VANS aren’t what they used to be, and we can thank the automotive engineering gods for that, and praise them for the fact the only thing a modern van with the style and engineering of say the 2020 Renault Trafic has with those vehicles is the name ‘van’.
This writer gets cold shivers remembering some of the sheer dreadful ‘old’ vans that were far from ‘good’. In the early 1980s they were quite literally boxes on wheels with the dynamics and stability of a shopping trolley, and ride comfort akin to a horse and cart.
The current crop of vans, like the Trafic, offer great handling, torque and efficient Euro6 turbo diesel engines, and after a long wait for the Renault, a terrific automatic transmission.
We say a long wait because for quite a while the only gearbox available was a manual. But now an automatic is in showrooms, and after a week with this delightful self-shifter, we can tell you it makes the Trafic a much nice, more pleasant drive in urban environs.
Renault calls its automatic the EDC or Efficient Dual Clutch, and this version has been adapted for its commercial van application from their passenger cars. It’s hard to fault, with just one small annoyance, it’s slight hesitation at start up or when manoeuvring.
This however is balanced by the incredibly smooth and crisp gear shifts that keep the diesel in the torque zone, delivering rapid acceleration and fuss free driving. Throw in a more powerful 2.0-litre turbo diesel and its a vastly improved package.
But more on the drive line and performance later. First, let’s climb aboard the Trafic and take a look around the cabin. It is a workhorse so it’s no surprise that the floors are covered with hard wearing vinyl.
The seats are cloth-trimmed and you get a nice vinyl trimmed steering wheel, gear selector and handbrake to add a bit to the utilitarian aspects of the Trafic. While the dash and doors are trimmed in hard plastic, it all has a bit of French chic about it.
This is underlined by the big 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system positioned smack bang in the middle of the dash. Renault has done a great job with it too, as it’s easy to read, and relatively easy to use.
While it doesn’t have a rotary dial to adjust sound, it does have a volume up and down button on a stalk on the lower right hand side of the steering column. This is a bit hard to find when you first climb in, but it’s surprisingly convenient.
Auto engineers and designers need to remember that driver’s have to be able to attend to things like this without taking eyes off the road, which you can do with a dial or one of Renault’s stalk controls.
The Trafic’s audio system includes AM/FM and digital radio, and features Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The driver’s seat is a good design and very comfortable, which is kind of revolutionary for vans.
Renault have done a really terrific job with the Traffic. The seating is firm and supportive and there is plenty of adjustment, with both the steering wheel and the seat, so getting a comfortable position is easy.
Being a work van, the designers have not missed the opportunity to provide plenty of stowage spots around the cabin either, including a nice deep tray atop the dash that can carry paper work and delivery pads, great deep door pockets and three cup holders.
The cup holders, however, are more suitable to an espresso than a latte grande. There is also a great work table/pad holder that becomes visible when the centre seat is folded down. It’s a very practical and well thought out design element.
The other practical storage element is the built-in dash mounted phone holster that sits between the instrument panel and the infotainment screen. A bit like the cup holders though, it’s been made for ‘petite’ phones.
Our iPhone 8 fitted, but only just. Larger iPhone X and 11 variants may struggle to fit in the cradle. Another downside is that while the driver gets a good seat, passengers get a two-person bench seat which is not adjustable.
Now back to the performance we spoke about earlier. The new engine delivers 125kW of power and 380Nm of torque; a significant boost over the 1.6-litre engine it replaces. It pays a small price for all that extra get up and go though.
Fuel economy is officially 7.3-litres/100km for the 2.0-litre turbo diesel, against 6.2-litres from the old power plant. We used more fuel than the official figures though, registering 9.8-litres/100km across our week.
Euro6 compliance means it now uses AdBlue too, which is not too much of a chore, as it doesn’t use much of it and is easily replenished. The upside is much cleaner and less environmentally damaging emissions.
We mostly ran around with an empty cargo area, but did have the chance to load it up with 400kg worth of stuff at one point. Interestingly, the ride and handling of the Renault was impressive either way, and a lot more fun to drive than a lot of other vans.
It sports a massive 1.2-tonne payload and that makes it very attractive for a whole bunch of applications, which makes it better than most utes. The gap between the wheel arches is wide enough for a standard pallet too.
While that’s good, it only has a 1,715kg braked towing capacity. The steering is precise and nicely weighted though, and while it is 5.4m long, it’s actually not too bad and can be quite nippy on city streets. But its 13.2m turning circle could be better.
There’s a solid steel bulkhead right behind the passenger compartment too, for added safety and a little sound deadening. Loading is easy as well, with two sliding doors on either side and outward opening barn doors at the back.
There is also a trap door on the bottom of the left hand side of the bulkhead that can be opened to extend the load area under the passenger seat, increasing the load length to 2.4 metres for things like long lengths of pipe, conduit and timber.
It has a 3-star Euro NCAP safety rating (but no local rating), which isn’t that great, but it does come with front and side airbags, but there are no curtain bags or autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, or lane-departure warning.
It does however get stability control, ABS with EBD, EBA, ESC and hill start assist, as well as reverse camera. Renault offers Trafic buyers a 3-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and capped price yearly servicing (for the first three years or 90,000km).
That said, the 2020 Renault Trafic is a very pleasant, comfortable and fun van to drive, and we feel sure it would be easy to live with as well. The auto makes it easy to drive, it’s practical, and keenly priced at $43,490 plus on-roads.
So if you would like your commercial van with a French accent, the Renault is certainly worth considering, particularly if you are after something that offers a bit more style, handling and performance.
Our test vehicle was provided by Renault Australia. To find out more about the 2020 Renault Traffic, contact your local Renault dealer.