Steve Banner begins to get acquainted with the most recent addition to the What van? vehicle roster - the big-selling Renault Trafic, which is a strong contender in the competitive medium van sector
The latest vehicle to join our long-term test fleet, our shiny new Renault Trafic demonstrator is clearly determined to be noticed. Precious few vans are finished in burnished copper-coloured metallic paint after all; an improvement on the plain off-white that typically graces most light commercials you see parked around trading estates.
The ability to stand out from the pack comes at a price however. If you want metallic on your SL27 ENERGY dCi 120 Business + Trafic then it will set you back an extra £400; all prices exclude VAT.
In short-wheelbase standard-roof guise, with a three-seater cab and powered by the twin-turbo 120hp version of the newcomer's 1.6-litre dCi diesel married to a six-speed gearbox, our test van offers 5.2cu/m of cargo space. It can handle a 1056kg gross payload and access to the load bay is by means of twin rear doors plus a sliding nearside door.
Opt for entry-level Business trim and you get quite a reasonable level of specification, with electric windows, electrically-adjustable and heated exterior mirrors and a steering wheel that can be adjusted for reach and rake. You get a full-height steel bulkhead and a DAB radio too with Bluetooth, a USB socket and aux input, but no CD player; a bitter blow to an unabashed dinosaur who still bemoans the departure of cassette decks.
Step up to Business + and you benefit from air-conditioning and a centre seat with a back that folds down and turns into a handy desk with a detachable clipboard and a compartment for your laptop. Other features include rear parking sensors and a flap in the bulkhead that allows you to slide planks or pipes underneath the passenger bench that are otherwise just that bit too long to fit comfortably into the cargo area.
The roomy compartment beneath the bench can also be accessed by pulling up one or both of the bench seat cushions.
The van is equipped with a smartphone dock and has a blind spot mirror in the passenger sun visor which will hopefully enable you to spot cyclists creeping up on your nearside who would otherwise be outside your field of vision; and avoid flattening them. The slightly-distorted image it gives can make you feel a little queasy after a while however and has already sparked complaints from passengers.
Renault is clearly determined to keep us safe. In addition to metallic paint the options fitted include lateral, curtain and front passenger airbags for £660 and a tyre pressure monitoring system for a further £100.
So what's Trafic like to drive?
For your money you get ample performance, a slick, quick gear change, a compliant ride and precious little noise bar an irritating intermittent creaking from the dashboard. OK, the handling isn't as sharp as Ford Transit Custom's but it's sharp enough.
And Transit Custom is Trafic's main problem. While Trafic seems to do a more-than-competent job in all areas, it is difficult to shake off the vague feeling that the Ford is just that little bit better, at least so far as driveability is concerned.
Will that feeling alter? Let's see what happens over the next few months.