Fleet News

Renault Trafic

##Trafic--left## It is no surprise to me as this rise coincides with the launch late last year of the Renault Trafic and its twin the Vauxhall Vivaro - a light van which in my view is quite simply the best in show.

Stylish yet rugged, smooth yet powerful and large yet dainty, the van - designed by Renault and built at the Vauxhall plant in Luton - set out to be a vehicle for the new millennium and has achieved that goal and more.

The Trafic/Vivaro is current holder of the International Van of the Year title and missed the Fleet News Panel Van of the Year award this year by a gnat's whisker. So with accolades like this under its belt, it is hardly surprising that its makers are doing very nicely from their investment.

I first drove the vans in Copenhagen in spring 2001 and was immediately impressed with their feisty looks and silky smooth common rail diesel engines. With a house move to carry out last week, it was time to renew my acquaintance.

No sooner had I made a quick call to a very nice man in the Renault press office than a Trafic 100bhp in bright canary yellow and loaded down to the gills with added extras was winging its way towards Fleet Towers in Peterborough.

Four variants are available at present - 80bhp and 100bhp with payloads of 1,023kg and 1,216kg costing between £11,995 and £12,900 ex-VAT - but soon a long wheelbase model will be on sale. This new version broke cover during the CV Show at the NEC in Birmingham last month.

Standard equipment is impressive - power steering, remote locking, alarm, immobiliser, driver's airbag, window etching, full bulkhead, deadlocks and anti-drill locks all come as part of the package.

The test van also had electric windows and door mirrors (£275), satellite navigation (£750), air conditioning (£650) and passenger airbag (£220).

Even now, with the van having been on sale for seven months, it manages to evoke comment from passers-by with its rakish looks.

But it is not a case of style for style's sake. That jumbo roof gives extra light and headroom to the cab and the huge plastic front and rear bumpers should protect the van's body in the event of a shunt. The only areas devoid of protection are the rear wheelarches.

Climbing aboard the cab, the style theme continues with a dashboard that sweeps majestically across the van, encrusted with instruments in a manner most chic. It almost seems a shame to think of white van man getting his dusty mitts on it!

The driver's seat is soft yet supportive and adjusts in every direction. Even the double passenger seat is comfortable - and that is not something you could say about every van in this sector.

With a height adjustable steering wheel as standard too, drivers of every size and shape should be able to find a comfortable position.

There are cubby holes galore, including a bottle bin on each side, and the dash-mounted coffee cup holders double up as handy slots for mobile phones. Surely every van should have one?

My only acquaintance so far with this van had been for test driving purposes. Now it was time to use it 'in anger'. Being a committed minimalist, I don't have a lot of furniture, but there was plenty to keep the Trafic occupied for a couple of days.

Thanks to its almost vertical sides, boxes can be stored right up to the roof and even in short wheelbase format, there was plenty of load length for a three-seater settee.

There are six load lashing eyes scattered around the load area plus a plethora of other little holes that can be used to rope in the family jewels. A few well-placed pillows, quilts and sheets made sure my valuable possessions didn't rub against each other and disintegrate in transit (pardon the pun!).

After a weekend of hard work, the job was satisfactorily completed and I was left even more in awe of this terrific little mover.

Behind the wheel

Forget the shake, rattle and roll of some vans - the Trafic would rival the most comfortable car while under way. Firing up the powerplant reveals a complete lack of the old diesel death rattle and with a light gearchange and clutch, you couldn't wish for a more car-like driving experience.

Even a driver who had never been behind the wheel of a van before would not feel apprehensive. Here is a little exercise to try next time you find yourself in a new van.

Start up the engine, place your left hand index finger on top of the gearstick and try driving through town by changing gear with that one finger. Chances are you will give up after about two seconds.

But in the Trafic, it is as easy as falling over on a Friday night - that dash-mounted short-throw stick is best in class. Acceleration is brisk with 100bhp on tap and the six-speed gearbox (standard on the more powerful models) gives ample chance to make use of the 177lb/ft of torque on offer. Even with a full load of furniture in the back, the Trafic wasn't fazed and buzzed on as though nothing was amiss. Cornering, laden or otherwise, is impeccable too.

Driving verdict

It is easy for us road testers to throw superlatives (or brickbats) around as though they were confetti. But in this case, it is true to say that the Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro have moved the light van sector on to a new playing field.

So far, the opposition has yet to catch up. Until they do, these two vans very much rule the LCV roost.

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