with a clutch of Japanese and Korean manufacturers bookended by the Germans (Volkswagen) and the Brits (Ford) holding court. But the local distributor must surely be hoping for big things with the latest version of its Trafic.
In Europe of course this mid-sizer has been a big success story. The Trafic has been the best-selling model in Renault’s light commercial line-up for an impressive 18 years, with 1.6m units shifted since it debuted in 1980.
Testament to the longevity of light commercial models is that Roman numeral “III” suffixing the nameplate. Yep, the van has only had three major updates in the past 36 years. Mind you, with an engine at the front and a big box at the rear, you could argue what else is there to update?
Well, that hasn’t stopped Renault lavishing a fair bit of care and attention on this third-gen edition. For a start, it features a newly developed 1.6-litre dCi twin-turbo engine that boasts absolutely — ugh — “carlike” on-road manners; it’s as smooth as silk at pretty much any stage of the rev range, giving the load-lugger decent power and torque (103kW/340Nm) with a nice progressive, linear feel to acceleration. None of these things, it should be pointed out, is what you expect from a mid-size cargo van.
For this third update, the front has been redesigned, with new headlights, air intakes and grille. The windscreen angle has been modified to allow for better outward vision and overall — with an increase in the amount of colour-coded exterior trim — the outside of the Trafic looks much more of a premium affair.
In fact it’s almost sporty-looking. Well, for a van. It’s all slab-sided width without the unnecessary height. And especially when wearing the manufacturer’s optional 17” Cylade alloy wheels it commands street presence of a sort that — in the light commercial sector — has until now been the sole preserve of a well-specified, well-shod Ford Transit.
Inside the Renault’s easy-access cabin, the driver and passenger receive lateral side curtain airbags, cruise control, reversing camera and sensors, auto headlights, a multi-function steering wheel, a bench seat with an integrated fold-down work table and laptop storage, and a steel bulkhead separating the passenger cell from the cargo area. So none of the usual echo-y existence one associates with vans of the Trafic’s ilk.
All-in-all the cabin is a great place to be; supremely comforable with a heap of space and all the modern convenience features of a ... well, a car.
That big cargo area measures in with enough room between the rear wheel arches for standard builder’s sheets and pallets (2.9m long x 1.2m wide).
Access is provided by dual glazed sliding doors along the sides and a double-opening barn door at the rear. There’s also what Renault terms a “load trap” that extends underneath the front passenger seat to help stow extra-long items.
The Trafic slots in between the Kangoo small cargo van and the bigger Master in Renault’s light commercial line-up.
If you need further illustration of this van’s adaptability, the week I had the Renault Trafic III on my driveway I also had the very good — and surprisingly racy — Honda Civic RS on test. For whatever reason, when a weekend errand needed running — and despite the obvious size disadvantage when I got to the busy shopping centre with its stupidly restrictive parking spaces at the other end — I still took the van. It was that good.