What Car? says...
Big vans don’t usually make for convincing electric vehicles, but slowly and surely there are more options for buyers to choose from – and the latest to join the fray is the Renault Master E-Tech.
The new Master E-Tech – which shares many electrical components with the smaller Renault Kangoo E-Tech – follows on from the older Renault Master ZE. It uses the same electric motor as that model, giving it 76bhp and 166lb ft of torque, but now has a bigger battery (52kWh), for an official range of 124 miles.
On top of that, despite its new name and electric set-up, the Master E-Tech is an elder of the large van world, hindered by an ageing chassis, which is a legacy of the Renault Master diesel van. Still, while the van itself is old, the technology its fitted with is improving, and the Master E-Tech represents an improvement over the Master ZE, with more safety features and driver comforts.
Renault has also increased the range – as in model range, not electric range – of the electric Master van. The French manufacturer has added to the three wheelbases and two body lengths of the previous model with an extra height size.
There are now three gross vehicle weights available, to make use of the increased allowance for electric vans when driven on a car licence. That means payloads of up to 1.2 tonnes and load volumes of up to 15m3.
Over the next few pages of this review, we'll tell you everything you need to know about the Renault Master E-Tech – from what the performance is like to how it compares for running costs with the best rivals.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
With just 76bhp to play with, the Renault Master E-Tech doesn’t have the same sort of get-up-and-go as rival large electric vans. As a result, it feels slow – and that's unusual in an electric vehicle because many models dazzle the driver with their relentless power.
In fact, this electric Master is grossly underpowered compared with the diesel Renault Master. The 166lb ft of torque does help, but all in all, the Master E-Tech will feel fairly gutless when heavily loaded.
The main improvement is the new, larger battery which replaces the 33kWh battery pack found in the previous generation van with a new 52kWh battery. Still, the Master E-Tech’s 124-mile official range isn't going to trouble the Ford E-Transit, which can officially manage 196 miles on a charge.
In its favour, as long as you're not in a hurry, it's a pleasant van to drive, with a better ride than its diesel equivalent. The weight of the batteries is spread across the length of the van and beneath the chassis, lowering the centre of gravity to improve handling.
The suspension is firm, but that’s quite normal for a large van. Less appealing is the road noise, which definitely increases as you approach the van’s top speed of 55mph. It’s not particularly distracting though, and perhaps more annoying (to our ears, anyway) is the distinctive artificial noise used at lower speeds. Naturally, the Master E-Tech is quieter overall than the diesel Master.
The interior layout, fit and finish
There are two schools of thought on the interiors of electric vans. They’re either outrageously different to the combustion-engined vehicle they’re based on, or virtually the same. The Renault Master E-Tech interior sits in the second camp, with a few new dials and some E-Tech branding.
The Master’s interior is dominated by grey plastics, but as drab as that might sound it’s not a miserable environment, and is actually rather spacious and smart. There’s a 7.0in central R-Link Evolution infotainment screen that allows smartphone mirroring along with a tablet docking station.
The surround for the infotainment is a bit chunky and not really in keeping with the otherwise quite sleek look of the interior, but the system works well enough. It can pair with Bluetooth devices, has DAB radio, and generally behaves as expected, which is a lot more than can be of some rival systems.
The seats are comfortable but firm and quite upright, which is fine for short periods but can become tiresome on longer trips. They’re also quite high compared with a relatively low dashboard. It’s not a problem, though, and does give you a very good view out of the van. Visibility all round is generally good, thanks to large mirrors.
There’s a fold-down central seat, giving you cupholders, some shallow storage areas and a flat surface that doubles as a laptop holder with a swivelling tray, which some drivers may find useful.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The latest Renault Master E-Tech’s biggest selling point is the jump from six versions (still a commendable number, compared with the single version the Mercedes eSprinter comes in) to 15.
Load volumes range from 8m3 to 15m3, with short, medium and long wheelbases, three roof heights and three different weight options. That ensures there’s a version to suit almost every operation, with vans that focus on volume, and others that prioritise payload, with a heavier 3.8-tonne gross vehicle weight (GVW).
Payloads are similar to the diesel Renault Master and the best performing electric Master will be able to move 1.2-tonnes. Dimensions inside the load area remain unchanged, so the Master E-Tech can move load lengths from 2583mm to 3733mm depending on the version.
On the inside, there’s a decent amount of storage, particularly in the door pockets, but also the glovebox. It’s worth mentioning that UK models get a standard glovebox that drops down on a hinge, whereas European vans get a sort of tray that slides out on runners and is even larger.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Large electric vans don't come cheap compared with conventional equivalents, but the electrified Renault Master has always been at the more affordable end of the spectrum.
When it comes to running and charging the van, there are two ways of powering the Master – but the bad news is that neither is as fast as the competition. The Master E-Tech doesn’t support rapid charging, but it does do 22kW DC charging and 7.4kW AC single-phase.
As a result, charge times are slow, with a 7.4kW wall box taking around five hours to reach 80% charge, doubling to more than 10 hours on a domestic 3.7kW supply. The 22kW DC charger is a little better, with 31 miles of range added in around 45 minutes.
Safety tech includes the option of lane-departure warning, rear parking assistance and a reversing camera, but there’s also front and rear parking sensors, emergency braking and a rear-view camera that replaces the rear-view mirror to give a view behind.
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About the author
George Barrow is one of the leading van and truck reviewers, and is the UK’s only representative on the prestigious International Van of the Year jury. He has written about vans and commercial vehicles for the past 15 years, and can be found in titles including The Sun and What Van?, alongside What Car?.
Barrow is well regarded in the commercial vehicle industry, securing access to the latest models – and the people who made them – long before other titles.