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Renault Trafic Passenger review: Fits the bill on city streets and open roads

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A big nine-seater minibus with a mere 1.6 litres under the bonnet – just a few years ago the idea would have been almost laughable.

But the new Renault Trafic Passenger is a graphic illustration of how far the motor industry has come on fuel efficiency: smaller, cleaner but still powerful engines which are better for the environment as well as the operator's pockets.

In fact over its 35 year life and successive modifications, the 1.6 diesel (in single and twin turbo versions, with a range of outputs) had become the standard, compared to the 2.5 and later 2.0 litre units which previously provided the motive power.

The test version, in Business specification, was powered by the 115Ps turbo diesel, the middle of the three options, also produces 300Nm of torque, much of it available from engine speeds barely above tickover.

With its six-speed gearbox, it's equally at home on city streets or open roads, and whether you have just the driver on board or a full complement of nine adults seems to make little difference.

This, after all, a minibus but it's based on a commercial vehicle chassis and drivetrain capable of carrying much heavier loads – some 1,239kg in this 115Ps, standard wheebase version.

In passenger guise, the 115 Trafic SWB is capable of averaging 43.5mpg, according to official figures, with 170g/km of Co2.

Other options now include the latest twin turbo dCi power plants, with 125Ps and 145Ps respectively, which offer more power and torque but are leaner and cleaner, too, meeting the latest EU6b emissions regulations.

The nine seats are set in three rows of three, the second and third rows of which are easily removable without the use of tools which adds flexibility to the vehicle for business users who only occasionally need to transport customers or employees.

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Access is via large sliding doors on either side, with the second row seat on the nearside folding forward to make access easier to the third row. All the seats have head restraints and three-point seatbelts.

The driver has a commanding view, not only in front but all round thanks to the large passenger windows and big, commercial vehicle style wing mirrors which are electrically adjustable.

The tall seat has height and lumbar support adjustment. and you get a fold-down armrest, too.

The steering is light and the braking system (discs all round with ABS) is progressive and effective – not too sharp that it will upset your passengers.

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The short gear level, mounted on a pod in the centre console, has a slick, easy action but the handbrake - mounted on the floor – is a bit of a reach.

Fortunately that's not much of an issue in everyday driving as the hill start assist system is so effective even with a full complement of passengers that reaching for the lever is more seeking comfort than a real need.

The standard wheelbase version has a turning circle of under 12 metres, so it isn't difficult to manoeuvre around town and in car parks, particularly with such an excellent all round view.

Aerodynamic and sound-deadening measures have made the latest Trafic range quieter, which is just as important to a working vehicle as a purely passenger one. It comes with electric windows, a whole raft of cabin storage areas, and new technology in the form of a DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

Like its commercial cousin, the Passenger is also fitted with safety systems including stability and traction control, plus a anti-trailer swing system if you need to tow.

Higher grade vehicles also come with the benefit of features such as air conditioning, cruise control, parking sensors, satnav, alloy wheels and automatic headlights. Gas-filled struts make light work of opening the large – full width and height – rear cargo door, with a flat load floor at just about knee height to store cases and bags behind the third row seats.

Operators of the long wheelbase version get enough space there to take a large family and all their luggage on a fortnight's holiday. There are lots of storage spaces, including cupholders, neatly placed within the driver's reach.

Prices start from £26,780 for the SWB 95dCi model rising to £32,335 for the top specification Sport version, with long wheelbase body and the latest 145Ps twin turbo engine.

By John Griffiths

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