The low-down on the new Renault Maxity

Whether or not you are a fan of cab-over-engine (COE) van designs, few people could argue with the basic fact that the Renault Maxity looks impressive. Like the near-identical Nissan Cabstar, this new 3.5-tonne chassis cab is arguably the best-looking van of its type on the market. It brings big-truck cab design to the 3.5-tonne sector. Our first impressions of the interior were just as positive, and we were immediately impressed with how much space you have. COE cabs are traditionally cramped, but the Maxity is a giant leap in the right direction. Unlike some rival COEs, you don't feel as though you are wearing the Maxity.

While we appreciate that this was the entry-level Maxity, and is likely destined for a life of abuse on building sites, we were shocked to discover just how basic the standard spec is. For £17,350 you get electric windows, but that's about it. We get angry when van makers fail to fit CD-players, but Renault Trucks has gone one stage further and has not even bothered with a radio. As for the lack of a driver's airbag, we consider this to be a serious omission.

Visibility through the big front windscreen is great, but your rear view isn't as clear. While the mirrors are certainly large enough (in fact you could argue that they are too large and stick out too far), why aren't they fitted with a wide-angle section?

The 110hp engine pulled well, allowing our fully-laden 3.5-tonner to get up to speed quickly enough. The cab is of course mounted over the engine - something you are well aware of when accelerating hard. The five-speed manual transmission is best described as average. Like in other COE vans, the driver sits directly above the front axle, which means he feels every bit of uneven road surface.

However the Maxity's suspension does a relatively good job of flattening-out the bumps - helped in this case by a full load. While the ride quality definitely isn't as accomplished as a regular European-type van, it's certainly one of the best COE's we have driven and is vastly superior than the previous generation of Cabstar. Manoeuvrability is excellent, and is aided by a combination of a great turning circle and no bonnet. Were it not for the overly-long wing mirrors it would be the perfect van for crowded urban streets.

Verdict

The Maxity certainly has its merits, namely manoeuvrability, value-for-money and an impressive 1,832kg payload. However, on the downside, comfort features are few and far between and the gear change is on the crude side. This van is likely to appeal to small building firms, but we can't see it having any serious fleet appeal. At the end of the day, anyone wanting a good quality 3.5-tonne chassis cab with a diamond badge on its grille, need look no further than the Renault Master.

More truckstops required

Parking pressure

The pressure on truckstops has been all too apparent in recent weeks, but will the Highways Agency consultation help provide a national strategy for lorry parking? Truckstops are an essential part of every driver's life. With strict legislation surrounding the number of hours they can drive, having safe and secure places to park up to take the required rest breaks is a must. But in recent weeks there have been a number of issues around truckstops that will not put drivers' minds at rest.

Nightowl's Alconbury truckstop is due to close on 31 August (Alconbury nightowl truckstop to close), although the Road Haulage Association is trying to fight it. The previous week Orwell truckstop managed to beat the threat of closure and was given permission to serve LGVs and the public (Orwell truckstop allowed to serve the public). Pricing is the other issue that has caused some consternation and RoadChef's move to increase the price to overnight at Clacket Lane Services on the M25 to £25 has angered many.

The problem

The problem seems to be the lack of joined-up thinking. The Highways Agency (HA) is responsible for the strategic road network in the UK and therefore the provision facilities that sit alongside it although not the facilities themselves. But its approach to parking places for LGVs can hardly be described as joined up or even national. At present the rules stipulate that there should be a place for trucks to stop every 30 miles on the strategic network. A Highways Agency consultation paper on the provision of motorway service areas was open for comment at the beginning of the year. While some of the feedback has been made public (see sidebar) the HA's full response has yet to be published.

The Response

James Firth, strategic road network manager at the Freight Transport Association (FTA), says the FTA was a little disappointed with HA's consultation document, because there was not enough emphasis on lorries. "Our view is that HA is responsible for the strategic road network and therefore has a responsibility to allow [LGV] drivers to take their required rest. But other parts of the industry have a responsibility to support that," he says.

He adds the FTA believes there should be more services areas and more provision for commercial vehicles. "Where one large commercial vehicle could park the MSA [motorway service area] could get a coach-load of customers or lots of cars with paying customers, so yes, I think we do need some national policy directing this." He adds that local concerns about truck stops are understandable, but there is not the national capacity for trucks and so something needs to be done, "particularly when you consider the increasing need for security to protect trucks from crime".

Jack Semple, director of policy at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), agrees that lorries were not given enough emphasis in the HA consultation document. "There should be a national policy for lorry parking that is developed by the government," he says. He also suggests there should be an independent planning authority that could oversee major projects in transport, energy and waste, so the national requirement is taken into account along with local needs.

Points to consider

  • Comments to the Highways Authority (HA) in response to the consultation paper:
  • HA should provide advice to MSAs
  • Local planning authorities should retain their role, but recognise the national requirement
  • Change spacing criteria of stops to 30 minutes of driving time rather than 30 miles
  • Signs to lorry parks should be close to junctions and give full information on the facilities
  • Trucks should be allowed to park at picnic sites
  • If a facility closes the land should be safeguarded for another parking site
  • Additional laybys are required
  • Facilities for drivers should include toilets, showers, food and security
  • More lorry parking spaces are required