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Renault has decided to take the challenge up to China’s $28,990 LDV G10 diesel with a cut-price version of its Trafic mid-sized van called the Trader Life.
This range-opening model wears a tantalising drive-away price of $29,990 provided you’ve got an Australian Business Number (ABN), squeaking under the $30,000 instant asset write-off threshold. That’s $4000 less than the next variant in the model walk, too.
Make no mistake, though, it’s a ‘stripper’. Other Trafics have five airbags including side protection, whereas the Trader Life just has two (driver and passenger frontal impact) like the LDV.
Renault’s also taken out rear parking sensors (now a $799 option fitted), the two-stage door unlocking system, and replaced the under-body spare wheel with a patch kit.
It’s also sporting a version of the familiar 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine used across the range, but detuned from 85kW and 300Nm outputs to 66kW and 260Nm.
When considering these changes, it’s good to keep in mind the buyer this Trafic Trader Life is aimed at. As Renault says, “it’s a response to the demand for a delivery or small business van focused on minimum cost of ownership … optimised for the busy urban environment where high performance is less important than low running costs”.
In other words, Renault reckons the Trader Life is perfectly adequate for last-mile city delivery drivers who might otherwise have been looking at a smaller van like a Kangoo or something with a few miles already on the clock.
The Trafic's cabin ticks some of the right boxes. The two seats are trimmed in hard-wearing cloth and the driver gets height/reach/lumbar adjustment, the steering column is telescopic, there are big storage cubbies running atop the dash and in the doors, and three cup holders.
Your manual air-conditioning/ventilation system is controlled by big rubbery dials, while the audio system has Bluetooth pairing and two USB points. However, it's also operated by tiny buttons, and there's no touchscreen in sight.
Urban driving is assisted by the presence of a digital speedo, plus both cruise control and a speed limiter.
There's no autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitor, reversing camera or anything else of this ilk, though the side mirrors are sizeable and have a secondary kerb-monitoring reflector built in. Of course, there's also electronic stability control with anti-roll hill-start assist.
It's worth noting that Euro NCAP tested the Trafic in 2015 and gave it three stars, including just 52 per cent for adult occupant protection.
There's no standard solid metal bulkhead (unlike the top-spec versions) or barrier protecting occupants from the cargo area either, though of course you can have a Renault cargo barrier fitted in about 60 minutes for $879 all up. The company's accessories page is here, if you're interested.
On paper, the single-turbo 1.6 common-rail diesel looks weedy, with 66kW of peak power and 260Nm of maximum torque, though it's worth noting that this is on tap from a low 1500rpm.
The truth of the matter is that for some buyers it will be adequate. It's also worth pointing out that a Volkswagen Transporter TDI250 has 75kW/250Nm, so the Trafic isn't such an outlier.
With up to a few hundred kilograms aboard – something your average StarTrack Express driver is likely to be carrying – it's responsive enough to keep up with urban traffic flow, and the tall sixth gear means you can happily chug along at 110km/h in pretty relaxed fashion. However, it doesn't love steep hills.
The lack of an automatic transmission for now (a dual-clutch auto is coming to higher grades late this year) will clearly count out a number of prospective buyers, however the manual ’box has a nice short throw and well-judged clutch take-up point, and that low-down torque means you can just oscillate between second and third for most urban driving easily enough.
More importantly, it's pretty frugal on fuel, averaging 6.2L/100km in ADR dyno testing, and 7.1L/100km on our test. Pure urban efficiency is rated at 7.2L/100km. Unlike the twin-turbo version, there's no start/stop system fitted, which seems a lost opportunity.
The Trafic rides on 16-inch steel wheels wrapped in decent 205/65 Continental tyres, and as we've found with other Trafics, it's decent to drive.
It rides smoothly over corrugations, the body control is well sorted and settled even unladen, the steering is light though indirect (3.2 turns lock-to-lock) for easy manoeuvring, the turning circle is a decent 11.8m, and the driving position is high and dominant.
The standard configuration is a one-piece lifting tailgate, and unlike other versions of the Trafic, you can't option your way into dual side-opening 270-degree doors designed for forklifts and flush load bays. There's a single (left-hand-side) sliding door.
The cargo area has 12 tie-down points, is 2.54m long (the overall van is 5m long), 1.4m tall and 1.27m between the wheel arches. Cargo capacity is 5.2 cubic-metres and the maximum payload is 1235kg, though volume is more important to the target buyer than weight.
The tow rating is also two tonnes, though we can't imagine you'd make much forward progress.
From an ownership perspective, you get a three-year warranty with no distance limit, three capped-price services at $549 each with reasonable 12-month/30,000km intervals, and up to four years of roadside assist provided you service your Trafic at a Renault dealer.
It's pretty clear the Trafic Trader Life is a van with a pretty specific user case: urban delivery drivers who can get a mid-sized van for a bargain-basement price. We'd suggest spending $4000 to get the 85kW version with essentials such as more power/torque, side airbags, and a spare wheel.
However, if you're on a strict business budget, it might be worth looking in this direction instead of a used HiAce or Volkswagen Transporter, too.