The Renault Trafic Crew and an updated Kangoo Compact recently arrived on the Aussie market. Let’s grab the keys to both for a closer look
Isat at the wheel of the Renault Trafic Crew recently looking very much like a goose, though while geese do in fact have tongues, I doubt they poke out of the corner of their beaks while they’re concentrating.
The reason I was looking so perplexed was the Trafic Crew I was sitting in uses Renault’s smart key card, and I was having difficulty fi nding the slot to put it in.
Clearly the reason that it’s called a smart key is that only smart people are allowed to drive Renaults. I was in danger of not making the grade. It turns out that the appropriate slot for the key was right in front of my face. Go figure. KEYCARD In fact, it also turns out that Renault doesn’t officially call it a smart key at all. It calls it a Keycard, which just goes to show how smart I am. Maybe they should call it Your Passport to Remedial Dexterity Training. I was never good with a Shape-O ball.
The Renault Trafic Crew is aimed at expanding the appeal of dual-purpose LCVs for small-business owners as well as providing comfortable wheels for those needing to get staff on site in relative comfort. With the option of seating for six (including the driver), the Trafic crew separates the passengers from the cargo with a glazed bulkhead. The cargo area still has four cubic metres of load area and can handle a payload of a tonne. It will also tow a braked load of a couple of tonnes.
Slowly but surely Europe’s best-selling LCV brand has been chipping away at Aussie van buyers with the aim of providing a light commercial-focused dealer network schooled in the dark arts of keeping working wheels working. One thing that will no doubt appeal to potential van buyers is the Trafic’s 30,000km service intervals as well as the clearly commercial three-year/200,000km warranty. Capped price servicing of $349 for the first three services also applies.
Crew vans aren’t new to the mid-sized van market; all the major players have a crew option. However, this may be the fi rst time that we’ve seen a van that uses the rear seating as a
“It turns out that the appropriate slot for the key was right in front of my face”
plush dedicated passenger compartment rather than utilising a bolt-in or roll-and-tumble bench seat arrangement.
The rather upmarket-looking workhorse I was driving bears more than a passing resemblance to a people mover. In fact, I was even stopped in car parks on a couple of occasions by people wanting to have a closer look but expecting more seats.
This Lifestyle Pack Long Wheel Base Trafic Crew utilises the DCi 140 twin-turbo version of Renault’s diminutive 1.6-litre engine. There is no auto option and the front wheels turn via a 6-speed manual transmission.
The deceptively small DCi donk puts out 103kW (138hp) at 3500rpm and makes 340Nm of torque at a low 1500rpm.
This engine is clearly heavily dependent on sequential turbocharging to gather its oomph. But this also leads Renault to claim a not-too-shabby 6.2L/100km combined in the fuel economy stakes.
The Crew offers two option packs on top of the base crew variant: a vocationally focused Premium Pack that features 17-inch alloy wheels and a 7-inch touchscreen multimedia system with sat-nav; or the more family-friendly Lifestyle Pack.
The Lifestyle adds touches like speakers in the rear and courtesy lighting. Roller blinds for the sliding door windows are also a part of this option. There’s also the choice of a three-across bench-style seat in the front or two single buckets.
While there’s no doubt in my mind that the Trafic Crew would have to be the cushiest crew van currently on the Aussie market, there are still some compromises in the passenger area that remind you of its vocational intentions.
Ventilation, for example, is via a couple of pop-and-slide windows. There are no air vents in the back, so rear-seat passengers have to be nice to those in the front to make sure they keep the AC cranked for the comfort of everybody on board. There are, however, a couple of 12-volt power outlets tucked away back there to keep the charge in passenger gadgets.
The rear passenger compartment is roomy and the seats are quite comfortable, especially when compared to competing crew haulers.
It may only be 1.6 litres, but the DCi engine is a pretty sophisticated hauler. Keeping the tacho needle in the torque range above 1500rpm makes for a civilised drive around town.
The bulkhead nicely isolates the passenger compartment and cockpit; there’s none of the cavernous rumble that you get from competing rear-drive crew vans.
“The Trac Crew would have to be the cushiest crew van currently on the Aussie market”
Of course, from an Aussie point of view, the lack of an auto means that the Trafic won’t be able to realise its full sales potential locally.
Not that there are any complaints from me on that regard; the 6-speed stick shift is easy to stir and the driving position is comfortable and ergonomic.
I’m not so keen on the key card ignition, though. It feels like a bit of a gimmick.
UTE OR VAN?
There are obvious comparisons between this van and a dual-cab ute.
These days, utes are getting more and more lifestyle focused, and the Trafic Crew does do a better job than most in melding together a dual-purpose van. There’s also a 6-seater option.
The added bonus is also a much more usable load area and a slightly better payload capacity. Plus, with barn doors and
room for a pallet in the back, it’s a hell of a lot more versatile.
