Steve Banner appreciates the level of driver comfort offered in our long-term Renault and sympathises with the van drivers of yesteryear
A comfortable van driver is a happy van driver; a statement which makes one wonder just how happy drivers were 30 or 40 years ago.
Back then driver comfort wasn't entirely ignored by light commercial manufacturers, but it wasn't a priority either. Think slippery vinyl seats (which at least had the virtue of being easy to wipe down) with zero lateral support and no headrests.
Adjustment was limited, if indeed it existed at all. There was certainly no lumbar adjustment and the ability to alter the height of the steering wheel was a rarity.
Then there was the quality of the seat's construction, which tended to be mediocre. The consequences of all of this were usually stiff shoulders and a sore back after only a few hours.
Now fast-forward to 2015 and our long-term-test Trafic.
You can adjust the driver's seat for height, reach and rake, there is lumbar adjustment too, you can alter the height of the steering wheel and there is sufficient lateral support either side of both the back and cushion to ensure you don't slide off sideways if you take a bend at anything above walking pace. You even get a nearside arm-rest which you can raise or lower according to taste.
The cloth-trimmed seat has clearly been thoughtfully designed and supports the occupant's back properly and the headrest is height-adjustable. The fact that so much of this is largely unremarkable these days goes to show how far van seats have progressed.
Net result? The driver can tackle a long journey without aching all over at the end of it and feeling dog-tired. Compared with what was on offer in the original, wedge-shaped Trafic of the early 1980s (which itself was a vast improvement on what was on offer previously), it's paradise.
What is more, Trafic offers ample head and shoulder room and all the controls are easy to reach without having to stretch too far. The only minor, and admittedly carping, criticism lies in the way the driver has to twist through 90 degrees to use the table created when the back of the centre seat is folded down.
The foregoing thoughts were prompted by a trek from Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire to the tip of Cornwall and back, which led to Trafic revealing its abilities as a long-haul motorway cruiser once again. Slot it into top gear and it lopes along contentedly and quietly, with reining the engine in so that the vehicle remains roughly within the motorway speed limit almost the only challenge (other than remembering to press the ECO button to improve fuel economy) the driver faces.
Almost the only challenge is correct because spring/early summer brings out the idiots. For their sakes it is just as well that Trafic has decent, electrically-adjustable, exterior rear-view mirrors with a lower wide-angle section, not to mention a blind-spot mirror that appears as if by magic when you fold down the passenger's sun visor and covers the van's nearside.
While the, slightly-distorted, image it creates makes both the regular passenger and driver feel a little queasy, putting up with it is better than taking out an under-taking middle-aged born-again biker (which could easily have happened in the middle of Truro without the mirror's presence).
The ESC - Electronic Stability Control - cut in for the first time too as Trafic swerved violently to avoid a wayward caravan on the A30 not far from Okehampton. Who would have thought that a trip down to Cornwall would present such an obstacle course?
Before it ventured way out west Trafic participated in a rescue mission which involved injecting fresh life into the flat battery of the writer's stranded 20-year-old Suzuki Cappuccino (which only comes out when the sun shines and the weather is dry) via a set of jump leads. The little two-seater coughed into life immediately; and neither vehicle ended up with its electrics fried.