Late last year, Renault announced an overhaul to its LCV range, and as such, the 2020 Renault Trafic finally got the automatic gearbox we’ve all wanted, along with a new 2.0-litre diesel engine. The Trafic has been a popular van in Australia for some time, and now with an automatic, it’s more primed than ever to take the fight to the established brigade.
That established brigade is more accomplished than it’s ever been before, though.
The centrepiece, then, of our week with the Trafic is the powertrain – a 2.0-litre diesel making 125kW at 3500rpm and 380Nm at 1500rpm. It’s front-wheel drive, of course, and uses a claimed 7.3L/100km on the combined cycle – quite frugal, then. The Trafic has a payload of 1250kg and a braked tow capacity of just over 1600kg, which is more than enough for what van owners will need.
That new 2.0-litre is mated to a six-speed sports automatic – or EDC – transmission. A dual-clutch might not seem the most obvious choice for a commercial vehicle, but such is the European way. Still, I reserve my enthusiasm on that – for mine, the best dual-clutch transmissions ply their trade at redline on a racetrack, not so much during give and take driving around town.
Against that 7.3L/100km claim, we used an indicated 8.5L/100km almost entirely around town during our week with the Trafic – pretty frugal for a working tool of trade. Pricing for our test Trafic starts from $45,490 before on-road costs.
External changes are few, with some minor styling revisions sharpening up the front end, along with LED headlights and a new DRL signature as well. Our test Trafic has twin sliding doors along the sides, and a double side-opening barn door arrangement at the rear, though it's possible to delete the right sliding door or order a top-hinged one-piece tailgate as options.
Step up into the cabin, and to be honest, it’s quite premium in the way Renault has executed both the design and finish. The van segment has undoubtedly moved forward in recent years – think new Toyota HiAce and Ford Transit Custom specifically – but the Renault remains one of the more premium-feeling cabins.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen looks just about right, size-wise, inside what is a broad dashboard. The touch functionality works well and is clear. You get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and on test we found CarPlay to work faultlessly. There’s the requisite USB input and a 12V power socket close by, as well.
The clarity of the audio system – for both music and phone calls – was impressive. Sometimes in the commercial segment you need to crank the volume right up to make the most of poor speakers, but the Trafic was crystal clear during our test.
There’s a bit to get familiar with in terms of control functionality around the steering wheel, but the wheel itself has a nice chunky feel to it, befitting the commercial nature of the Trafic itself. Our tester had a clever fixed smartphone bracket mount, but you won’t fit the larger phones or ones wrapped in a tradie case into the bracket. Smaller phones are held in there securely, though. The cruise-control features are easy enough to decipher, and cruise control itself works smoothly on the freeway, too.
Storage space is an interesting one. A few of us at CarAdvice thought the Trafic could do with more useful cabin storage. There is storage space, of course, but not as much as some of the best in the segment. Keep in mind, too, that storage space atop the dash is effectively useless in an Australian summer, no matter how much you have, certainly for anything valuable anyway.
The seats move far enough away from the dash to feel comfortable, and there’s plenty of footwell space for the passenger, too. The driver can get into a comfortable position (the seat is height-, reach- and lumbar-adjustable) and the seats themselves are firm without being too hard. The driver also gets an armrest. We took the Trafic out on a few longer drives and the seats remained comfortable.
Visibility, especially, is excellent, and something that is hugely valuable in a commercial vehicle of any kind. We found that the air-conditioning had to work reasonably hard to cool the cabin down on a particularly warm day of testing, but the partition panel fitted to our tester meant that you have the best chance of staying comfortable – warm or cool – and staying separated from whatever is in the cargo space.
Given the, let’s say sporty, nature of the transmission, the Trafic actually gets up to speed quite sharply. In fact, it feels light on its feet and nimble in the way it moves off from a standstill. That’s aided as much by the punchy diesel as it is the transmission. Peak torque of 380Nm available just off idle at 1500rpm does wonders around town from the get-go.
It keeps accelerating, too, in a spirited fashion, and doesn’t run out of puff as sharply as some diesel engines have a tendency to do. On the upshift, the gearbox slices through the ratios cleanly. On the downshift, you feel it more and there can be the occasional hesitation. That’s a DCT thing in general, though, and even the best of them haven’t been able to eradicate that behaviour completely.
The turning circle and the way it handles the daily grind are both impressive. You can really manhandle the Trafic, through – ahem – traffic effortlessly, and it’s a cinch to navigate through tight city streets, as well. This van is going to ply its trade in exactly that situation, of course, and it does the job easily.
The clear rear-view camera helps out here, too, especially with reverse-parking in tighter spots. Likewise, the broad exterior rear-view mirrors help with parking manoeuvres and getting into and out of loading docks. The snubby nose and high seating position are also excellent for this type of driving.
I was initially surprised by the refined nature of the engine. You might expect it when you’re cruising along and maintaining speed, but it stays nicely muted, even when you work it a bit harder. I guess I shouldn’t be, this is a Renault after all, but it’s impressive for a commercial application to be as well rounded as this is.
A quick trip with a pallet holding somewhere between 500–600kg indicated that the engine can deal with weight over the rear axle easily, too. You know you’ve added the heft, but it doesn’t affect acceleration the way weight used to in the bad old days of vanning.
The ride – laden or unladen – is properly insulated, and the Trafic isn’t upset by the usual pockmarked and shoddily patched streets we get to experience in our large cities. The van itself doesn’t feel hollow or tinny, either, when you are negotiating your way over dodgy surfaces. It feels quite solid and well put together.
Again, the partition helps here, but it’s still a fact that the Trafic is a solidly built van. In general, the drive experience is such that you can imagine spending a lot of time behind the wheel, which is exactly what drivers of the Trafic will be doing.
While some of you will prefer a top-hinged cargo door, I like the flexibility of the barn doors, and they can be opened right out to square with the side, which makes the loading of wider goods a lot easier. As we noted with our LDV review recently, sliding doors on each side make a lot of sense, too. There are 16 useful tie-downs in the back, but we’d like to see a proper floor mat or non-slip covering of some kind as standard.
On that subject, though, I’d recommend buyers tick the box for the $1400 Trade Pack, which brings with it: anti-slip wooden floor, full-height cargo area wall lining, heavy-duty battery, anti-theft spare wheel basket and LED ceiling lights. It’s hard to argue with the value of that package.
The Trafic doesn’t yet have an ANCAP rating, and it isn’t available with AEB. It does have traction control, trailer stability control and six airbags, along with EBD, ESC and hill start assist. Rear parking sensors team with the aforementioned rear-view camera to make parking a breeze.
The Trafic is covered by a three-year/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty. Servicing intervals are 30,000km or every 12 months, with Renault claiming its data shows that most owners can easily cover 30,000km in one year. Capped-price servicing is also offered costing $549 for each of the first three scheduled services. Buyers also get roadside assistance for four years.
The Renault Trafic really is a quality van that does exactly what you need it to do, but it does so with a measure of class and composure. The issue it now faces is the significant improvement to both the HiAce and Transit Custom. Whereas it would have once been an unfair fight, the Renault now needs some updates to compete on a level playing field.
Still, it’s an option you should be considering, and it’s not hard to work out why it’s the second-best-selling vehicle in the Renault stable after the Koleos SUV.