LCV VAN OF THE YEAR WINNER
We crown Renault’s accomplished Trafic mid-sized van as LCV Magazine’s first-ever Van of the Year.
VANS WERE ONCE BARE-BONES LOAD CARRIERS, A SELFpropelled cargo box on wheels, noisy, hard-riding, with vinylupholstered seats.
In-vehicle entertainment came via a National brand transistor radio dangling from the rear-view mirror.
The little radio blared out tinny sound that could barely be heard over the mechanical and road noise and the echoing thrum generated by the unlined steel sides, floor and roof of the loadspace.
The van’s gearbox was always manual and drove the rear wheels, the engine was petrol, the cabin “trim” amounted to vinyl-covered door panels. The bodywork was plain, the grille and bumpers were often painted rather than chromed.
Fast-forward to 2017, and the modern van is a much more civilised vehicle. Aside from those that are offered as people movers, the average van still doesn’t match the car-like cabin that has become the norm in modern utes.
But it’s not far off, and even the most budget models are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
When we sat down to consider awarding our first Van of the Year award, we came up with a set of criteria.
Among them were engine power and refinement; gearbox performance; how well the clutch worked if the van was a manual, and how well the vehicle rode and handled.
We also considered what safety kit and driver-assistance equipment was fitted; how comfortable the driver’s seat was; how easy the controls were to operate, and how fit-for-purpose the vehicle was. The list goes on.
There are 18 different vans on the New Zealand market, and virtually all of them are competent, but there are a number that stand out from the crowd.
They’re not necessarily the sales leaders but they have a mix of attributes that set them apart.
As we worked our way through the list, we came up with three contenders. All were mid-sized and capable of carrying around six cubic metres of cargo, two were front-wheel drive and the other drove the rear wheels.
But as we to-and-fro-ed and looked deeply, one van emerged as the winner – Renault’s Trafic, a van introduced to the market in the second part of last year.
Renault New Zealand markets the Trafic in only one specification, a long-wheelbase van (to gain the dimensions to achieve the six cubic metre load capacity) with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The six-speeder shifts gears swiftly, smoothly and precisely with short throws of the stubby lever mounted atop a pedestal fairing in front of the dashboard.
The clutch is user-friendly and takes up smoothly with no hint of abruptness, and the Trafic’s gearbox/clutch combination works superbly.
We found the Trafic easy to operate in tight city streets and Auckland’s stop/start
traffic, and the van was highly manoeuvrable despite its 3498mm wheelbase and 13.4 metre turning circle.
The nicely-weighted steering is accurate, and the Trafic corners flatly, with mild understeer. In open road running, grip levels are high, the roadholding unshakable and the Trafic is an engaging drive.
The Trafic soaked up bumps and the ride was as good as you’d find in a well-sorted car. We were also impressed by the overall feel of refinement and the van’s quietness even unladen on chipsurfaced roads.
The van’s 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder motor develops a healthy 103kw of maximum power and a useful 340Nm of peak torque at 1500rpm. Acceleration is brisk, and torque delivery meaty.
The idea of a 1600cc engine in a load hauler is a little hard to get your head around, but the unit in the Trafic III is superb, with creamy and seamless torque delivery.
Renault quotes fuel consumption of 6.2 litres/100km on the combined cycle, and the engine has a stop/start system which kills the engine at idle and restarts when you depress the clutch pedal.
The driving position is very good and the driver’s seat is wellshaped and comfortable.
The right-hand seatback in the two-place passenger seat folds forward to create a centre console that includes two cupholders and a clipboard that locks into sockets and can be placed to face either the driver or driver’s mate. There’s also a lidded compartment where paperwork or a laptop computer can be stored.
The Trafic is front-wheel drive which allows Renault to keep the load floor height low, and access to the six cubic metre cargo space is easy through wide dual sliding side doors and rear barn doors that can be opened to 270 degrees.
The loadspace is 3350mm long, though that can be extended on the left side by opening a hatch in the lower part of the standard bulkhead that separate the cargo area from the driver’s cabin. An additional few millimetres can be achieved by folding the passenger’s seat.
There’s 1662mm of maximum width in the load area and 1268mm between the wheelarches.
The low roof – the Trafic is 1971mm tall – means it is covered carpark-friendly, though the 1387mm floor-to-ceiling height of the load area doesn’t allow users to stand upright.
The van’s safety suite includes dual front and side curtain airbags, ABS anti-lock braking with electronic brake distribution and emergency brake assist, electronic stability control, load adaptive control, and hill-start assist.
A traction system improves grip on soft ground, giving the Trafic the ability to work in slippery terrain.
The central door-locking includes a self-locking function that clicks on when the Trafic moves away from rest and the cargo area and cab can be locked together or individually.
The Renault Trafic is a fine van, offering top-drawer performance, driving ease and comfort, has good hauling ability and practicality. It has plenty of safety equipment and there has been some innovative lateral thinking in the way it has been designed, equipped and fitted out.
For us it ticked all the right boxes and we believe it’s a worthy winner of LCV magazine’s first Van of the Year award.
Renault Trafic impressed LCV with its blend of practicality, user-friendliness, features and driving dynamics.
Above: Indented panels relieve the boxiness of the Trafic’s sides. Sharply-raked windscreen provides excellent forward and three-quarter view. Right top: Trafic is extremely easy to get into and out of, an important consideration for delivery drivers.
Right: Steel bulkhead between cabin and loadspace is standard. Long items can be passed through a hatch on the lower left of the bulkhead.
Top: Low body height makes the Trafic city building-friendly.