There’s big news in the Renault Trafic range, with the addition of an automatic transmission at long last.
In the case of the 2020 Renault Trafic Crew, the new automatic, a version of the Efficient Dual Clutch (or EDC) adapted from Renault passenger cars, is the only transmission – though freight-carrying commercial vans get a choice of auto or manual.
Externally, you’ll pick the new Trafic Crew from a subtly tweaked front end, but behind the wheel you’re more likely to notice a new-to-the-range 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine that makes this Trafic the most powerful yet.
The Trafic Crew has another ace up its sleeve with seating for six, whereas the best mainstream utes can manage is five passengers. Payload is an impressive 1066kg, while most of the twin-cab utes stop just shy of hauling a tonne.
The buy-in isn’t exactly bargain basement, but the single-spec Trafic Crew is priced from $52,490 plus on-road costs, with an extra $800 on top for metallic paint like the Jet Black of this example.
Standard features fit the expectations for that price – straddling the line between workhorse rugged and family comfortable.
You get vinyl floors but cloth-trimmed seats with heating for the driver. A leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear selector and handbrake, but it keeps the tradie-spec hard plastics for the dash and doors, with every conceivable bit of spare space in the dash and lower doors dedicated to oddments storage.
Standard features include keyless entry and start (including keyless tailgate access), single-zone automatic climate control, auto lights and wipers, self-dimming interior mirror, heated exterior mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, manually sliding rear door glass with pull-down sunshades, rear privacy tint, cruise control with speed limiter, and LED headlights including new LED daytime running lights.
Infotainment is via a new 7.0-inch touchscreen system. Not only is it much more responsive to user inputs and simpler to use, but it also includes AM/FM/DAB radio, inbuilt navigation, Bluetooth, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
There’s also a handy phone holster mounted alongside the screen, (though the legalities of use may vary depending on your state of residence and type of licence you hold) but age betrays it. It’s a touch small for most modern smartphones and bulky tradie cases render it useless.
In terms of access and comfort, dual manual-sliding rear doors are standard, along with 180-degree-opening rear barn doors, though a single-piece swing-up tailgate is available as an option. The two-person front passenger bench is standard but lacks adjustment; however, an adjustable single seat can be optioned.
Adult passengers up front complained of a too-soft seat base, which tended to collapse on the outboard side with an average-sized Aussie bloke on board, slanting them uncomfortably towards the door. The lack of adjustment also created its own set of problems – not everyone found the very upright fixed position a natural fit.
Rear seats get fold-down armrests, and each of the three individual seats has its own recline adjustment. Storage abounds, with oddments storage under the leading edge of the rear row, and a huge under-seat bin beneath the front passenger seats.
In a quirk of specifications, the rear seats do feature ISOFIX anchor points, but not top-tether mounts that are legally required for passenger vehicles, but not commercial vehicles in Australia, the Trafic Crew is classified as the latter. An accessory kit is available from Renault to remedy this, but it means you can’t simply clip in an ISOFIX seat with the vehicle as-is due to the requirement for a tether strap here.
Despite what looks like compact leg room, the rear row is actually surprisingly spacious. That's because with the upright seating, there’s no real need to stretch your legs forward, but the ability to add a few degrees of recline makes a big difference on longer journeys.
Rear passengers also get individual aimable map lights and extra rear speakers for any morale-boosting sing-alongs. There’s no ventilation to the rear, and only one 12V outlet in the back hiding from view under the right-rear seat.
The driver’s seat, with height and lumbar adjust, is easy to get settled behind in conjunction with a tilt- and reach-adjustable steering wheel. It is a firm and flat seat, though, so long hours behind the wheel aren’t always the most comfortable.
Unfortunately, in its journey from Euro-spec left-hand drive to right-hand drive, the steering wheel is offset to the right and there’s no driver’s footrest. Oddly, though, and betraying its origins, the passenger’s foot well does still have a footrest to the left of the foot well, which serves no real purpose at all.
Far and away, the biggest drawcard for the Trafic Crew this time around is the addition of a much-needed automatic transmission. Previously, the Trafic Crew was manual only, ruling it out for a large portion of interested buyers.
The new transmission also brings with it an upsized engine, so outputs for the single-turbo 2.0-litre grow to 125kW at 3500rpm and 380Nm at 1500rpm, or a step up of 22kW and 40Nm over last year’s 1.6-litre twin-turbo engine.
Official fuel figures for the new engine are pegged at 7.3L/100km, while the smaller engine had a 6.2L/100km figure. You’ll struggle to match those in the real world, but on an urban-biased circuit, the box-fresh van we drove showed a still-workable 9.2L/100km. The new engine also wears Euro 6 compliance in place of the Euro 5 emissions labelling for manual models, which means AdBlue additive is also required.
