Big vans need a big heart, and as part of a mid-life update the 2015 Renault Master has gone in for major surgery.
The French brand’s largest van is now powered by a 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbocharged diesel engine that will also be seen in the new-generation Nissan Navara.
The engine is available in a few different power outputs – 100kW and 340Nm or 120kW/360Nm for the six-speed manual variants, and 110kW/350Nm for the six-speed automated manual.
The higher-output manual was the drivetrain we tested during our first local experience in the Renault Master, which came in the smallest L1H1 configuration - short-wheelbase, low roof. It’s a new addition to the Master line-up with this engine, and fills a gap between the smaller Trafic van and the larger Master variants.
Pricing for the Master range kicks off from $40,990 plus on-road and dealer costs, and goes up to $54,490 plus costs for the largest van you can buy from the brand. There are cab-chassis versions, too, in single- or dual-cab layouts. The price the L1H1 front-drive manual van is listed at $41,990 plus costs, though driveaway deals are set to last for a while for this model, priced at $39,990.
The engine is the big talking point for the Renault van. My previous experience in the pre-update cab-chassis variant – which featured a 2.3-litre single turbo diesel – left me impressed, but the new engine is even better.
With peak torque on tap at 1500rpm, the engine doesn’t require much effort to get up and moving. There’s still some low-rev lag, but not nearly as much as was evident in the previous Master I drove.
It motors along with vigour, and there’s plenty of grunt when you need it. With a relatively light load on board it never felt troubled, and when the back was empty it was quite quick.
The six-speed manual offers a good spread of ratios, and the Master will cruise along comfortably at freeway speeds in sixth gear, without the need for the driver to drop it back a cog up steep hills.
Around town the engine is delightful to use, with short, snappy gearshifts and a stop-start system working quickly and smartly to help save fuel.
The diesel tank is 100 litres, with fuel consumption claimed at 6.9 litres per 100km – it’s no surprise, then, that our distance-to-empty readout was suggesting well over 1000km to go, even after several hundred k’s of testing.
In terms of the way it sits on the road, the Master isn’t as comfortable to drive empty as some competitors – the rear end bounces around a bit more, and it feels more of the small bumps on the road, too.
When parking the Master, the steering is light and easy to use – and the standard rear sensors help in trying to judge how long the van is. A reverse-view camera is available as an option, but the wide view reflective patch on the passenger’s sun-visor does offer a decent blind-spot aid.
The steering feels more purposeful at higher speeds, too, but not quite as direct or quick as the Ford Transit, and the wheel itself is a coarse plastic that could be grating after a few hours of twirling.
Parking the L1H1 model isn’t as big a task as some other vans, as it measures just 5.04 metres in length (shorter than most dual-cab utes). Its cargo hold is just over half that distance, spanning 2.58m along the floor. It rides on a 3.18m wheelbase.
The cargo area is easy to access, with reasonable step-in heights for the rear barn doors and the single sliding side door. Buyers can option dual sliding doors, as well as glazed sliding side doors, should they choose. The opening of the sliding side door on the L1H1 is decent, but not massive, at 1.05m.
The back doors come as standard in wide-opening twin configuration, and they can be opened up to 180 degrees to allow for easy access. The rear door opening measures 1.58m wide, with the L1H1 having 1.62m-tall back doors.
The overall cargo bay height is 1.70m (mid-roof models have 1.89m of floor-to-ceiling space, while the top-end high-roof version has 2.04m) and the gap between the wheel-arches (1.38m) means there’s room for standard Aussie pallets to slide in with ease.
There are eight tie-down points placed low to the ground to secure your load, while twin cargo area lights and a 12-Volt outlet are also fitted in the back.
All told, there is 8.0 cubic metres of space in the load area of the L1H1 van, but more impressive is the payload of the Renault, which is 1683 kilograms – well up on some other larger European rivals. It is on trend in terms of towing ability, with 2.5 tonnes of braked towing capacity (750kg un-braked).
Inside the cockpit, the Master’s design can’t match impressive new offerings like the Ford Transit or the car-like Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
Everything is where you’d expect for a French van – that is to say this isn’t as ergonomically friendly as some competitors.
Odd bits include the silly dash-mounted cruise control and speed limiter switch which is countered by steering wheel activation and adjustment buttons (why not just put all of them on the wheel, Renault?), and while it wasn’t fitted to our van, a satellite navigation system can be had which sits up near the rear-vision mirror.
Still, as with almost all vans in this segment (and the ones below), it is well thought-out in terms of storage, with loads of nooks and crannies for loose items, big bottle holders near your knees, and clever dashtop boxes and cup-holders.
There’s the must-have overhead shelf with plenty of space for folders, tablets or laptops, while the three-seat bench layout includes a fold-down middle chair that acts as a desk or work surface, and includes a spot for your coffee cup. Folding the middle seat down also allows the driver a better view of the road behind, as there’s a large window in the bulkhead between the driver’s compartment and the cargo area.
The Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity worked without hassle and was quick to connect, even despite the stereo system looking to have been designed for a time before smartphones existed. The stereo itself is only adequate, with two speakers, but there are two USB inputs and an auxiliary jack.
The Master has just two airbags standard – dual front protection for the driver and outboard passenger – while side head/thorax airbags remain optional, which is disappointing.
Ticks for safety include a torque-vectoring system to help it corner at speed without spinning up the front inside wheel, and standard electronic stability control with trailer sway assist.
On the ownership front Renault has drivers who plan to cover big kilometres covered, with a standard three-year, 200,000km warranty, with the option to extend that coverage to five years. The brand also offers three years of free roadside assistance, and capped price servicing for three years ($349 per annum with maintenance due every 12 months or up to 30,000km).
The 2015 Renault Master does have a new heart, one which beats with more tenacity now than ever before. But just like an elderly heart-transplant patient, there are a few items that still feel due for renewal when you consider this van against its newer rivals.