The body is new, the engines are fresh and the cab is much improved over the old model – but the first thing you’ll notice about the new Renault Master is that gaping grille – a sort of cross between a modern sculpture and a giant bean slicer.
Personally I love it and it’s hats off to the designers at Renault for making a bold statement for its new heavy panel van.
This van may essentially be the same as its twin brother the Vauxhall Movano, but Vauxhall’s grille is a much more sombre affair.
Both vans went on sale in May, offering for the first time front- and rear-wheel drive, together with gross vehicle weights up to 4.5 tonnes.
A single engine powers the new van – it’s a new one designed especially for commercial vehicles that weighs in at 2.3 litres and offers power of 100bhp, 125bhp and 150bhp, with torque of 210lb-ft, 228lb-ft and 258lb-ft.
All models have six-speed gearboxes.
This engine offers fuel economy gains of around 4.1mpg over the outgoing 2.5-litre unit, while servicing costs have dropped by 28% over the old model.
Standard features include ABS brakes, while ESC electronic stability control is standard on rear-wheel drive models.
Renault offers the usual staggering array of load lengths, roof heights and chassis-cab variants.
We tried this van for the first time in France and for this first UK test we drove, back to back, the RWD 3.5-tonne 150bhp medium wheelbase medium roof and the FWD 3.3-tonne shortwheelbase medium high roof 100bhp.
This van is a heavyweight performer and a half.
Although they come larger at 4.5 tonnes, our test model had that big truck feel and was definitely NOT something that can be thrown around the corners in a hurry.
The clutch is massively heavy and the gearchanges not the quickest in the world, but when there are heavy loads to be moved across long distances, this van won’t let you down.
The 150bhp didn’t feel hugely fast but the massive amount of torque – 258lb-ft at a low 1,500rpm – means that there will never be a shortage of oomph.
In fact this van will take off in second quite happily and will traverse roundabouts in top gear.
Load volume is a meaty 12.4 cubic metres and payload is 1,245kgs.
It’s a big climb up to the cab and the driver’s seat is firm and supportive.
This van took in a trip from Peterborough to Southampton during its test week and there were no back twinges at all.
And the passenger seats are comfortable too – unlike in some vans I could mention.
They are two separate ones rather than a single slab.
And bear in mind that Renault offers a very tasty TomTom sat-nav unit as part of the standard package.
It’ll set you back £900 as an extra on Movano and features a nice big colour screen.
Climbing aboard this (slightly) smaller model immediately revealed a much different animal – the heavy clutch action was still there but this van felt much more lightweight and easy to manoeuvre.
Load volume was lower at 10.8 cubic metres but curiously payload was higher at 1,415kgs, thanks to the lower weight of the van itself.
All the handy little extras of the first model were there, including the little pull-out A4 document clip, and I really fell in love with the free sat-nav unit that features a nice big colour screen and an operation that’s a doddle, even for old technophobes like me.
Out on the road this engine isn’t exactly a ball of fire and I’d be tempted to recommend the higher-powered 125bhp unit as the best fleet option if heavy loads are to be carried.
The problem with lower power engines is that drivers will be tempted to floor the throttle at every opportunity to try and squeeze extra power out of the vehicle that just isn’t there.
The result is no more speed, reduced fuel economy and more engine stress.
My only major problem with the new Master is that Renault has chosen to add ESC as standard on rear wheel drive models only.
This life-saving device is standard on Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, VW Crafter and Iveco Daily and I was hoping that Renault (and Vauxhall for that matter) would follow suit.
But fleets which want it on FWD models will have to cough up £400.
That rather takes the shine off this vehicle, bearing in mind that Renault purports to take safety seriously.