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Renault Master review (2010 onwards)
Model: Renault Master
Bodystyle: Panel van long wheelbase /medium roof
Engine: 2.3 dCi 125 diesel
Transmission: six-speed manual
Date of test: December 2011
More Renault reviews
Gallery: Renault Master (2010 onwards)
What is it?
It's a van! In case the pictures haven't already given that one away. Not the usual fodder for an MSN Cars road test, granted, but the Master panel van is an important product for Renault. It's also potentially crucial to the thousands of tradespeople, delivery drivers and fleet managers who'll be on the lookout for new vans right about now.
We could have simply run Renault's largest light commercial vehicle (LCV) over the usual mix of A-roads, B-roads and motorways that we head for on our passenger car tests. We could have, but that wouldn't reveal the whole story.
The Master is a specialist load carrier so as well as the usual road routes, we needed some weighty objects to stick in it. As luck would have it, the van's arrival just happened to coincide with my moving house. The perfect panel van test was on.
Where does it fit?
This generation of the Master launched in mid-2010 with confidence high at Renault that this was the van to export its dominance in the European LCV market to British shores. Standing in its way are large panel van household names like Ford's Transit and the Mercedes-Benz. Alongside them are models like Citroën's popular Relay and the Vauxhall Movano, which is based on the same platform as the Master.
Each of these large panel van stalwarts has a baffling model range with numerous engine, bodystyle and load capacity options. It's far more of a mix 'n' match affair than your typical passenger car purchase and it makes choosing between the top models a little tricky. Renault hopes to lure customers Master's direction with low running costs, the option of front- or rear-wheel-drive and colour screen sat-nav standard on most models.
Is it for you?
The Renault Master we tested was an LM 35, a long-wheelbase / medium-roof model with a 3,500kg gross vehicle weight. It sits at the upper end of the Master range from a size standpoint, measuring in at well over six metres long and packing nearly 2.5 metres of width between the two mirror tips.
There's room in it for 13 cubic meters of air and you can get at it either through the side-hinged rear doors or by hauling open the sliding side door on the flank. The maximum payload is 1,530kg and power is sent to the front wheels by the 2.3-litre dCi diesel engine that Renault developed specifically with commercial vehicle usage in mind.
The price for this particular package is over £25,500. Renault's TomTom sat-nav system is thrown in but air-conditioning and the advisable rear parking sensors come in the Convenience Plus option pack for £750 extra. A second sliding side door is £300.
What does it do well?
This particular Master is quite a size and because of that, the 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesel engine in the nose doesn't exactly inspire confidence. It only generates 123hp in this guise and, although there is a lustier 148hp version available, many of the Master's rivals have 3.0-litre units heading up their ranges.
Don't panic. As any seasoned van driver with tell you, it's torque that talks loudest in LCV land, not power. With 229lb ft of twisting force from 1,250rpm, the Master heaves itself up sharp inclines and gains speed emphatically, even with a substantial cargo on board.
You need to keep on top of the less-than-slick six-speed manual gearbox to get the best out of it, thanks to the short first and second ratios but the engine is rarely found wanting. It's refined with a present breathy note and minimal vibration at tickover.
Visibility in the Master is excellent. The van sits you high up for a clear forward view through the large windscreen and the chunky mirrors make it easy to keep a check on the flanks. Handling is secure, with the van's reluctance to pitch and lean its weight around through the corners impressing most.
What doesn't it do well?
The steering is set up more for easy low-speed manoeuvring than accuracy and reassurance in quick corners. It's understandable really but the Master still isn't as easy as it could be to keep on the right line at high speed. Although the engine rarely feels short of the low-end muscle to get it moving, drivers wanting effortless cruising pace for prolonged motorway use will probably find an engine upgrade worthwhile.
What's it like to live with?
The Master's an imposing sight with its tall headlight stacks and that cheese-grater grille. Inside the design is less eye-catching with grey plastics prevailing. Some of the alternatives have a higher quality feel inside but the Master feels as if it can match them on durability and offers masses of storage space. Door pockets you could almost climb into, dash-top document holders and a fold-out clipboard are the highlights.
Free sat-nav is a major Master selling point and the TomTom system works well. The problem is its positioning, mounted out of harm's way high on the ceiling where you'd expect to see the rear-view mirror. You're forced to keep glancing up to check the screen, taking your eyes off the road, then back to the controls governing the system which are in front of you on the dash. It's not ideal.
There are no such complaints concerning the Master's load area. It's big and evenly shaped as advertised. Access through the wide-opening sliding side doors is also good though the door stays at the rear seem a little on the flimsy side. The furniture and boxes of a house move were swallowed with minimal drama.
How green is it?
The 2.3-litre common-rail diesel engine returns 34mpg on the combined cycle, not bad for a van of this size. Watch economy drop through the floor when you've got a big load on board though. CO2 emissions of 221g/km from the Euro5-compatible version are similarly strong.
Would we buy it?
Renault's effort comes across as a very capable and well-designed panel van product. The engine performs admirably, particularly in stop/start traffic, and the bulk of our long-wheelbase test model was well hidden by its easy controls and clear visibility. Yes, the gearbox can be clunky and the siting of the sat-nav screen is weird but where it really matters the Master's a winner.
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