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.