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2019 Renault Trafic Trader Life review

By Tony O’Kane, 23 May 2019 Car Reviews

2019 Renault Trafic Trader Life review

An honest no-frills workhorse for business operators on a budget

Are you a small business owner with plenty of stock to move, a tradie who’d rather an affordable van than a ute, or a fleet operator that needs as many vehicles as possible for as little cost as possible? Renault’s low-cost Trafic Trader Life has been designed expressly with you in mind.

But does the pursuit of a bargain price mean the $29,990 drive-away (for ABN holders) Trafic ends up being cheap and nasty?

VALUE

Value is, without any doubt, the Renault Trafic Trader Life’s strongest attribute. Being able to exchange less than $30K for a van drive away is something of a steal in the light commercial market, and if you’re a business operator – whether owner-driver or otherwise – that’s looking for a new workhorse that won’t get your accountant riled up, it’s ideal.

Downsides? Well, you don’t get much in the way of choice. Want a colour other than Glacier White? Too bad. Prefer to have barn doors instead of the liftgate? Sorry, the Trafic Trader Life has no such option. You also get a less comprehensive safety fit-out than other Trafics, but we’ll get into that later.

STANDARD FEATURES

Like we were saying, the budget-friendly Trafic isn’t exactly overburdened with equipment. It’s a basics-only proposition, with a simple single-DIN radio head unit (that does at least have Bluetooth phone and media streaming). A 12-volt socket sits to the left of the gear shifter and a USB and auxiliary audio input can be found within the dash-top storage bin.

Cruise control, a speed limiter, manual air conditioning and power front windows are the other main equipment ‘highlights’, but the missing item that may rankle some buyers is a big one: there’s no automatic option right now, a six-speed manual is your only choice of transmission.

SIZE

The Trafic Trader Life is available only in the Trafic’s shorter wheelbase length, giving 3098mm between the front and rear axles. Measuring just under five metres long and 1.95 metres wide overall, the Trader Life competes with other midsize vans like the Toyota Hiace, Ford Transit Custom, Volkswagen Transporter, Hyundai iLoad, Mercedes-Benz Vito and LDV G10.

Able to take a payload of 1235kg and boasting a total cargo volume of 5.2 cubic metres, the Trader Life can tote a lot of gear. The load area measures 2537mm long, 1662mm wide and 11387 from roof to floor, with 1268mm between the rear arches. That last figure is enough to slide a standard pallet between the rear wheels, however with the Trader Life’s rear door only being available as a liftgate you’ll have to forklift those pallets in through the single side door instead.

SAFETY

While many vans in the segment are beginning to follow the lead of the passenger car market and offer electronic safety aids like autonomous emergency braking as standard, the Trafic Trader Life is definitely not one of them.

In fact, it lags behind other Trafic variants by not offering more basic safety features like a reversing camera or sensors, and only being equipped with two front airbags – no side-bags.

COMFORT

Though it offers a three-seat front row, the Trader Life is realistically more of a two-seater. The centre seat occupant has to deal with the prominent dash hump that carries the transmission’s gear lever, which compromises knee room significantly.

Want to make use of that flip-down centre cupholder? Maybe don’t if you’ve got three people aboard.

That shifter hump also gets in the way of driver comfort, restricting the driver’s left leg from being able to spread – an annoyance on long journeys, especially as there’s no footrest next to the clutch pedal.

But besides those quibbles, the Trafic is comfortable, spacious and solidly built, with the driver given a great view through the front glass and the big wing mirrors doing their part to eliminate blind spots.

There’s no bulkhead separating the seats from the cargo area, but that’s not unexpected given the Trader Life’s price point.

ON THE ROAD

The engine compartment contains the most telling evidence that this is well and truly a budget-oriented van. Rather than the 85kW or 103kW 1.6-litre turbo diesels found across the rest of the Trafic range, the Trafic Trader Life receives an older, 66kW/260Nm version of those engines.

Acceleration is… not great. With a claimed 0-100km/h time of 15.9 seconds without any load aboard the Trader Life is slow, but the engine is nevertheless surprisingly torquey and if you shift frequently enough to keep it in the middle of its rev range it can lope along without feeling overly stressed.

That said, even with just a light-ish 150kg payload (plus driver), the impact of weight upon performance is still felt when going up inclines. Loading it up even more would surely be testing the abilities of that engine, even at half of the van’s 1235kg max payload.

Towing capacity tops out at 2000kg on a braked trailer, but attempting to pull that much weight with the 66kW diesel – nevermind whether there’s any additional weight in the back of the van too – would either be dangerously glacial, or a real test of patience at the very least.

But if you need a parcel delivery van or your work gear isn’t all that heavy, that engine should be sufficient. The absence of an automatic is more egregious, though thankfully the manual shifter is light and fairly precise, with a well-defined friction point for the clutch.

The steering is also light and without much slack between tiller and front wheels, while the 11.84 metre turning circle gives reasonably good maneuverability in tighter streets.

VERDICT

There’s always going to be shortcomings for anything that’s pitched at the bargain-hunting end of the market, and the Renault Trafic Trader Life is no exception. The core engineering is sound, though, and besides some ergonomic miss-steps, a bare-bones equipment list and a powertrain that doesn’t have the muscle to make the most of the Trafic’s load-lugging capacity, it’s a good honest work van.

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