Niall Hampton

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Following the launch of the new Renault Master based Rimor Koala Elite range, our Editor Niall Hampton can see the French brand growing in popularity

Rimor’s decision to base its new Koala Elite range on the Renault Master will increase visibility of this lesser-seen base vehicle, which in our opinion is a pretty fine one, too. 

At last year’s Commercial Vehicle show at the NEC Birmingham, we reported on updates to Renault’s Master and Trafic vans. The Master, in particular, gained two new engines with twin turbo units, available in 135hp and 165hp versions. There were other refinements to some of the driving aids, new car-like seating, and an updated stereo including Bluetooth and USB connectivity. 

We’ve been lucky to enjoy some of these new features at first hand, having just collected our latest long-term loan motorhome, a Master-based Adria Matrix Supreme 687 SBC. Specified with the 165hp engine, the 687 SBC is an absolute joy to drive, with plenty of power, great acceleration and effortless handling that doesn’t make a long drive feel like a chore. 

Our market isn’t a biggie for Renault: including its smaller Trafic van, you’ll find the silver diamond adorning the front grilles of around three per cent of motorhomes sold in Europe (against the 83% share of SEVEL’s Fiat Ducato/Peugeot Boxer/Citroën Relay) but the French firm is committed to the sector.

Renault has a good reputation among converters for being collaborative and open to ideas, and its PRO+ support programme (a resource for business and fleet users) also covers motorhome conversions on Renault vans. But Master owners may not need to spend too much time in their local Renault garage: in the Practical Motorhome Owner Satisfaction Awards 2015, the Master came third in the satisfaction league table for new motorhomes, scoring 88%, and topped it for pre-owned (83%). 

Aside Adria, which offers the Renault Master on its Matrix Supreme 687 SBC and SLT, other converters on Renault bases include Devon, Hillside Leisure and, of course, Rimor. The Italian brand is firmly back in the game following some financial difficulties in 2013, now building motorhomes on the Master and the Fiat Ducato after a long involvement with the Ford Transit. 

The Master chassis cab underpins the new Koala Elite range, as well as the Katamarano. Where the two differ is traction: the Koala Elite uses rear-wheel-drive with twin wheels on either side of the axle; the Katamarano uses front-wheel-drive (80% of Renault Masters that roll out of the factory are FWD). 

Renault offers a choice of four different 2.3-litre dCi engines for the Master: 110hp, 125hp, 135hp and 165hp, with twin turbo units fitted on the two largest engines. A selectable ECO mode improves fuel economy by up to 10 per cent, says Renault, by adjusting engine torque and the heating system settings. 

Standard specification includes ESC, hill start assist and Grip Xtend for difficult road conditions, while the steering on the twin turbo engines receives electro-hydraulic assist to make manoeuvring easy at speeds of under 30mph. Options include a wide view mirror that provides a rearward view of the passenger-side blind spot, for countering blind spots when emerging from a Y junction, and trailer swing assist. Automatic transmission will be available on the Master in due course, says Renault. 

The Master is built at the SOVAB factory near Metz in France. A total of 120,000 vehicles a year rolls off the production line, around 640 vehicles per weekday, with more than 80% of them painted white. As you can see, the factory is state-of-the-art

So despite only being a small player in the motorhome market, Renault has an impressive base vehicle offering that competes well with the established players. As SEVEL vans are front-wheel-drive only, a Renault Master with rear-wheel-drive offers a genuine point of difference over its rivals. And in doing so, it joins a RWD base vehicle club that includes the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Iveco Daily, as well as the Ford Transit, which is also available in all-wheel-drive as well as FWD. 

The Master also offers converters a good balance between quality and affordability, something that has helped Rimor set low prices for its new Master-based Koala Elite. The Italian producer is set to build 1200 motorhomes on the Renault Master this year. 

And if more converters start building on the Master, then there will be even greater choice in the motorhome market. The Master has many good things up its sleeve – it costs less than some other popular base vehicles and has a good technical specification.

Adria’s Matrix Supreme conversion is an accomplished one, with desirable kit including Alde heating and a drop-down lounge bed, but the base vehicle is a real star, too: a pleasure to drive and with that twin turbo 165hp engine coupled to an all-up weight of 3850kg, game for anything.

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