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Renault Trafic 2019 review: Trader Life

The Trader Life is based on the same L1H1 SWB (short wheel base) front wheel-drive architecture as its more powerful and higher-priced Trafic siblings.

Daily driver score

3.5/5

Tradie score

4/5

Renault claims its Trafic Trader Life is in response to industry demand for a delivery or small business van (2.5-2.5 tonne GVM) focused on minimum cost of ownership, for either single vehicle owner/drivers or fleet operators. In Renault PR speak, the Life is "optimised for the busy urban environment where high performance is less important than low running costs."

With sharp launch pricing of $29,990 driveaway for ABN holders, the Life's low-cost specification certainly hits a sweet spot, given Canberra's by-partisan support to increase the instant tax write-off threshold for SMEs from $25,000 to $30,000 in the next federal budget.

However, while the idea of instantly writing-off the total cost of a new van might appeal to accountants, such cost-cutting also results in having to 'pay a price' in important areas like safety and practicality.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The Life's sub-$30K driveaway launch pricing puts it in the bargain basement with LDV's G10 six-speed manual equivalent ($28,990 driveaway for ABN holders). However, even at its usual $32,990 RRP, a Trader Life still costs thousands of dollars less than other major players in the mid-sized van segment like the Toyota HiAce, Hyundai iLoad and Ford Transit Custom.

The Trader Life is available in only one colour (Glacier White) and one specification, which comprises a 1.6 litre turbo-diesel engine, six-speed manual transmission, LHS solid sliding door, glazed lift-up single tailgate and no steel bulkhead separating cabin and cargo bay. 16-inch steel wheels wear Continental 205/65 R16C tyres, but don't go looking for a spare under the tail because there isn't one.

No meat trays for guessing there are also no options. However, the Life does include some useful features for hard-working drivers and/or crews, including seating for three with a separate driver's seat featuring adjustable lumbar support and fold-away inboard armrest, height and reach adjustable steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control with speed limiter, air conditioning and ESC with hill start assist to name a few.

16-inch steel wheels wear Continental 205/65 R16C tyres, but don’t go looking for a spare under the tail because there isn’t one. 16-inch steel wheels wear Continental 205/65 R16C tyres, but don’t go looking for a spare under the tail because there isn’t one.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

The Trader Life is based on the same L1H1 SWB (short wheel base) front wheel-drive architecture as its more powerful and higher-priced Trafic siblings, with MacPherson strut front suspension, coil-spring beam rear axle, rack and pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes. Popping the bonnet reveals easy engine bay access to regular service items.

Although the driver's seat has various adjustments, the separate bench seat has none, resulting in a very upright position for passengers and minimal knee room around the gear-stick housing for the centre passenger. It may well have seating for three, but for short trips only.

There are obvious signs of cost-cutting in the cargo bay, which apart from plastic trim panels on the sliding door and tailgate has been stripped bare, with not a lining board in sight. This exposes numerous sharp edges and holes in the side walls, particularly at the base where deep cavities drenched in brown rustproofing compound can swallow any small items you might accidentally drop into them (hopefully not your keys or mobile).

Cost-cuts include the absence of rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Cost-cuts include the absence of rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

The radio unit is similar to that used in other low-cost commercials under the Renault-Nissan umbrella, with annoying volume fluctuation on the AM band that could be a deal breaker for those who like talk-back.

The lack of a full-size spare tyre is also a glaring omission in a commercial vehicle. In its place is a puncture sealant/inflation kit, which may get you out of trouble if the puncture is small enough for the sticky goop to seal effectively and the van is (hopefully) empty. However, we would not fancy relying on this band-aid technology if carrying a one tonne payload.

Other cost-cuts include the absence of rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. These are very important in reducing blind spots in vans with no side windows like this one, but they aren't available even as options. Ironically, the ‘Life' specification also deletes the standard Trafic's driver and passenger side curtain airbags.

The top of the dashboard has two large open storage bins and a cup holder on each side. The top of the dashboard has two large open storage bins and a cup holder on each side.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The Life is powered by Renault's venerable R9M 1.6 litre turbo-diesel engine. In this Euro 5-specification it produces 66kW at 3500rpm and 260Nm of torque at a low 1500rpm, resulting in good flexibility at low to medium speeds commonly used in city driving and delivery work. The six-speed manual transmission has a light but precise shift action and a useful spread of ratios for a variety of driving applications, from busy city and suburban traffic to open highway hauling.

The Life is powered by Renault's venerable R9M 1.6 litre turbo-diesel engine. The Life is powered by Renault's venerable R9M 1.6 litre turbo-diesel engine.

How much fuel does it consume?

Given the Life's primary goal is to minimise ownership costs, it certainly delivers on that promise in terms of fuel economy. Renault claims a frugal official combined figure of only 6.2L/100km and the dash display was showing 6.9L/100km after our 717km test, which comprised a variety of roads and loads including a full GVM run.

