Delivery vans – and trucks – kept Australia moving throughout the coronavirus crisis, as consumers shopped from home and ordered goods online.
So, it comes as no surprise that demand for some of our biggest delivery vans – such as the 2021 Renault Master – remained relatively stable as the brakes were slammed on new-car sales during the pandemic.
The most popular types of vans sold in Australia are models such as the Toyota HiAce, Hyundai iLoad and Ford Transit. However, there is a van category another size up. They’re tall enough to stand in and big enough to move house with. But you can forget trying to fit in undercover car parks or negotiating fast food drive-thrus. In vans like these, you end up doing a lot more walking. Good thing I need the exercise.
There are three body sizes available in the Renault Master range, in short-, medium-, and long-wheelbase, with a choice of low or medium roof heights depending on the vehicle length.
Based on the current available offers as this article was published in March 2021, the Renault Master short-wheelbase low roof starts from $45,490 drive-away, the mid-wheelbase mid-roof starts from $48,490 drive-away, and the long-wheelbase mid-roof starts from $50,490 drive-away.
An automatic transmission (in fact, a robotised manual) normally adds $2500, but was a $2000 option during this promotion.
The above models are front-wheel drive. The long-wheelbase version is also available as a rear-wheel-drive mid-roof; however, it was listed at full retail ($52,990 plus on-road costs).
We reviewed the 2021 Renault Master mid-wheelbase mid-roof with six-speed manual, which is priced from $48,490 drive-away at the time of our road test.
Standard features include air-conditioning, cruise control, remote central locking, a rear camera and sensors (though not front sensors), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and embedded navigation.
The Master also has a handy large foiled mirror on the back of the passenger’s sun visor, which when positioned correctly helps spot traffic in the adjacent lane – in addition to the twin external lens mirrors.
While the Renault Master has the basics covered (listed above), it lacks the mod cons of newer vans. It is one of the oldest vans in its segment (the latest-generation Mercedes and Volkswagen vans arrived within the past few years), having been introduced in 2012.
Renault has changed the front-end appearance twice over the past decade. The first update arrived in early 2015 and this latest change went on sale in early 2020. But the core structure and most body panels on the Renault Master are nine years old, which is towards the end of the model life cycle for most vans.
Ageing bones and a lack of technology are perhaps why the Renault Master scores a “not recommended” safety rating from Euro NCAP. Although vans of this size are not independently crash-tested despite the amount of time they spend on the road, the European safety authority was damning in its assessment of crash-avoidance features:
“Overall, a disappointing performance from the (Renault) Master. Little safety equipment is offered even as an option. The performance of those safety features which are available was mediocre and there are better choices for buyers of commercial vans who are interested in safety.”
For an organisation known for its diplomacy, this is as direct as it gets.
The Renault Master sold in Australia has autonomous emergency braking, but the technology was deemed by Euro NCAP to perform poorly or was ineffective.
“When tested with a stationary car in front, the system failed to respond in the great majority of cases,” reported Euro NCAP. “There was some avoidance of collisions and some mitigation only at the very lowest test speeds. When approaching the rear of a slower-moving car, the system performed much better, with collisions avoided or mitigated in most cases.”
However, Euro NCAP noted: “Overall, the performance was rated as marginal” and “the system does not recognise vulnerable road users (such as) pedestrians and cyclists”.
Lane-departure warning – though not lane-keeping – is available as an option; however, when tested the technology “failed Euro NCAP’s requirements when the lane edge was marked by a dashed line”.
In terms of occupant protection, we don’t know how the Renault Master or its rivals perform in a crash. However, the Renault Trafic van sibling scored a mediocre three-star crash rating in 2015, and the Mitsubishi-badged version of the same van scored a zero-star rating when tested to 2020 safety protocols.
Should the worst happen, the Renault Master has two frontal impact airbags and one driver’s side airbag. On the standard three-seater models, the front passenger has no side-impact airbag protection.A passenger-side airbag is available when the Renault Master is optioned as a two-seater; however, the driver loses suspension seating.
A rear camera is standard on all models, but only Renault Masters equipped with a manual transmission have rear parking sensors.
Blind-zone warning and lane-departure warning are part of an option pack on manual models – but not available on automatic models.
While vans in the next class size down – such as the Toyota HiAce, Ford Transit and VW Transporter – are available with, or have as standard, the latest safety aids, the Renault Master's van category remains left behind.
Given the long model life cycle of these vehicles, buyers will need to wait for a generational change to see meaningful safety improvements.
The warranty is five years/200,000km, whichever comes first. Ford and Volkswagen offer five years/unlimited kilometres.
