Renault Master review

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Renault's Master still makes sense as a tough large van in diesel and EV forms. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

The Renault Master has been a mainstay of the large van sector for some time now, along with its sibling, the Nissan Interstar. With a vast choice of body styles, engines and options, the Master features economical and refined diesel powerplants, with load volumes from 8 to 22 cubic metres. And there's an E-Tech EV option too.

Background

Renault's Master van is one of those commercial vehicles that seems to do just enough to warrant its own existence in the UK, rarely being the first vehicle buyers consider in a large van segment dominated by models like the Mercedes Sprinter, the Volkswagen Crafter or the Ford Transit. In Europe it's a different matter, the Master racking up some impressive sales. Spawned from the same basis as the Nissan Interstar, the Master has been around in one guise or another since 1980, with that first generation model lasting for 17 years.

Its 1997 replacement stuck around for a mere 13 years and the third generation Master appeared in 2010 and has in more recent times been revised to keep things current. Plus there's been a EV E-Tech version since 2018. Is it time we gave the Master the respect it would appear to deserve?

Driving Experience

Renault now offers a choice of three dCi diesel engines. They're all based on the same 2.3-litre block and outputs range from 135PS to 145PS and 150PS. Even the 135PS unit generates a respectable slug of torque, with 360Nm available at just 1,250rpm. The 150PS powerplant is good for 62mph in 12.1s. A dual mass flywheel and a crankshaft with eight counterweights also help to reduce engine noise and cut the amount of vibration coming into the cabin.

The Master is available in both front and rear-wheel drive layouts. If you're ready to switch away from combustion power, the Master is also available in all-electric E-Tech form, in which guise it uses a 52kWh battery with a 126 mile range. This variant uses an electric motor with just 76hp; you can imagine the result of that fully-loaded up on a steep hill. Particularly if you select the available 'Eco' mode you'll need to get anywhere close to the claimed 126 mile combined cycle driving range, a setting which limits throttle usage and restricts your maximum speed to 62mph. That EV range rises to 160 miles in city traffic.

The E-Tech EV model's auto gearbox has just Drive, Neutral or Reverse settings - no Park. And at low speeds, the acoustic pedestrian warning sound EVs have to have is particularly evident in the cab. High speeds are certainly not silent; obviously, it's quieter than the equivalent diesel, though not by as much as you might expect. Renault is good at brake recuperation systems; this particular set-up can't be driver-customised, but it slows the vehicle noticeably when you come off-throttle, though won't bring you right to a standstill. Even so, you'll rarely have to do much braking.

Design and Build

The tough sensible styling of the Master remains as it always has, with the choice of three body lengths and two roof heights in the panel van range.

The cabin of the Master has been designed to be as car-like in its seating position as possible while incorporating a number of 'office on wheels' features. Renault has given a lot of thought to the depth of the footwells relative to the hip point of the seating and the degree of seat rake available, so as to offer a comfortable driving angle. A suspension-style driver's seat is standard or optional. The design of the windscreen and side windows, plus the high-up seating position ensure commanding vertical and horizontal fields of vision of 39.9 and 193.1 degrees respectively.

A shelf is integrated into the dashboard to house a laptop computer, plus there's a mobile phone holder with a nearby 12V power supply for charging, a 7.6-litre glove box, a full-width overhead rack and a retractable clipboard built into the dashboard to hold documents like delivery slips. Plus you can have a swivelling table incorporated in the middle seat back. With the middle seat back tipped forward, it can serve as a desk, complete with a swivelling table designed to hold a laptop computer.

Market and Model

Prices start at around £31,000 excluding VAT, which is in line with its sibling vehicle the Nissan Interstar. And there are two combustion trim variants - 'Start' and 'Advance'. Of course, there's an absolutely dizzying array of Master variants, with carrying capacities extending from 8 to 22 cubic metres. As well as the panel vans we examine here, there are people carriers, buses, chassis cabs and twin-cab chassis, platform cabs, crew vans and tippers. The Master is offered in four lengths, three wheelbases and with two different rear overhangs. Front and rear-wheel drive is available, with the rear-wheel drive chassis sold with single or twin rear wheels. Then there are four gross vehicle weights: 2.8 tonnes, 3.3 tonnes, 3.5 tonnes (with single or twin rear wheels) and 4.5 tonnes (with twin rear wheels).

If you're interested in the E-Tech EV version, prices start from around £54,000 ex VAT after deduction of the available government grant. There is only one E-Tech trim variant - 'Advance'. But a choice of L2H2 and L3H2 body shapes.

Standard equipment provision looks good across the range, with a DAB stereo, Bluetooth hands free telephony, a CD player plus USB and iPod connectivity. There's also an optional system incorporating the Carminat TomTom navigation system with an overhead screen. There are also a number of driver aids that improve safety, such as the Grip Xtend function that optimises grip on soft surfaces, hill start assist, stability control with load adaptive control and simpler things such as a wide view mirror built into the passenger sun visor that eliminates the traditional blind spot.

Practicalities and Costs

Reducing fuel consumption has been a key driver in the development of this current Master and the diesel engines all are tuned in this regard. Combined fuel consumption is typically in the 31-32mpg range, so the Master is still one of the more economical large LCVs around.

Most Master customers choose between the mid L2 and long L3 body lengths and the standard H2 roof height. That's the combination necessary with the E-Tech version. the diesels also offer a higher roof height option. Sticking with the L2H2 or L3H2 models, that means 3,083mm of load bay length in the L2 or 3,733mm in the L3. And 1,894mm of load bay height in either case. There's 1,765mm of load area width, narrowing to 1,380mm between the wheel arches. The sliding side door is 1,270mm wide and 1,780mm high. Load capacities are 10.8m3 in the L2H2 or 13.0m3 in the L3H2. Gross payload with the E-Tech model is obviously down on that of an equivalent diesel - to 1,279kgs.

With the E-Tech all-electric version, a 20-80 per cent battery charge can be achieved in 90 minutes using a 22kW DC charge point. 30 miles of charge can be added in 120 minutes via a 11kW charging station.

Regardless of powertrain, this Renault is as practical as you'd expect from a vehicle this big. Access to the Master's load area is via the side-hinged rear doors or a sliding side door on the left side of the vehicle. An additional sliding side door on the opposite flank can be specified. The loading height is usefully low at 546mm and even the rear wheel-drive models only increase that to around 700mm. The standard warranty is 3 years and 100,000 miles or 2 years with unlimited mileage.

Summary

The Renault Master is one of those vans that has improved at such a steady rate that it's quietly turned from an also-ran into a real contender. No, the interior doesn't feel quite as plush as a Crafter or a Sprinter, but you won't worry too much about that when you drive the Master and realise that it's more comfortable than both of them, so you'll emerge fresher after a long day at the wheel.

There's also a vast amount of different configuration options to choose from. The one thing that comes shining through like a beacon when giving this vehicle the once-over is that Renault has clearly engaged deeply with not just the people who buy vans, but the people who use them on a day to day basis. That can only spell good things.

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