Everything in life is a compromise. If that sounds like a glass-half-empty statement then the 2017 Renault Trafic Crew at least tries to gun for a positive half-full outlook.
After all, the Trafic is one of Europe’s best-known commercial vans. But these days tradespeople are buying dual-cab utes with a back seat for the younger part of the family, even if they might not use it off-road. However, none come with six seats and all of the Ford Ranger crew compromise load space.
Enter the Trafic Crew. It has no off-road pretension and it claims no mighty towing capacity (just two tonnes, as an aside). It is also massive at 5.4 metres long and looks very obviously like the van that it is. No rugged, butch dual-cab here.
This Renault also, however, offers two rows of three seats, a gutsy yet economical turbo-diesel engine, and yet it still offers 4000 litres of boot space. A proper people mover such as the Honda Odyssey manages less than a tenth of that – just 330L.
Vehicle Style: People mover
Price: $42,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 103kW/340Nm 1.6 four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel | six-speed manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.2 L/100km | Tested: 8.5 L/100km
The question is, of course, whether the Renault Trafic Crew can mix the tradie utility of a Ranger with the space and versatility of an Odyssey to be seen as a fine blend; or just a sore compromise?
Priced from $42,990 plus on-road costs, this is a bare-bones affair. The entry version is clearly not for the family, but rather workmates, or a ‘crew’. However, while a $3790 Lifestyle Package option at first seems costly, it is actually fantastic value.
For what becomes a $46,780 (plus orc) proposition – although sadly for our auto-loving market this remains a manual-only affair – a buyer now picks up everything from alloy wheels to a big touchscreen with navigation, from keyless auto-entry to dual-zone climate control and heated seats; and even LED rear map lights.
Suddenly, the worker van with seats might just become something far more evolved.
- Standard Equipment: Cruise control, manual air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and automatic headlights/wipers.
- Infotainment: Radio/CD player with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and two speakers.
- Options Fitted: Lifestyle Package ($3790 – including 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, 7.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and four speakers, heated front seats, premium dash trim with dual-zone climate control, dual sliding doors with sunblinds, and reclining rear seats with entrance light and overhead LED map lights).
- Cargo Volume: 4000 litres.
Apparently all SUV buyers love a high driving position. If that is the case, then a Trafic is the vehicle to raise a smile with such buyers thanks to the Renault’s ability to perch front occupants up even higher than the average soft roader.
With a short, stubby bonnet and extraordinarily tall door trims leading to vinyl flooring, there is never any doubt that this is absolutely a commercial van. However, that is not the end of the story.
The dashboard offers plenty of storage spots, and the textured hard plastic trim is actually both nicely stylised and neatly screwed together (in native France).
There’s a lovely leather-wrapped steering wheel, digital instrumentation and climate controls from Clio top model grades, and Renault’s adequately intuitive R-Link infotainment system with decent graphics and functions. It blends panache missing from most utes, with clever touches such as a smartphone holder, which is brilliant.
The front seats are also warm and supportive, although the mixture of cloth trim with heating is an odd addition, and it should be noted that the Trafic tested did not feature the no-cost-option front centre seat to move from being a five to six seater.
Renault’s second row does, however, offer three individual chairs and limousine-like legroom – although not much else. There’s plenty of exposed metal and cheap plastics here, with windows that only partially slide open. More attention has been paid to storage, with cavities under each of the back trio being one handy addition.
However, given the Lifestyle Package additions up front, it’s a shame more attention hasn’t been paid to the baron rear quarters. Yes, it’s adequate for a ‘crew’, but the Crew is good enough to be finished off as a quasi-people mover. Instead it cedes fit and finish to dual-cabs, while a lack of side/curtain airbags is very disappointing.
Where the Trafic can happily keep its commercial van origins firmly in tact is behind the second-row bulkhead. Open the twin barn doors and the square space is absolutely huge. Forget the dual-cab, then; a family with dirt bikes in the garage could comfortably drive them into the back cavity of this mighty van-with-seats.
What comes to mind is a variation of the old adage about a bloke’s mullet haircut being ‘business up front and party out the back’. This Renault is semi-premium up front, and rough-and-tumble behind.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 103kW/340Nm 1.6 four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear
- Brake: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Surely this Renault couldn’t use a little small-hatch-like 1.6-litre twin-turbo diesel engine to shift a commercial van that weighs 1822kg even before passengers and luggage are on board? On paper it seems like – to be polite – an optimistic selection, especially with just 103kW of power at 3500rpm and 340Nm of torque at 1500rpm.
Even a 1326kg Volkswagen Golf diesel offers 110kW and identical torque.
It comes with great surprise, then, that the Trafic Crew’s engine and six-speed manual are a winning combination. Clearly a duo of turbochargers have been used not to achieve soaring outputs, but rather smother kW and Nm all over the rev band.
Off the line there’s barely any lag or fuss, and this multi-seater with the big booty just keeps hauling as the driver short-shifts through gears via a nicely tactile and even sporty gate; although Renault desperately needs an auto for Oz, and it knows it.
It’s hardly quick, but it is smooth, refined, tractable and economical – we achieved just 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, which included a sizeable urban stint stacked with house furniture in its mid-section and rear.
Wearing sensible 60-aspect 17-inch tyres, the Trafic is obviously no handling superstar. But nor is any dual-cab ute. Instead, without bulky all-wheel drive hardware and any off-road ability, the Renault focuses on being far more linear, measured and refined in its steering and suspension than most utes.
Steering that is light and direct, with compliant and composed ride quality – which is only affected by short and sharp bumps where front passengers can feel like they’re sitting atop a po-go stick – gels ideally with the engine’s relaxed manner.
Despite being 5.4 metres long, and packing a 1118kg payload, even manoeuvrability is better than expected thanks to that stubby nose, the standard parking sensors and a rear-view camera; although all-round visibility is obviously compromised.
On the outside – and especially from the rear seat – the Trafic may look ready for a worksite. But as with the classy dashboard it doesn’t necessarily conform to the rough-and-tumble image on the road, which is absolutely a good thing.
ANCAP has not rated the Renault Trafic.
Safety Features: Dual front and front-side airbags, ABS and ESC, rear parking sensors and reverse-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/200,000km.
Servicing: Renault capped-price servicing includes annual or 30,000km checks at a cost of $349 each for the first trio.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
So you want a ute? Buy a Amarok V6 (or a Ranger Wildtrak). Neither are as huge or polished as the Trafic, but they are faster and more car-like inside. The Transporter Crew is closest to the Renault but it starts at $46,490 (plus orc) with steel wheels and manual air-conditioning; versus the same price for this optioned-up Trafic Crew.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
‘Surprising’ is the best word to sum up the Renault Trafic Crew. It won’t be a vehicle for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthy people-hauling tradie pick.
The major downside is that it looks and feels like a commercial van, particularly in the rear quarters. It isn’t available with an automatic, while side/curtain airbags are lacking – which could immediately rule it out for families. It also is massive on the outside, it can be difficult to park, and it can’t go offroad like a dual-cab ute.
Compromises, sure, but the upside is that for less than $50,000 a buyer gets an absolutely enormous load space with a one-tonne-plus payload, the ability to seat up to six, with a well-equipped and nicely furnished dashboard, comfortable front seats supported by excellent steering and ride quality, plus a punchy yet refined diesel.
There’s plenty to like there, for what absolutely could be seen as the thinking tradesperson’s ute. Either way it’s definitely a glass-half-full option.
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