Renault Master 2014: Launch Review

words - Rod Chapman
Renault has beefed up its Master range with three new rear-drive 4.5-tonne variants

Renault Master Single/Dual Cab/Chassis and High Roof LCV

Local Launch
Melbourne, Victoria


What we liked:
>> Easy to drive
>> Large capacity on a car licence
>> Grunty, capable engine

Not so much:
>> No ‘normal’ auto option
>> Automated transmission a little jerky through lower gears
>> Fiddly remote for optional, non-touchscreen sat-nav


OVERVIEW
>> Aussie momentum builds for Renault LCVs
Renault’s biggest LCV (light commercial van) faces stiff competition in the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Fiat Ducato, but the French manufacturer is making a concerted push with its third-generation Master range.

Now bolstered with the addition of three rear-wheel drive variants – Single Cab/Chassis, Dual Cab/Chassis, and a High Roof van, each with a 4500kg GVM – the Master range now comprises a potential 350 configurations. The new rear-drive (RWD) models sit alongside the front-wheel drive (FWD) Masters, the latter comprising two mid-roof models in medium-wheelbase and long-wheelbase formats and with a lighter GVM of 3500kg.

It’s fair to say Renault’s ‘underdog’ status is something of a thorn in its side Down Under, given it’s been Europe’s leading LCV brand for 15 years. The Master and smaller Trafic ranges back up Renault’s number-one seller, the lightweight Kangoo.

Renault Australia’s momentum is building, however, with its year-on-year LCV sales up an impressive 77.5 per cent to the start of November 2013, with 1704 units. The recent contract to supply Trafics and Masters to Australia Post will surely push the marque’s sales and credibility along nicely.

These new models should catch the eye of anyone looking for the enhanced payload and traction a RWD format represents, while the 4500kg GVM means the new Masters can still be driven on a standard car licence.


PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
>> Focus on total cost of ownership
Renault is keen to stress that while its Master pricing remains highly competitive, it’s also attacking the usual array of after-sales costs faced by owners.

“Anyone who focusses just on price to promote their brand is, I believe, doomed to fail,” says Renault Australia’s Managing Director, Justin Hocevar.

Renault says it’s taken several steps to rein in the total cost of LCV ownership, including capped-price servicing ($349 per service for the first three years or 90,000km, whichever comes first) and extended service intervals (now up to 30,000km, as determined by an Oil Condition System). It’s also poised to roll out a number of ‘Pro+’ accredited dealers – Renault dealers who are officially recognised as having considerable LCV experience and expertise.

The new RWD Masters are available as a three-seater Single Cab/Chassis from $45,490 (plus on-road costs) in a 3682mm wheelbase or from $47,490 in a 4332mm wheelbase, as a seven-seater Dual Cab/Chassis from $50,990 (4332mm wheelbase only, plus ORCs), or as a three-seater High Roof van from $50,490 (4332mm wheelbase only, plus ORCs). These prices are for the manual six-speed transmission – for the ZF-sourced Quickshift automated (two pedal) manual six-speeder, add $2500 for the Single/Dual Cab/Chassis models and $2000 for the van.

The trio come standard with antilock brakes, stability control, driver and front passenger airbags, cruise control with variable speed limiter, remote central locking, brake pad wear indicator, power front windows, air-conditioning, chilled glovebox, multifunction trip computer, and CD/MP3 sound system with Bluetooth connectivity including audio streaming.

The High Roof van also comes with an Isringhausen Drivers Suspension Seat and reverse parking sensors while the Dual Cab/Chassis comes with an Eaton automatic differential lock and a storage compartment under the passenger seat.

A Safety & Security Pack ($1890) is available for all three models, comprising auto headlights, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, dual side airbags (NB: not available with the High Roof’s suspension seat), foglights, rear demister, alarm, and cornering lights.

Premium Pack A ($1980) sees the High Roof van kitted out with sat-nav, reversing camera, underseat storage compartment and a door storage bin.

Premium Pack B ($1290) sees the cab/chassis models fitted with sat-nav, underseat storage, door storage bin, glasses storage, and A4 dashboard storage compartment.

A towing pack is also available.


