The design of most of its product will always look a little quirky, but it is the driver comforts from Renault which stand out. The company doesn’t go for the conventional if it can demonstrate a little style or introduce a little Gallic ingenuity. This is the case, even in the work horse, Master van, which Diesel News took for a test drive.
The Renault Master van has been with us for sometime now and is a relatively familiar sight on our streets. This is the largest commercial vehicle Renault sell here in Australia and it has had some successes, including an Australia Post contract. It is regarded as a European-style van which will be effective in the kinds of tasks for which it has been designed.
Actually, for all vehicles working in these segments, like the distribution industry, the vehicle must be easy to drive, car-like, otherwise they will not receive acceptance. Most people who drive a van like this will have little experience of anything as large and need to feel secure when driving. This is one of the reasons why some operators these vans to a small truck, as the drivers can sometimes be phased by a very basic truck’s design.
What we are dealing with here is a basic load carrying space, which has to have all of the comforts you would associate with a family car in the cabin. There are certain levels of comfort and convenience which are expected these days.
Underneath about we have a 110 kW turbo diesel engine coupled to an Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) which is remarkably easy to drive, once you realise that it is an AMT and has to be treated accordingly. This could cause issues and Renault will need to back up any sales with full instructions on how to use this AMT.
Anyone familiar with a torque converter auto in a car would be confused by this box. It actually does change gear, so the driver has to modulate the accelerator to a certain extent to make sure the changes are swift and effective. For someone like me who is experienced with AMTs at the heavier end of the truck market, this is a no-brainer but for someone stepping out of a Holden Commodore it might be an issue.
As a work vehicle is a working vehicle, the driver environment is important. POD assessed this van from the point of view of the driver comforts from Renault and what it does for someone who has to live and work in this space.
The van the door opens the full height of the van. As the driver gets in, there are no grab handles on either pillar. The drive simply has to grab the steering wheel and pull themselves in. This is okay, but I wonder whether fleets might look at this as being a problem. On the passenger side (the driver’s side in Europe), there is a grab handle above the door, but not on the driver’s side. Clearly, ingress and egress is not an issue in this part of the commercial vehicle market.
In the door itself there is a well-designed double pocket/bin. This is large enough to fill the step footwell when the door is closed. The rear section can fit two large drink bottles and the front section, although not quite as big, is still really substantial.
Above this and towards the front of the van in the door is another substantial pocket. This storage is excellent and ideal for drivers who will be travelling around all day, getting in and out of the van and may need to take odds and ends with them.
There is quite a rake on the windscreen, so this means there is a big distance between the top of the dashboard and the windscreen itself. In this space the designers have placed a series recesses which are half covered, making them into useful sloping pockets accessible by the driver. They come in various sizes and will be useful places to keep paperwork, tablets, sandwiches, torches etc. There is also a small recess to hold fuel and toll cards for the driver, plus a small one to hold coins for parking meters. This will be useful until we are expected pay all parking fees online.
Among the driver comforts from Renault there are also two shelves overhead, above the driver and passenger seats. The sun-visors fold down from them onto the windscreen. For some reason the shelves have large slots in them. Perhaps this is so that the driver can see if there is anything on the shelf, looking from below?
The van is fitted with an interior rearview mirror, but it is also fitted with three seats. Luckily, the middle seat does fold down so that the driver can actually see through window in the cargo barrier and out through the window in the rear door. When the seat is up all the driver can see is the headrest on the seat.
The best mirror on the vehicle is hidden from sight most of the time. It is actually only visible when you pull down the passenger side sun-visor. At first glance it looks like a mirror to help your passenger put on make up, but it is actually an excellent safety feature. The mirror is quite convex and once it’s flipped down provides the driver with a view into a blindspot area on the passenger side, which is invisible either through the passenger door window or the wing mirror. This is ideal when the van is entering from a side street which, at an angle where it is very difficult to see traffic coming from the left.