REVIEW: Renault Master cab-chassis

By: Matt Wood

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The growing light commercial vehicle market in Australia is encouraging some players to expand their product ranges. Matt Wood has a look at the rear-wheel drive Renault Master cab-chassis.

Renault has been the biggest selling LCV manufacturer in Europe for the last 15 years and it leapt into the Australian fray at the end of the last decade.

The company released the front-wheel drive large Master van in early 2012 however, it recently expanded the model range significantly with the addition of some larger capacity rear-wheel drive models.

Among this range was the addition of some cab-chassis models a 7-seater dual cab and a single cab that come in at 4.5 tonnes gross vehicle mass (GVM); essentially a car-licence light truck.

European van based cab-chassis trucks aren’t really a new thing, but to a greater extent they’ve more been promoted as something to heave a motorhome or a posh horse float around rather than a pallet-dragging urban hauler, a substitute for a tradie’s ute and trailer or even as a light agricultural option.

At the launch event, I took the opportunity to grab a Renault Master single cab-chassis fitted with an aluminium tray and basically drove it as my personal transport for a couple of weeks.

 On top of that I even went hay carting with it in Victoria’s Western District just to see how the little French load lugger liked a country highway and a bit of paddock bashing (metaphorically speaking, Renault people).

 

CONTENTS

Engine and transmission

Comfort and controls

Payload

Performance

Verdict

Specifications

 

RENAULT MASTER CAB CHASSIS ENIGNE AND TRANSMISSION

6278_Renault Master Single Cab Chassis Engine

After picking up the Master I had to head into Melbourne for a couple of errands. Even empty the Renault was pleasant to pilot on an urban freeway and city streets.

The 2.3-litre turbo diesel donk is a reasonably quiet and smooth performer. My little truck was equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission option while a 6-speed automated version is also available.

Thanks to Renault’s tie up with Nissan, the Renault power plant is the same as you’ll find under the bonnet of the Nissan X-Trail sports utility vehicle.

 It provides the Master with 110kW of power and 350Nm of torque — pretty decent figures for a mill of this size. However, this is where some of the established light truck brigade has an advantage.

Many of the competing light trucks from Japanese manufacturers use bigger displacement engines and develop significantly more torque, which does give them a performance advantage when running at close to weight capacity.

That doesn’t necessarily count against the Master if you think of it more as a heavy ute than as a light truck. That is exactly what Renault wants us to do, rather than using the traditional ute and trailer combination so evident these days.

Like many of its Euro competitors the auto option on the Master is automated rather than a traditional hydraulic automatic gear box.

As with many truck transmissions these days, the ZF sourced Quickshift tranny is essentially a manual gearbox that takes care of the clutch engagement and gear changing part of things for you.

The ZF unit on the RWD Master performs much better than the auto on the FWD models. That said I’m still no fan. Clutch engagement especially when loaded remains an issue making low speed manoeuvring a pain. But if you do opt for the self-shifter it’s a $2,000 option.

The manual however, is a cracker; it’s a slick shifter with a short throw and is an easy grab from the steering wheel.

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RENAULT MASTER CAB CHASSIS COMFORT AND CONTROLS

Climbing into the cab is easy with a wide, generous step inside the door making an easy spring into the driver’s seat. The downside of the step as I’ve found is that if you drop something while on the move Murphy’s Law dictates it will disappear in to the step cavity and end up rolling around in the step well out of reach until you stop and open the door.

This is also bad news if you drop food while eating on the run because you then forget it’s there and step in the now cold bit of food it when hopping out of the vehicle and that’s just a waste of chips. But maybe I’m just being a bit too picky.

The interior has storage pockets and compartments everywhere, including a chilled compartment for a bottle of drink, and there’s always a spot for a latte while in transit.

The interior has storage pockets and compartments everywhere, including a chilled compartment for a bottle of drink, and there’s always a spot for a latte while in transit. The Bluetooth enabled stereo and optional satellite navigation works well and sound quality is surprisingly good indeed.