MECHANICAL
>> Rear-wheel power
All three new Masters are powered by a 2.3-litre, four-cylinder, 16-valve, turbocharged and intercooled direct-injection diesel. The engine shares its basic architecture with the front-drive Master models but is mounted longitudinally.

Renault claims 110kW at 3500rpm and 350Nm from 1500-2750rpm for the unit.

A six-speed manual or optional Quickshift transmission transmits to a dual-rear-wheel rear-end.

The gearbox also now offers an electrically engaged power take-off. This can be used to power a hydraulic pump on a tipper, among various other applications.

Renault doesn’t claim any official fuel consumption figures for its new RWD Masters, but it does claim figures for its FWD models, namely 8.7L/100km for the manual transmission (combined cycle) and 10.2L/100km around town. For the Quickshift transmissions, the urban cycle figure is 8.8L/100km.

Renault recently gave this engine what it calls an ‘efficiency makeover’, claiming it has reduced consumption by over eight per cent. Emissions have also fallen for the unit, which is Euro 5 compliant.

These Masters ride on MacPherson-type strut/independent front suspension and leaf rear suspension.

Renault Masters are produced at the SoVAB factory in Batilly, France.


PACKAGING
>> Beefy payloads and towing capacities
Unlike the existing mid-roof Masters, with their 1540-1630kg payloads, the new RWD models have significantly boosted capacity. These range from 2128kg for the Quickshift High Roof van to 2525kg for the shorter wheelbase Single Cab/Chassis (manual). The Dual Cab/Chassis slots in at 2271kg (Quickshift) and 2277kg (manual).

As noted above, all three have a GVM of 4500kg, meaning they can be legally driven on a car licence.

Each boasts a front axle load limit of 1850kg; the High Roof van has a rear axle load limit of 2100kg while the Single/Dual Cab/Chassis models have a rear axle load limit of 3200kg.

Renault says the High Roof van has a voluminous 17m³ of load capacity – that’s a whopping 36 per cent more than the biggest Master previously available. While it has the same wheelbase as the pre-existing long wheelbase model, the capacity increase stems from its rear overhang, which has been boosted from 1024mm to 1674. The cargo bay’s 1765mm width is also unchanged but its internal height has gone from 1894mm to 2048.

The longer of the two Single Cab/Chassis models can be built up to an overall length of nearly 8m, providing nearly 5.5m of loading area. The Dual Cab/Chassis will prove popular for anyone who needs to transport work crews to, from, or between sites. The seating will take three in the front and four in the back, with seatbelts provided for everyone.

Still not enough space for everything you need? The new Masters are also hefty tow tugs. The High Roof has a 2500kg towing capacity; raise that to 3000kg for the Single/Dual Cab/Chassis models.


SAFETY
>> Comprehensive array of standard safety features
The RWD models have a list of standard passive and active safety inclusions that compare well with other vans in this class.

Those standard items include antilock brakes, stability control, front passenger and driver airbags, cruise control, and a variable speed limiter.

Options/accessories include driver and passenger head and side airbags, a reversing camera, auto headlights, fog lights, and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.

However, the Masters are still some way behind some of the high-tech safety options available on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which include a load-sensing stability control system, Blind Spot Assist, Collision Prevention Assist, High Beam Assist and Lane Tracking Assist.


COMPETITIORS
>> Taking on the big boys
While the Master range is facing off with traditional rivals in the form of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Fiat Ducato, and Volkswagen Crafter, Renault says it’s also targeting the massive 4WD ute market.

“The downturn in the building trade means a lot of guys no longer have $60,000 to $70,000 to spend on a fully kitted-out ute, so I think they’re looking for a more practical and intelligent alternative,” Lyndon Healey, Renault LCV boss, told motoring.com.au.

Mercedes-Benz’s four-cylinder dual cab/chassis Sprinter 516 CDI LWB, with a GVM of 4490kg, a wheelbase of 4325mm, a payload of 2275kg, and a towing capacity of 2000kg, starts from $57,190 (plus ORCs), while the single cab/chassis Sprinter 516 CDI LWB starts from $54,190 (plus ORCs).

