The What Van? Road Test: Renault Master Tipper

Date: Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On offer with the choice of either front- or rear-wheel drive unlike its front-wheel drive-only predecessor, Renault’s latest Master has the opportunity to make its presence felt in many more sectors of the diverse light commercial market than the old model ever did.
This is especially the case when it comes to chassis cab sales. Tipper buyers often favour rear- over front-wheel drive because they feel it provides better traction, lends itself better to towing –
tipper operators frequently haul trailers laden with mini-excavators or other items of plant – and offers more generous rear-axle loading tolerances.
Recognising that this is the case, Renault has not been slow to put together a ready-bodied, ready-to-go-to-work, rear-drive Master tipper.
So is it the sort of package likely to tempt customers out of established rival products?
We decided to find out by sampling one with the 145hp version of Renault’s 2.3-litre diesel under its bonnet.
We opted for a single-cab 3.5-tonner – the Master tipper is on offer as a double-cab too – and can be ordered with either the 100hp or the 125hp variants of the 2.3-litre and as a 4.5-tonner.

Cab

The Master boasts one of the best laid-out three-seater cabs in the business with an almost bewildering amount of storage space. There are pockets, cubby-holes and shelves everywhere you look ensuring that you will never be stuck for somewhere to put your pens, box of sandwiches or bottle of water.
In each door there is a big bin divided in two, with a moulding to take a soft-drink bottle, plus two more bins, one of which is lidded. Shelves are positioned above the windscreen on both the driver’s and the passengers’ side with a slot for sunglasses between them.
Cubby-holes, cup-holders and small shelves are present at each end of the dashboard, on top of which are four largish shelves.
One of these shelves is capable of swallowing an A4 clipboard. A lidded glove-box provides yet more stowage, while a two-tiered shelf projects from the centre of the dashboard with an upper section containing a pair of drinks holders. This projecting shelf steals some legroom from the centre passenger, the back of whose seat can be flipped down to reveal two handy trays, two more drinks holders and a desk for the completion of paperwork, which can be swivelled towards the driver to make it easier to use.
The driver’s seat is height- adjustable and fitted with an armrest, while the vision ahead and to either side is more than acceptable. The fascia features a stylish and attractive contrast of light and dark plastic.

Load area

With a 2mm-thick galvanised steel floor, alloy drop-down sides and an alloy tailgate – graced by a ‘Highway Maintenance’ board in our case to match the Britax flashing orange beacons on top of the cab – the Master’s Scattolini tipper body is raised and lowered courtesy of an under-floor ram. The controls are inside the cab on a wander-lead and the power pack is mounted on the chassis along with the isolation switch.
A clearly marked body prop is provided and should be used by anybody working on the upper surface of the chassis to ensure that the body does not come crashing down on top of them.
At 782kg, payload capacity is not this vehicle’s strong suit, but at least it is not short of carrying space. Maximum cargo bed length is 3124mm with a width of 2032mm. The sides and tailgate are 400mm high while the rear loading height is 1092mm – the penalty you pay for choosing rear-wheel drive.
Half-a-dozen retractable floor-mounted load tie-down rings are fitted as is a punched-alloy bulkhead incorporating a ladder rack with fixed stops.
A feature of this conversion we really like is the roomy storage locker mounted between the rear of the cab and the front of the
body. With doors at each end it gives you somewhere to lock away power tools and other items likely to disappear in a flash if you leave them lying about in an open-to-the-skies tipper body. However, the presence of this handy box has the effect of moving the tipper body further back on the chassis and creating quite a significant rear overhang. That is something drivers must take into account if they are manoeuvring in a confined space, and makes the turning circle between walls rather larger than the comparatively tight turning circle between kerbs. The box also adds to the Master’s unladen weight, which of course affects payload.
Dropping the tailgate down conceals the Master’s rear lights. That’s bad news from a safety perspective if you are loading or unloading at the roadside at night, but at least the reflectors on the tailgate’s inside surface should give other road users some warning of your presence.
A £275 towing hitch was fitted, but no tachograph. Bear in mind that you will probably have to have a tachograph installed and comply with the heavy truck drivers’ hours regulations if you are proposing to haul a big, heavy trailer with a vehicle of this weight.

Powertrain

The Master’s four-cylinder 16-valve Euro5 common rail diesel delivers its maximum power output at 3500rpm. Top torque of 350Nm makes its presence felt across a 1500rpm to 2750rpm plateau, a particulate filter is fitted, and the longitudinally mounted engine is married to a six-speed gearbox.
We averaged a steady 30mpg over a mixture of urban and rural routes that involved empty, partially and fully laden running. That figure chimes in nicely with the quoted official fuel consumption figures of 30.3mpg (combined cycle), 31.7mpg (extra-urban cycle) and 28.2mpg (urban cycle). CO2 emissions are set at 245g/km.

