The design of most Renault product will always look a little quirky. 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 prefer these vans to a small truck, as the drivers can sometimes be phased by a very basic truck’s design.
This is a minimalist dashboard with just a few switches and dials. Navigating across the dashboard from the A-pillar the first thing we find is a hole in the top of the dash, ideal to put my morning coffee, safely within reach. The reversing alarm can be turned on and off here and the headlights adjusted if the van is carrying a heavy load. There is more storage, a small pocket with enough room for mobile phone. Below this is another large pocket.
A simple display right in front of the driver is visible through the steering wheel. Speedometer and tachometer are joined by several indicators for the speed limiter or cruise control. Below this is a very small message screen. The driver can choose what it displays. There’s a fuel and temperature gauge, plus another small screen with a representation of the van showing if any doors are open.
It also displays transmission mode and current gear. When the AMT is put into loaded mode, a small kilogram sign appears on the screen reminder driver. This loaded mode changes the shift pattern to keep the RPM levels higher and make swifter changes. In this mode the fluid clutch locks up much quicker. Unusually, there is no park position on the transmission controller. It is either in drive or neutral. The driver needs to park up, engage handbrake and then move the controller into first gear, to park securely.
To the left of the steering wheel is a stumpy little controller for the indicators. On the right a larger stalk controls wipers and can scroll through options on the small information screen. Here we also find the Renault-only radio controller which is hidden behind the steering wheel. Different, but something Renault has persevered with for many years. The buttons on the steering wheel are there just to modulate the speed controls both speed limit and cruise control.
Centrally in the dashboard there is a screen for the entertainment system. The Master comes with Apple Play so it became an interface for the iPhone. The screen is also used by the reversing camera with coloured guides which prove to be quite precise in enabling the driver to get van at the right distance from a loading position.
Underneath this, and to the left of the transmission controller, is some more substantial storage. The top shelf has two drinks holders and below this is a very large bin. Unfortunately, if the central seat is folded down this large bin is almost impossible to access. Further to the left of this is a large glove box with another storage recess above it, which is also quite substantial.
Now we turn around and look at the seating arrangements. As mentioned before, the middle seat does fold down and here there is more storage including two more drinks holders. There is also a very interesting swivel desk/laptop holder. This is one of those typical quirky Renault fittings. Quite practical but also a little odd.
Overall the cabin felt relatively roomy and would make a decent working environment. There’s enough room to store quite a bit of odds and ends. The big plus is the proliferation of cupholders. It is possible to have six cups of coffee on the go at the same time in a Renault Master, without spilling a drop. This must be some kind of record.