The Renault Master is a practical van but add another axle and the Renault Master 6x2 becomes a very different proposition bordering on a truck.
The debate has long raged over how relevant the 7.5-tonne truck is in this day and age but the fact remains that the UK’s road network, and our driving licensing system, has long been geared around it.
However, just because 7.5 tonnes is the threshold for what many consider the starting point for “urban distribution” using a light truck does it mean it’s the right thing to use. Enter the Renault Master 6x2.
In the same way that trucks start at 7.5 tonnes, vans, typically, are believed to finish at 3.5-tonnes, but there is a sizeable and growing shift towards larger GVW vans being used to do both the job of a 3.5-tonne van and that of a 7.5-tonner. Rather than leapfrog the 3.5- to 7.5-tonne class altogether a savvy operator should consider the payload, volume and most importantly cost implications of operating something in this middle ground.
The Iveco Daily is available as at 7.2-tonne van and poses a real eye-catching alternative to a 7.5-tonne Iveco Eurocargo, with a largely similar payload of around 3.5-tonnes for a bodied vehicle. Of course, the real benefit to running a van rather than a truck comes in the form of lower operating costs operating costs, particularly fuel consumption, and it is here that Renault Trucks hopes its Master 6x2 will take an advantage.
Plated at 6-tonnes, the Master 6x2 has a payload of at least 3-tonnes, and in this particular variant it’s 5.5m body gives a capacity of 31m3. Converted by Nefra Vehicle Technology in Holland, the Master is built on the front-wheel-drive chassis to crucially enable a lower entry height at the rear. It can be specified with either steel or air suspension, as well, and is powered by Renault’s 165hp twin turbodiesel. The 31m3 body is made by PD Stevens and has a side loading door as well as the rear shutter and tail-lift.
Renault Trucks head of LCV, Grahame Neagus, says the Master 6x2 is all about making B2B and B2C deliveries easier. “It has a slightly smaller footprint for a friendlier home delivery. It’s also more environmentally friendly and because of the lower running costs it keeps the accountants happy.”
While the slightly smaller size and the psychological difference of it being a van rather than a truck might improve the home delivery experience, the real benefit is actually in the speed of which deliveries can be made. The lower access is better from a health and safety standpoint, and keeps entry and exit from the loadspace. Although our test vehicle was fitted with a tail-lift depending on the items required to be loaded, the entry height is low enough for one not to be required.
That can significantly speed up delivery times, and anecdotally while opening and closing the rear of the 6x2 Master compared to a Renault Midlum 7.5-tonne box, we were able to operate the lift and close the rear doors in around 45 seconds compared to around two minutes on the truck. If you don’t need to use the rear doors to retrieve the items, delivery times are reduced even further when using the side access door. The potential to speed up deliveries is therefore enormous.
From the driver’s seat the Master 6x2 looks and feels like an ordinary Renault van. Only the tacho provides any indication that what you’re in is far from standard.
On the road, the Master is surprisingly nimble, given that with the one tonne payload on board and the additional bodywork it’s nearly twice the weight of a standard unladen panel van. The extra length might come as a surprise for some, particularly if you’re used to driving a van rather than used to driving a truck, but drive with the same care and attention you would when piloting an extra-long wheelbase van and all 8m of the Renault Master are well within your control.
The additional width of our test vehicle for the wide body makes the Renault Master a little less manoeuvrable, and given that’s front axle is forward of the driver turning the beast could prove tricky compared to a cab-over 7.5-tonner. Nevertheless, it’s a perfectly pleasant vehicle to drive, much more so than a conventional small truck.
You’d barely notice the additional length, width and weight. One area that does require attention is the suspension. Our test vehicle had the standard steel suspension and it is fair to say it did not enjoy the Cotswolds roads. While this particular vehicle was already destined for a customer who had specific requirements to meet for the specification of the van, Neagus does admit that he expects the majority of the Master 6x2s to be sold with air suspension – he’s also expecting it to be quite a popular model, with sales in the large van segment at around 1000 units per year, he expects to be knocking on the door of 200 units by the end of 2019.
Our advice would be to follow the crowds and spend that little more on the air suspension because even a suspended driver’s seat wouldn’t compensate adequately.
On top of the possible productivity gains, fuel consumption plays a big part in differentiating between the cab-over 7.5-tonners and the van chassis like the Master. We took both vehicles over the same demanding Cotswolds route. With more than 1-tonne on board the 7.5-tonner recorded a respectable 17.5mpg, but the Renault Master turned in an impressive 29.9mpg.
To put that more simply in financial terms, based on a per litre price of £1.33 for the diesel, the annual fuel cost over 30,000 miles of the Renault Midlum 7.5 tonne truck would be £10,313, but the Master would cost just £6,066 to operate, a saving of £4,247 or over five years a massive £21,325. Once you factor in repair and maintenance costs of the Master you’re looking at a substantial saving that goes a long way to paying off the capital cost of the vehicle.
At around £50,000 for the vehicle in the spec we drove, it is significantly more than even the most expensive 4.5-tonne Renault Master at £38,000. It’s even more expensive than a similarly specified Iveco Eurocargo 75E16 with a column lift at £42,500. But, then there is the TCO argument to consider.
Overall, if your workload allows there’s very little reason why you shouldn’t consider the 6x2 master as an alternative to a 7.5-tonner. With payload and volume not an issue, the crucial factor of fuel will play heavily in its favour. Even with a heavy dose of scepticism we are struggling to see any tangible negatives in not abandoning cab-overs in favour of this pioneer of productivity.