Fleet News

Roadtest: Renault Quickshift6/Master RWD 3.0MWB 160

Quickshift6 uses the standard six-speed gearbox, already installed in both Trafic and Master vans, but without a clutch pedal.

Instead, a computer-controlled system using an electric pump actuates the clutch and changes the gears.

The gearbox can be used as a full automatic, or as a manual, with the driver pushing a servo lever forwards for upchanges and back for downshifts. Changing up can be done without lifting off the throttle pedal and on downshifts the computer automatically blips the throttle to match engine revs to the gearbox for remarkably smooth gearchanges.

A button on the dash offers two modes for the driver to choose if required. The ‘kg’ mode should be employed when the van is working at maximum weight. Rather like a sport mode in a car system, kg holds the gears longer to allow for acceleration even at full load. The kg mode also changes down earlier to keep the engine working when the van is tackling uphill climbs.

There is also a snow mode for use in slippery conditions. This puts the transmission into automatic mode and limits wheelspin by changing up early into a high gear.

A third mode is engaged automatically during parking or slow speed manoeuvres. Renault calls this mode creep, as it allows the van to move slowly at engine tickover in both reverse and first gears for parking.

The gearbox has plenty of safeguards built in – even in manual mode it will change up a gear if the revs get too high, or down if the engine is labouring. First gear is automatically selected at speeds under 5mph.

Where other manufacturers have often claimed longer clutch and gearbox life from similar systems, Renault is taking a different tack. The firm claims its clutches are already good for up to 250,000 miles, so there will be little to excite potential customers there.

Instead Renault is saying that in the right operating conditions the system can reduce fuel consumption by up to 8% on Master vans and up to 10% on Trafic. If those figures are true in real-life driving then they should make the £800 premium required for Quickshift6 a little more palatable.

There is hardly any weight penalty involved, just 7-8kg on either van, whereas a conventional automatic box would have robbed around 100kg from the van’s payload.

Of course for the UK, the question might be asked: Why not fit it to the far more popular 1.9dCi engine? The answer is that Renault wanted to maximise the number of vehicles that could be equipped with the transmission, and the 2.5-litre engine is used in Trafic in 140bhp guise and in Master at 100bhp and 120bhp.

The firm has not ruled out a Quickshift6 version for the more powerful 1.9dCi Trafic engine in the future, although it will probably wait a couple of years for the next generation van.

In the UK, Trafic 2.5dCi 140 accounts for around 7-8% of Trafic sales. LCV product manager Sue Dack is expecting around 40% of those 2.5-litre Trafic buyers to opt for the Quickshift6 box.

She said: ‘We are also hoping that Quickshift6 will increase our sales of the 140bhp van overall.’

For Master, Dack is expecting a 5% take-up to start with. ‘Let’s get some vehicles out there and tell customers to back-to-back trial it,’ she says.

Quickshift6 will be available on Renault’s demonstration fleet for customers to try and the firm will recommend that dealers take at least one of the vans over the coming months.

‘It’s a nice addition to the range,’ says Dack. ‘We have had customers asking us for an automatic transmission and have not been able to satisfy them until now.’

Now, of course, customers will be able to have the ease of driving an automatic, without the potential fuel loss of a torque converter auto. In fact quite the opposite, if that promise of around 10% fuel saving is realised. ‘It’s a cost benefit issue,’ says Dack.

It’s smooth and hard to fault

WE tried both a Trafic 140 and a Master with the 100bhp engine on a variety of roads to the north of Paris. All of the Quickshift6 vans have to be started with your foot on the brake pedal. Once running, simply nudge the lever forward to engage first gear, which registers with the number one coming up in the dash.

The default setting is automatic mode, so if you want to change gears yourself tap the lever to the left to engage manual. Then drive away. The take-up is smooth and the van feels like a manual. Nudge the lever forward again and whatever your foot is doing on the throttle pedal the box slips into second almost imperceptibly. If you try to hold the gear too long it will change up on its own, but there is little point as the torque is available low down on the 2.5-litre motor.

