2015 Renault Trafic Review

The 2015 Renault Trafic is a bigger van with a smaller engine. Can it work? Matt Campbell finds out.

The 2015 Renault Trafic has a fairly big task ahead of it. And that’s putting it lightly.

The new model is larger than ever before, yet is powered by the smallest diesel engine to be fitted to the French brand’s mid-sized van over its three generations. On top of that, there’s no automatic transmission option in sight. In that way it's similar to our current top mid-size van pick, the Ford Transit Custom.

So, with the two vans that currently outsell the Renault mid-size van in Australia – the Toyota HiAce and the Hyundai iLoad – both having bigger output diesel engines and being available with self-shifting gearboxes, can the Trafic stack up?

Based on our time in the new model at the local launch, the answer is yes. It really can.

Read our 2015 Renault Trafic pricing and specifications breakdown here.

It remains available in a two lengths – 4999mm for the L1H1, and 5399mm for the L2H1 –and both variations of the third-generation model measure longer than before (L1H1 previously spanned 4782mm; L2H1 was 5182mm). Despite the extra length, the L1H1 and L2H2 both ride on identical wheelbases to the vans that came before them: 3098mm and 3498mm respectively.

The extra length has liberated more cargo space, which is vital for the Trafic which previously had the least capacious cargo hold in its class. The new model claims 5.2 cubic metres of space in L1H1 guise (up 0.2m3), while the L2H1 has 6.0m3 of holding capacity (up 0.1m3).

In terms of extra load space in length terms, there's a bulkhead in the twin-turbo versions which includes a passenger-floor mounted load-through section. There's up to 3750mm of load length in the L1H1 models, and as much as 4150mm in the L2H1. The existing L1H1 version had 2400mm of space, while the L2H2 had 2800mm. So the long-load improvement is massive.

Renault says it’s not just the extra space, but the extra usability of the area that makes it so much better for buyers. We’d tend to agree – there are 16 load attachment points on the floor and the walls (previously only on the floor), and Renault claims that existing cargo area fit-outs such as racking or refrigeration units that had been applied to second-generation Trafic models will fit like a glove in the new model.

As was previously the case, you can option a range of configurations for the Trafic, including dual sliding side doors (a single sliding kerb side door is standard) with or without glazing (non-glazed is standard), and the choice of the standard barn-style rear doors or a tailgate.

Payload capacity is a little lower in the short wheelbase version, now at 1235-1237kg, (was 1244kg) while the long wheelbase model now has a 1274kg payload (was 1230kg). The vans on test all had between 300-400kg of ballast on a pallet placed over the rear axles.

Power for the new-look model comes from a 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, which in the base models is a single-turbo unit (with just 66kW and 260Nm) and in the models we drove featured twin-turbo power.

While its engine capacity may be about half of that of the diesel HiAce (which has a 3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder) the punchy little unit pushes out more power and torque, with 103kW at 3500rpm and 340Nm at 1500rpm. For comparison’s sake, the HiAce has 100kW/300Nm.

It may sound highly stressed, but the engine is surprisingly refined and proved tremendously willing, even with two adults, some luggage and that ballast on board. It isn’t too loud or rumbly at its best operating range, and the brand says there’s 270Nm of torque available from just 1250rpm. We did note a touch of lag below that point, but from there on it was fairly rapid progress, particularly between 1500-2500rpm.

There’s an ECO mode that dulls the acceleration response, which, to be honest, made for more linear power delivery across the rev range. It is a flexible, responsive and strong engine, even in the green mode.

Claimed fuel consumption is just 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres, and on our drive loop we managed 7.5L/100km across a range of different driving scenarios including a long stint of highway driving in blustery crosswinds. Impressive, and even more so when you consider it is 2.1L/100km better than the previous model.

There’s no denying this is one of the best engines in the class, but it will disappoint about 40 per cent of buyers (that’s Renault’s own figure) that an automatic transmission can’t be had.