However, the eye level mounted screen for the unit sitting centrally in the middle of the cab at the top of the windscreen annoys me no end. I always find this unit in my peripheral vision, which drives me nuts; a dash mounted unit would be a much more preferable option.

I also find the cornering lights of the Master annoying, rather than coming on while the indicators are on they come on when the steering wheel is mover a full turn in either direction. 

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RENAULT MASTER CAB CHASSIS PAYLOAD

6291_Renault Master Single Cab Chassis Tray

The RWD Master will take a payload of up to 2.5 tonnes and tow up to 3 tonnes braked. I don’t drag anything behind the Renault on this trip but do get out into the paddocks to load it up at one stage.

The generous tray both in size and in height made plonking a decent load of hay on the back quite easy and the drop side tray fitted to the test vehicle makes loading and unloading an easy undertaking indeed.

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RENAULT MASTER CAB CHASSIS PERFORMANCE

As I head down to a colleague’s farm just north of Warrnambool I am able to get a feel for the Master on the open highway. Being empty I expect the Renault to skip and bump about on the Hamilton Highway as I head west.

To be fair the little 16-inch (40.6cm) dual wheels on the back axle did clang and bang a bit, it is a leaf sprung empty truck after all, but the skippety-hop factor is all but absent. In fact the little Renault is more than happy to sit on a good highway speed comfortably.

An advantage of having the steer wheels out in front of the driver rather than underneath is the tray-back is very easy to keep between the lines with very little kick through the steering, even on some very crappy road surfaces. The overwhelming impression is that of being quite car-like drive.

If you want that little bit more protection from the pounding pavement you can also opt for an Isri suspension seat, which is a very nice touch, though you can’t have this option if you choose the dual side airbag.

As ashamed as I am to admit it, I even find it a bit of fun on a winding road and get in a bit of heel and toe action while snicking through the gears. A little gear shifter icon lights up on the dashboard to indicate you need to change gear to maximise fuel economy.

I take this to mean the Master is trying to tell me I’m driving like a knob. Peak torque runs from 1,500rpm to 2,750rpm, which makes for anice fat bit of the rev range to draw on in hilly country or when dragging a load.

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THE VERDICT

The Renault Master probably isn’t the perfect farm vehicle on some fronts; ground clearance under the cab and drivetrain isn’t that great and the small wheel and tyre package make for a choppy ride out in the fields, but then again it isn’t designed as an off-road vehicle.

But if you need a small, comfortable run about for transporting produce bins or even livestock, the Master would do the job admirably. As a delivery vehicle or tradie’s mate it also makes a lot of sense with a potential load area length of up to 5.5m.

When using the 4,332mm wheelbase option it’s easy to whack a box on the back. The 3,682mm short wheelbase is also a good start for a service body truck and there’s also a power take-off (PTO) option. 

The Renault Master cab-chassis is a tight performing ergonomic broadside in answer to many of the utilitarian and bland machines which have been working in this part of the market for a long time.

It’s a nice drive empty and loaded, though there are always going to be others which win in the grunt department. But more importantly it managed to hold my attention for more than a couple of minutes.

RENAULT MASTER CAB CHASSIS HITS

  • Ergonomic, comfortable cab
  • Great road holding for a little dual wheeled truck

RENAULT MASTER CAB CHASSIS MISSES

  • Stereo display screen in a distracting position
  • The step wells eat floating objects in the cab

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RENAULT MASTER CAB CHASSIS SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model: Renault Master RWD Cab-chassis

Engine: 2.3-litre direct injected turbo-diesel engine

Power/Torque: 110kW@3,500rpm/350Nm@1,500-2750rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual (6-speed Quickshift automated optional)

Payload: up to 2,525kg

GVM: 4,500kg

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For the full detailed test report, grab a copy of NewFarmMachinery magazine issue 9, on-sale May 19. Subscribe to the magazine to have it delivered.

Find Renault Master trucks for sale.

Look up Renault Master truck specifications.

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