Pint-Sized Petrol Kangoo
I stood in front of the little blue van, contemplating it with a critical eye. The van glared back … well, as much as a van with a happy bug-eyed stare can glare. Which, of course, it can’t, because it’s a van, and to assign some sort of emotion or machine intelligence to it would be silly … because it’s a van. You’ll have to excuse the Dr Seuss moment.
Staring contests aside, the Kangoo and I have never really gelled. It’s not because of any particular failing, it’s just because the Kangoo seems a little wonky and weird.
I think it’s just a styling thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure Renault is probably sick of me using the words “wonky” and “styling” in the same sentence. I’ll try to stop.
The short-wheelbase front-wheel drive Kangoo Compact scored a 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine earlier this year and, just as significantly, this also now comes with a 6-speed EDC dual- clutch automated transmission. This drivetrain is also shared with the Clio and Megane passenger car models, though in this case with a tweak for extra torque.
The drivetrain replaces the outgoing 1.6-litre petrol and 4-speed AMT model. The little 1.2 uses forced induction to make 84kW (113hp) at 4500rpm and puts out 190Nm of torque at 2000rpm.
This Kangoo is also offered with a 6-speed manual ‘box as well.
The engine sees a 30 per cent gain in torque over the old 1.6 it replaces and a touted gain in fuel economy at a claimed 6.2L/100km
In the back are three cubic metres of load space; manual variants can carry 675kg while the AMT-equipped models can carry up to 540kg.
The manual Kangoo is also rated to tow 1050kg (braked). Towing behind the auto, though, is a no-no.
The baby Renault has also seen improvements in NVH with more load-area insulation to address the inevitable resonant rumble from the rear.
There are plenty of load-area options for the little van: from a retractable roof flap over the load area to a fold-flat passenger seat and swiveling load barrier.
The petrol power plant and EDC gearbox are a nicely integrated unit. As far as AMTs go, the EDC auto is not bad. It does hesitate and bog down a little behind the revvy little engine but once it gets some pace up it does pretty well.
Clutch engagement on the EDC auto was a little hesitant on occasion, mainly when low-speed parking. However, it’s a much more decisive unit than the DSG ‘box found in the competing base Volkswagen Caddy.
The addition of a couple of extra gear
“There’s a very denite sense of space around the driver”
ratios to the auto has dropped cruising rpm significantly, making it a much nicer drive when cruising.
As a base van, the interior of the Compact is pretty spartan, which makes sense as a fleet vehicle. However, tick a couple of option boxes and you’ll have a touchscreen media unit and a reverse camera, which rounds out the Compact nicely.
The blank spots where these options sit in the dashboard on the base vehicle unfortunately remind you of what you haven’t got. Which then makes me feel sad and unloved, which then makes me want to eat burgers.
There’s a very defi nite sense of space around the driver. The windscreen and roof are a long way from the driver; it kind of feels like you are in a bubble, though not in a particularly bad way. Consequently, visibility is excellent and it’s very much at home plying the city streets. Sliding doors on both sides make for easy cargo bay access, and the load area is easy to work with.
I didn’t carry a huge amount of weight in the back, though I am guilty of fi lling it with Land Rover parts, but that’s a whole different story. Needless to say the mission was accomplished successfully.
NVH levels are also pretty good; it is, after all, a little tin shed on wheels.
SLICK AND SOPHISTICATED DRIVETRAIN
The Kangoo Compact has become quite a slick and sophisticated little parcel hauler, and the driveline works well – even with the AMT.
This van has a hard job ahead of it trying to lure potential Caddy buyers into the Renault fold. But the reality is that if you’re after a little auto work van, the base Kangoo is actually nicer to drive than the V-dub around town.
But it’s the Trafic that I find quite interesting. The base Crew variant is a $3500 option over the current standard van.
It’s like a dual-cab ute for people that dig vans, and it also has the option of being a 6-seater. And, to be honest, it drives better than a ute and is far more economical. It just doesn’t have the tough guy image.
The lack of an auto rightly or wrongly hamstrings its appeal.
That said, it’s a smart option for those that are into hauling both people and product.
Opposite: The Trac Crew looks a little less vocational than a lot of the competition
Above: The Kangoo’s drivetrain is shared with the Clio and Megane passenger car models
Top: The Trac’s well-laidout interior makes for easy operation, except maybe for the ignition key
Opposite below: Enough room for a pallet and a onetonne payload
Above L to R: The Keycard ignition key feels a little gimmicky; It … er … took me a little while to nd the key slot
Opposite top L to R: Easy forklift access at the rear; It all seems a little posh in the back. The seats and seating position are comfy enough
Opposite top to bottom: It ain’t fancy, but it works. The gear indication display on the instrument cluster takes a little getting used to, though; Plenty of room for an Aussie-sized pallet, though you’ll need to opt for barn doors at the rear if you want forklift access; The neat little 1.2 petrol actually has more torque than the 1.6 it replaces Top: Well, it is kinda cute