In busy traffic, the auto makes perfect sense. There’s less to fuss with on the go, even though the manual itself is no chore, but the EDC auto just makes things simpler again.
There’s a bit of a delay between lifting off the brake and the transmission rolling into action. It may catch you off guard at first, but once you know how it works, it’s easier to preemptively get the process going that fraction of a second earlier for changing lights or to catch a gap in traffic.
To save fuel, there’s a switchable engine stop/start system. It, too, takes a moment to spring to life (add another fraction of a second at the lights for it, plus the transmission), but more worryingly it failed to reactivate for me on one occasion, leaving me stranded at one of the busiest intersections in Melbourne.
Of smaller magnitude, though still an opportunity to improve, minor quality issues in this particular car included two loose trim pieces, while the left-hand A-pillar trim and the wiring harness cable cover in the cargo bay were ill-fitted and loose respectively. Seconds to adjust when next you’re at the dealer, but little quality glitches owners would rather not see.
Dynamically, the Trafic automatic puts on a good show. The engine is robust and torquey to provide useful acceleration, and the transmission is fluent, though perhaps not as clinically precise as similar dual-clutch designs from Volkswagen.
Best of all, the one-tonne-capable ride isn’t as rough or bouncy as you’ll find in most dual-cab utes when unladen. We didn’t get to try it out with a full payload, but a little extra weight in the back didn’t seem to erode passenger comfort.
The steering is light, which is handy, because at 5.4m long you might find some spaces require a little extra wheel-twirling to get into. The 13.2m turning circle isn’t exactly compact either, especially compared to the new HiAce that feels like it can turn on a dime.
It is a little hard to avoid the boomy noise that comes from a large empty box at the back. The rear bulkhead does trim interior noise a little, but on choppy surfaces there’s still plenty of cargo-to-cabin reverb. That should improve by the time you’ve stocked the rear out with your required fit-out.
Exterior dimensions are shared with the long-body Trafic – crucially, inside that translates to 1740mm of standard load length, or up to 2423mm at the flow-level load-through flap. Cargo width is 1662mm down to 1268mm between the wheel arches, so it's still big enough to load a pallet into if you need to.
The result is a 4.0-cubic-metre cargo hold, which is not too bad considering a short-body Trafic van provides 5.2 cubic metres.
In standard form, the lower cargo area is partially trimmed, but the floor is finished in painted metal. An optional Trade Pack builds on this with a non-slip wooden floor, full-height plywood side cladding, LED strip lighting in the ceiling, plus an anti-theft spare wheel holder and heavy-duty battery for $1400.
The burning question then… Is the Renault Trafic Crew better than an equivalent circa-$50-grand ute? It’s certainly a viable alternative – maybe not for everyone, naturally, but capable as a cross-breed family hauler and weekday workhorse.
With power sent to the front wheels, it can’t head off the beaten track like a 4x4 ute can, though there is a low-traction-surface setting for the traction control, but don’t expect miracles from it. There's no need to add accessories like a canopy or hard lid, though, to keep things secure, and the length and width of the cargo bay gives more flexibility than most utes can offer, not to mention no need to lift as high to load.
Towing capacity is a scant 1630kg next to the best of the ute brigade at 3500kg, but in situations where it's essential to carry a driver and five passengers, there’s simply no dual-cab that can do the job. Not every dual-cab 4x4 ute needs to be a rough and rugged outback warrior, and if that’s the case, the Trafic Crew could quite easily step in.
Service intervals are a high-mileage-friendly 12 months or 30,000km, with the first three capped-price visits priced at $599 each. Renault also caps the price of additional service items beyond the capped-price term with coolant and brake fluid at $132 and $66 respectively (60,000km or four years), engine serpentine belt $506 (90,000km or four years) and transmission fluid $599 (90,000km or six years).
Past owners of Euro vans probably won’t see anything too surprising in that schedule, but HiAce and iLoad owners may need to adjust their maintenance budgets. Renault's warranty covers the Trafic for three years with no kilometre cap.
On the safety side, Renault doesn’t quite live up to the best in the class. There are no Australian crash-test results, but Euro NCAP awarded a low three-star result in 2015 (applicable to LHD people-mover versions) with an adult occupant protection rating of only 52 per cent.
Against 2019 criteria that rating would only be lower, and while there are front and side airbags for the front row, there are no curtain bags or supplemental protection for rear seat occupants. Other must-haves in a modern context like autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and similar systems are all absent from both the standard or optional features list.
Renault ticks plenty of boxes with the Trafic Crew. It’s now easier to operate in an urban setting thanks to its new automatic transmission, it’s configured to handle work and play, and it can fit a family and their gear with ease.
Unfortunately, in the fast-paced automotive world, it lacks the kind of family-first safety tech to make it a must-have. While it is a viable alternative to the practicality of a dual-cab ute, its credentials elsewhere don’t give it the edge it should probably have.