LCV VAN OF THE YEAR WIN­NER

New Zealand LCV - - CONTENTS - BY MIKE STOCK

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.

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