An equivalent to Renault’s Master High Roof van, the Sprinter 516 CDI LWB Super High Roof, shares the same GVM, wheelbase and towing capacity as its cab/chassis siblings, but has a payload of 1965kg. It starts from $66,180 (plus ORCs).

These Sprinters are powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel said to produce 120kW at 3800rpm and 360Nm from 1400-2400rpm.

Iveco’s Daily, Ford’s 460 Transit (LWB Jumbo Van High Roof), Fiat’s Ducato (XLWB Cab Chassis) and Volkswagen’s Crafter (Single Cab, Dual Cab and Super High Roof van also vie for sales in this category.


ON THE ROAD

>> No experience required
Renault is quick to tout the ease with which its big Masters can be driven, and over the course of a day’s drive through Melbourne’s outskirts, taking in everything from busy industrial estates near Tullamarine airport to highways and undulating country roads, we can only agree. Just about anyone could hop behind the wheel of a new RWD Master and feel both comfortable and familiar within a very short space of time.

We started our day in a Dual Cab/Chassis with AMT Quickshift transmission, with a bit of a step up into the cabin revealing a comfortable yet eminently practical workspace. There are any number of pockets and hidey holes to store a variety of knick-knacks, and the central front seat folds down to reveal a swivelling laptop desk – a nice touch. Cup holders and roof storage adds to the amenity, as does the capacious storage bin under the seating.

Speaking of which, the seating is plush and compliant – it’ll be appreciated over the course of a long day at the coalface.

The steering is light and easy and the turning circle is tighter than we anticipated for an LCV of this size. The automated manual transmission won’t be everyone’s first choice – it’s jerky at lower speeds through the lower gears – but we acclimatised soon enough. Still, there’s nothing difficult about its operation.

Visibility is excellent, with the large windscreen backed up by a decent view through the sizeable rear and side windows (including decent ones in the back row).

The back of a dual cab isn’t usually anyone’s first choice for a journey of any reasonable length but the Master’s isn’t such a poor cousin. It will take four across the back at a pinch but they won’t be sumo wrestlers – it’s more realistic then to say it’ll fit three boofy blokes in a relative degree of comfort.

After our convoy make a quick stop to take on a one-tonne load, we pushed on away from the urban jungle and into the countryside. Now in the Master High Roof van, the ride has smoothed right out with the extra weight while the steel bulkhead eliminated the bulk of the ugly acoustics for which the class is readily associated. This means the experience of enjoying the sound system, with CD/MP3/Bluetooth input, or talking hands free on the phone, isn’t far removed from that a typical passenger car. Ditto the effectiveness of the air-con.

The manual six-speeder was light and responsive and again very easy to use, while some decent gradients posed no problems for the 2.3-litre turbo-diesel, which soldiered on without complaint. It’s a flexible unit and its flat and broad spread of grunt will find plenty of favour.

Another plus for the van is its suspension driver’s seat. A standard feature, it ramps up the comfort another notch between deliveries.

A lunch stop at the Bacchus March speedway and motocross complex gave us the opportunity to put the Dual Cab/Chassis’s offroad credentials to the test – Renault is hoping to entice tradies from their 4WD utes and says its dual cab, with Eaton diff lock, will handle the vast majority of off-road situations such LCVs would likely encounter.

We can’t say who got the bigger surprise – us or the wide-eyed bloke circulating the MX track on his dirt bike – but the Master certainly had no issue with the bumpy terrain.

That left the Single Cab/Chassis for the afternoon’s run back to our start point, which behaved just as competently as its two big brothers. The optional sat-nav sees a large, easy-to-read display mounted high, above the windscreen. It’s a quality unit but it’s accessed by a dash-mounted remote handset that’s a little fiddly – a touchscreen unit would, we think, serve as a better interface.

The third generation of Renault Master represents a significant progression in itself and the expansion of the line-up with these RWD models is sure to catch many canny buyers’ eyes. These Masters are operating in a fiercely competitive environment but their beefy payloads and towing capacities, attractive pricing, numerous standard inclusions and generous aftersales incentives should only see their take-up in this country grow.

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To comment on this article click here Published : Wednesday, 13 November 2013
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