Service intervals are 12 months/30,000km, whichever comes first. The first three visits for routine maintenance cost $599 each, while the fourth-year/120,000km service is listed at $1259, before returning to $599 for the fifth-year/160,000km service. Beyond that, you’ll need to negotiate service pricing.
|Renault Master mid-wheelbase||Toyota HiAce SLWB||Ford Transit 350L front-wheel drive||Ford Transit 350L rear-wheel drive|
|RRP (plus on-roads)||$48,490||$53,240||$53,590||$54,090|
|Drive-away price (at time of publication)||$48,490||$55,106||$51,990||$52,490|
|Engine||2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel||2.8-litre four-cylinder single-turbo diesel||2.0-litre four-cylinder single-turbo diesel||2.0-litre four-cylinder single-turbo diesel|
|Power||120kW @ 3500rpm||130kW @ 3400rpm||125kW @ 3500rpm||125kW @ 3500rpm|
|Torque||360Nm @ 1500rpm||450Nm @ 1600 to 2400rpm||390Nm @ 1600 to 2300rpm||390Nm @ 1600 to 2300rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed manual||Six-speed auto||Six-speed auto||10-speed auto|
|Driven wheels||Front-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel economy label||Not required||8.4L/100km||Not required||Not required|
|Fuel use on test||7.8L/100km||NA||NA||NA|
|Gross vehicle mass||3510kg||3500kg||3550kg||3550kg|
|Fuel tank capacity||100L||70L||72L||95L|
|AdBlue||No||No||Yes, 21L||Yes, 21L|
|Rear door type||Barn doors||Liftback||Barn doors||Barn doors|
|ANCAP safety score||Unrated||5 stars (2019)||Unrated||Unrated|
|Autonomous emergency braking||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Radar cruise control||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Rear cross-traffic alert||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Speed sign recognition||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Digital speed display||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Service intervals||1 year/30,000km||6 months/10,000km||1 year/30,000km||1 year/30,000km|
|Warranty||5 years/200,000km||5 years/160,000km||5 years/unlimited km||5 years/unlimited km|
On the road
The Renault Master mid-wheelbase mid-roof manual tested was powered by a twin-turbo 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesel (120kW/360Nm) matched to a six-speed manual driving the front wheels. Its payload is rated at 1623kg – modest versus its rivals.
Empty vessels make the most noise, and the Renault Master can be rowdy on coarse road surfaces when there’s nothing in the back to mute the racket. However, aided in part by the cargo barrier, the road noise wasn’t unbearable and was acceptable for a delivery van.
To save your voice, you may prefer to wear earbud headphones when talking on the phone rather than Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or Bluetooth.
We didn’t get to test the Renault Master with a load, but unladen the engine was perky enough around town and on the open road.
As a guide to its performance, it did 0–100km/h in 12.2 seconds, which is a touch slower than, say, a double-cab ute (9.5 to 11.5 seconds), but quicker than the new LDV Deliver 9 (15.2 seconds). A full load would of course blunt performance.
Braking was fair for the class, aided in part by quality Michelin tyres, stopping from 100km/h in 44.2m (about three or four metres longer than a double-cab ute) and slightly better than the LDV Deliver 9 (45.5m), which we happened to have at the same time as the Renault Master.
The cabin is roomy and practical. There’s plenty of storage in the dash and doors, and in the roof console across the front of the cabin.There’s one 12V socket and one USB charge port for a three-seater cabin, so someone is going to miss out when three-up.
Handy under-seat storage below the twin-passenger bench seat is accessed by lifting up the centre cushion and/or passenger-side cushion. It’s a great place to store valuables and can easily accommodate a laptop or a tool bag.
The suspension is comfortable (for a van) and visibility is generally good. The low- and high-beam halogen headlights were average on dark country roads. The rear camera displays a fuzzy image when reversing at night, presumably due to the low-resolution lens.
The turning circle is fair for a van of this size. The mid-wheelbase needs 13.6m of clearance to make a U-turn (versus 11.8–12.8m for most double-cab utes). The short-wheelbase Renault Master’s turning circle was an impressive 12.0m and the long-wheelbase was a vast 15.7m. Probably best to go around the block in that one.
Rear barn doors open at 90 degrees or 270 degrees if you need to back up to a loading dock. A sliding cargo door is standard on the passenger side. A driver’s side sliding door is optional.
On my drive test loop, which included mostly inter-urban and freeway driving, the empty Renault Master returned a fuel consumption average of 7.8L/100km, which is respectable for such a large, blunt object pushing air out of the way at speed. With a massive 100L fuel tank, the gauge showed more than 1100km of driving range.
Overall, the 2021 Renault Master is a practical full-size van that gets the job done in relative comfort. Unfortunately, it’s part of a category of vehicles that has not prioritised advanced safety – despite the likely distances these vehicles travel and the time they spend on the road.