That was very close to our own figure, crunched from actual fuel bowser and trip meter readings, which worked out at 7.1, which is outstanding economy for a genuine one tonner.  Based on our test figures, you could expect a vast driving range of more than 1100km from its 80-litre tank.

How practical is the space inside?

With its relatively light 1665kg kerb weight, the Life's 2900kg GVM offers a meaty one tonne-plus payload rating of 1235kg. It's also rated to tow up to 2000kg of braked trailer and with a 4900kg GCM (or how much it can legally carry and tow at the same time) it can do that while carrying its maximum payload. That's a very practical set of numbers for a variety of work applications.

The cargo bay's load floor measures 1662mm at its widest point with 1268mm between the wheel arches. Combined with its 2537mm length, this will easily take two standard 1165mm-square Aussie pallets. However, loading them would present a challenge given that there is no rear forklift access due to the lift-up tailgate and the sliding side door opening is only 907mm. There's a total of 16 anchorage points and total load volume is 5.2 cubic metres.

Cabin storage options include a bottle holder and two different-sized bins in each door. Cabin storage options include a bottle holder and two different-sized bins in each door.

The cargo bay also has internal lighting, big grab handles on both B pillars and a useful space under the bench seat which is open to the cargo bay. This can be used for extra storage or serve as additional load floor length if required for longer items like timber, PVC pipe, carpet rolls etc.

Cabin storage options include a bottle holder and two different-sized bins in each door. The top of the dashboard has two large open storage bins and a cup holder on each side, plus there's a pull-out drawer on the driver's right side, fold-down bottle holder next to the gearstick, small storage nook above the radio and a single glovebox.

The Trafic's cargo bay will easily take two standard 1165mm-square Aussie pallets. The Trafic's cargo bay will easily take two standard 1165mm-square Aussie pallets.

What's it like as a daily driver?

It's not hard to find a comfortable driving position with its ample head and leg room and enough adjustability in the seat and steering column. A large left footrest would be welcome here, just like the one moulded into the floor for LHD models which unfortunately does not make the transition to RHD models.

The lower quarters of the large truck-style door mirrors provide wide-angle views along the sides of the van but the internal rear view is partly blocked by the centre seat headrest. You really miss the rear parking sensors and camera here, as the windowless side walls create large blind spots for the driver. This is particularly hazardous when reversing from driveways and parking lots.

Performance is good in city and suburban driving. Spirited engine response combined with a light but direct gear-change, light clutch pedal, responsive steering with a tight 11.84-metre turning circle and strong braking is easy to live with. Even so, we missed the Trafic's signature steel bulkhead which insulates the cabin from most cargo bay noise (and doubles as a cargo barrier). And we're sure a six-speed automatic would be a popular option if available.

What's it like for tradie use?

For our GVM test we secured 1095kg in the cargo bay, which with a 100kg driver was only about 40kg under its 1235kg maximum payload rating. With the bulk of this load being carried within the 3098mm wheelbase, the rear suspension compressed 45mm and the front dropped 25mm.

The cargo bay's load floor measures 1662mm at its widest point with 1268mm between the wheel arches. The cargo bay's load floor measures 1662mm at its widest point with 1268mm between the wheel arches.

The Life floated over bumps with great poise and not a hint of bottoming out. It felt reassuringly surefooted with this heavy payload on board and was also surprisingly quiet at highway speeds. Given the stripped-out cargo bay and no bulkhead, we would have to credit this in no small part to the Continental tyres.

The top cog in the six-speed gearbox produced low-stressed highway performance, with only 2000rpm at 100km/h and 2100rpm at 110km/h. The 1.6 litre turbo-diesel also performed admirably during our 13 per cent gradient 2.0km set climb at 60km/h, finding its sweet spot at 3000rpm in third all the way to the top. Engine braking was virtually non-existent on the way down, though, which was about all we could expect from a small capacity engine trying to restrain almost 1.2 tonnes on such a steep descent.

The Life’s 2900kg GVM offers a meaty one tonne-plus payload rating of 1235kg. The Life’s 2900kg GVM offers a meaty one tonne-plus payload rating of 1235kg.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Renault Trafic has no ANCAP rating and a Euro NCAP test in 2015 only produced a three-star result. Combined with the absence of AEB plus no rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, driver/passenger side curtain airbags and cargo barrier, this worker is far from best-in-class for safety, hence the low score.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Three years/unlimited km warranty. Service intervals of 12 months/30,000km whichever occurs first. First three capped-price services of $549 each.

It does have some strengths in terms of low purchase price, engine performance, fuel economy and load-carrying ability. However, the removal of items which affect its practicality and above all safety are shortcomings which can't be overlooked. We're all for reducing the cost of ownership in working vans, but that shouldn't require a significant reduction in driver safety to achieve it.

$32,990

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.5/5

Tradie score

4/5
Price Guide

$32,990

Based on new car retail price