If you’re part of the other 60 per cent, you won’t be disappointed. The six-speed manual is a pearler, with a smooth, easily workable shift action, and the clutch action is light enough for regular use.

While we didn't get to test the unladen ride quality of the new Trafic, we’d be surprised if it improved on how we sampled the van. Indeed, the ride is not as comfortable as, say, the class-leading Ford Transit Custom, with the 17-inch wheels fitted to our test vans picking up a lot of the sharper bumps, particularly at lower speeds (below 60km/h). There was also some feedback from the tyres that could be felt through the wheel.

That said, over larger rolling bumps including oversized speed humps and dips in the road, the suspension is well sorted and quick to settle, and there’s less fidgeting at higher speeds, too.

For those that spend a lot of time in the urban environment, accurate and responsive steering is a key decision maker – and the Renault doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The steering is car-like, proving light, direct and quick enough. The steering wheel itself is a bit big, but there’s a nice amount of feel through the tiller on-centre.

Outward vision for the driver is also quite good, with the dual-view side mirrors including a lower section with a kerb-angle reflector making parking and manoeuvring easy than it should be. Further aiding park-ability is the standard reverse-view camera in the twin-turbo models, standard rear parking sensors (across the board), the large bulkhead window, and glass panels in the rear barn doors (both with individual wipers).

The interior presentation is a massive step up from the previous model, and well and truly above average for this class – particularly with the optional media screen that adds a car-like element to the cockpit.

That 7.0-inch touchscreen media system is simple to use and logically laid out, though we noted a couple of gremlins with the Bluetooth connection including the system dialling the connected telephone’s number when the phone was being used to send emails. Very strange. Aside from that, the Bluetooth phone and audio streaming appeared to work fine.

Other highlights include the central digital speedometer readout, which could prove a godsend for drivers in some Aussie states that have strict speeding laws.

In terms of fit and finish, however, the Renault isn’t perfect. While there are nice plastic finishes including piano black on air vent sleeves, we noticed a few poorly-fitted elements such as askew window switches, a crooked-lidded dashtop stowage box, and misfit A-pillar surrounds.

The standard layout for the Trafic is three abreast, with a fixed twin passenger bench and a single, highly adjustable driver’s seat – including pump action height adjust, back rest adjustment, lumbar adjustment and rake and reach steering wheel adjustment. The driver also gets a drop-down armrest.

The passenger seat is set quite tightly against the door, and with no adjustment whatsoever it isn’t the most comfortable place – and it’d be squishy with three burly blokes on board, though many in this class are, too. There is, however, a lift up stowage area under the seat in twin-turbo models that is roomy, while the clever drop-down middle seat that doubles as a work desk is undoubtedly handy. There’s even a spot to secure a laptop and hide it away.

Renault says the Trafic’s interior is designed as a mobile office, and as such there’s a spot for pretty much everything. Atop the dash is a folder area, and there’s even a clipboard holder if you fold the centre seat down. There are also big door pockets for bottles, magazines or brochures, as well as dashtop cupholders (that can fit your medium soy mocha easily) and a couple of extra cupholders, too.

Getting into and out of the office could be a problem for shorties, though – there are no grab handles to haul yourself in, and there aren’t any roof-mounted “jeepers” handles, either.

Renault’s other catch cry for the Trafic is it’s ownership credentials. The brand is offering a a three-year/200,000 kilometre warranty, while capped-price servicing (at $349 per calendar year for the first three scheduled services) is also available. Maintenance is due every 12 months or 30,000km, whichever comes first – far better than the HiAce, which has six-month/10,000km intervals that could see the average fleet van off the road for three days per year.

There’s no denying the new 2015 Renault Trafic will get the job done for the brand, so long as buyers can deal with the fact it has a smaller-than-average engine and can’t be had with an automatic transmission. Sounds like a twin test against the Ford Transit Custom could be on the cards...