Switching into kg mode, as the Trafic was carrying 300kg and two people while the Master had 800kg on board, and the gears did hold on a little longer. The real benefit was that the gearbox would kick down earlier in automatic mode, giving us plenty of power when we needed to overtake or pull away.

As with many cars that have this sort of transmission, we found that in the high powered Trafic there was little benefit in changing gear yourself and after the first few miles the lever was nudged back into auto mode.

In the heavier Master I did spend more time shifting gears myself, preferring to keep more control, especially in small villages and urban driving.

In both vans though the gearbox was hard to fault. Without the numbers flashing up and down on the dash and the change of engine note it was hard to spot some of the gearchanges, they were that smooth.

A number of van manufacturers offer this sort of automated manual transmission, and indeed Renault’s alliance partner Vauxhall is offering Quickshift under its own brand name, though it’s asking £1,000 a time for the box.

Having driven most of the vans on offer with automated manuals I can honestly say that the Renault is the best I have driven to date. It’s a shame it’s not on the 1.9-litre Trafic engine as more people would get the chance to try it.

But if you are in the market for the 2.5dCi, in Trafic or Master, and you think the 10% fuel saving will offset the initial investment, it’s well worth a try.

Mean, moody and macho Master

Renault Master rwd 3.0 mwb 160

LOOKING meaner than a grizzly bear with haemorrhoids, this rear wheel drive Renault Master is the latest incarnation of the French manufacturer’s 3.5-tonne contender.

Launched in November last year, the new model features a jacked-up chassis-mounted body, twin rear wheels and a stonking 3.0-litre turbodiesel powerplant offering 156bhp and 258lb-ft of torque. Putting it bluntly, this vehicle is an animal.

But now here’s the twist – despite its muscle-bound proportions (and its £25,695 ex-VAT pricetag), this van only has a payload of 897kg, whereas for just over £20,000, you can buy a front wheel drive medium wheelbase model which will carry 1,621kg.

So just who is going to stump up the cash for such a van? Renault bosses believe that it will be bought by firms in the construction industry which need a van that can cope with rough surfaces. And of course, the chassis means the Master will make a mighty meaty dropside truck.

The other point to note about this van is that while its less muscle-bound brothers can also be found bearing Nissan Interstar and Vauxhall Movano badges, this one is pure Renault.

On the outside, there is no mistaking that this van is a bit special. It stands higher than most others and comes with side steps to help occupants climb aboard.

The bottom part of the van is completely swathed in plastic guards (top marks there, Renault) and at the rear is a massively engineered step which will prove a nasty surprise for any car driver who happens to accidently run into the back of it.

The cab is much the same as with other Master models – the driver’s seat is firm and supportive and standard specification includes a radio/CD player and ABS brakes but – surprise, surprise – driver and passenger airbags are a paid-for option at £440 ex-VAT (no points here, I fear).

Other options that might be worth considering include air conditioning at £650 and a reversing buzzer at £120. Our test vehicle featured a full bulkhead and it severely restricted the amount of legroom. As a lanky specimen of 6ft 3in, I only just fitted in behind the wheel.

In the rear, the Master boasts a reasonable load volume of 14 cubic metres, but it might be easy to overload this model, bearing in mind its diminutive payload.

Our van is the most powerful you can get in rear wheel drive format. There is also a 115bhp version available, along with two double-cab versions and two chassis cabs with similar power outputs.

On the road, the Master towers above most vans of this size and feels more truck than light van. The power steering is weighted just right but the dash-mounted gearstick on our test model proved quite nasty and notchy.

Maybe it will improve over time – the vehicle did, after all, have fewer than 2,000 miles on the clock.

The gearing is quite low too – first will only be needed on a rough building site with a full load on board. The van will happily pull away in second and will glide along nicely in fifth at quite low speeds.

Verdict

WHILE I enjoyed my week with this beast tremendously, I’d have to question how many fleets will feel it worthwhile coughing up the thick end of 26 grand for a van with such a small payload. But as long as it suits the fleet purpose, this Master is one stonking van. Trevor Gelken

Gross vehicle weight (kg): 3,500
Payload (kg): 897
Load volume (cu m): 14
Max power (bhp): 156
Max torque (lb ft): 258
Price (£ ex-VAT): 25,695

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