Chassis and steering

Twin rear wheels are fitted at the back and all six of the vehicle’s 16in steel road wheels were, in our case, shod with 195/75 R16C Continental Vanco 2 tyres. A spare wheel is provided – something that is far preferable to a tyre inflator and sealer on a vehicle like a tipper – and is slung underneath.
Turning to the suspension, what Renault refers to as a pseudo MacPherson set-up is deployed at the front while leaf springs help support the rear.

Performance

With 145hp on tap, the Master tipper is not short of get-up-and-go, even when fully laden.
Given that tippers are not really intended as high-speed motorway cruisers, it is the amount of torque on tap – and when it kicks in – that really matters, and the 2.3-litre engine does not disappoint. Even when the body is fully laden it digs in nicely, grinding its way up steep rural hills without hesitation and without too much need to keep dropping down a gear to maintain momentum.
Not that changing gear is a chore given the smoothness of the gearbox and the sensible way in which the gears are spaced.
But it is the quality of the handling that is the biggest surprise. A tipper with a longish rear overhang does not sound like the sort of vehicle that would handle especially well, yet the Master does, offering ample feedback through the steering and allowing you to tackle tight bends on country roads with considerable confidence.
Tipper bodies tend to rattle when they are empty. The Renault’s is no exception, and when unladen the little truck bounces around every time you hit a hump or a pothole. The only way to kill the rattling and calm the ride down is to put a load in the back. Once  done, things tend to settle down nicely, which is good news, but Renault clearly needs to do more work on tuning the suspension so that the Master rides smoothly no matter how much or how little weight it has on board.
Aside from the occasional slight whistle from the turbocharger, noise levels – bar the aforementioned rattling – are well-suppressed.

Equipment

One of the latest Master’s most intelligent features is a swivelling screen mounted above the interior rear view mirror that tells you which radio station is tuned in.
It also doubles as a display for the Carminat TomTom Live satellite navigation system, which sounds a useful warning if you should approach a speed camera too quickly.
Bluetooth and an aux-in socket are both fitted. Remote controls for the MP3-compatible radio/single CD player are to be found on the steering column while the buttons for the hazard warning lights and to lock both the doors are positioned above the windscreen next to, in our case, the switch for the warning beacons.
Our test vehicle was fitted with a 12V power point on the dashboard, electric windows, plus air-conditioning with a pollen filter for an extra £800.

Buying and running

Service intervals are set at 25,000 miles/two years, although we would recommend more regular inspections given the arduous lives tippers lead. Tipper bodies should certainly receive periodic thorough examinations by a competent person to ensure they continue to function efficiently and safely.
A three-year/100,000-mile warranty is provided complete with AA roadside assistance for the full term and no mileage limit for the first two years.

Safety

Disc brakes are fitted front and back with diameters of 302mm and 305mm respectively along with ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and load-adaptive Electronic Stability Control with understeer control.
A driver’s airbag is a standard feature while beefy side and rear under-run bars should ensure that wayward cyclists do not end up trapped underneath your truck. Side marker lights should make it easier for bike riders and other road users to spot you after dark.
While the big electrically  adjustable and heated exterior mirrors with their lower wide-angle sections are to be welcomed, we would advise buyers not to rely solely on them, or on the interior rear view mirror, when reversing – have reversing sensors fitted too.
So far as security is concerned, remote central locking with deadlocking is included in the price as is RAID – Renault Anti-Intruder Device – which locks all the doors automatically as soon as you exceed 5mph.

 

A French Master

As French as Asterix the Gaul, Pernod, smelly cheese and placard-waving strikers, the first Master launched in 1980 and was produced by Renault up until the late 1990s. However, while it offered plenty of space and payload capacity, it was just too Gallic for the tastes of most British van buyers. Its successor, which debuted in 1997 (right) – along with the Vauxhall Movano version that was also marketed thanks to a major joint venture between Renault and General Motors, Vauxhall’s parent – was a rather more conventional vehicle.

The van was then facelifted in 2003, and a completely restyled successor arrived last year. Offering a far wider choice of models than its predecessor, the current model signalled an intention by Renault to become a more serious player at the heavier end of the European panel van market, with manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz firmly in its sights.

 

Verdict

Competent. But jury remains out on how capable Renault’s network is of supporting such vehicles, although improvements are being made. 



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