Renault's Trafic and Master vans are now available with a new six-speed semi-automatic 'Quickshift6' gearbox.

This technology, first seen in the French automaker's compact Twingo and Clio passenger cars, is claimed to combine the performance and operating economy of a manual gearbox with the ease of use of an automatic transmission.

The new system, which, in the UK is expected to account for around 5% of total sales in each range, will be available with the 2.5 dCi diesel engines in 100, 120 and 140hp guise depending on model. The new versions cost £800 extra here.

There's no word yet whether Renault will offer the new automated transmissions to General Motors Europe and Nissan Europe, which sell versions of both van lines in Europe under the Opel, Vauxhall and Nissan nameplates.

The Quickshift6 gearbox (internally known as the PA6) is developed from the firm's six-speed manual gearbox and consists of a manual gearbox combined with a module (computer and transducers) which automates the clutching, declutching and gearchanging operations. A second computer controls engine torque output and speed to ensure smooth gearchanging.

The Quickshift6 clutch-less gearbox gives drivers a choice between two driving modes: semi-automatic, in which drivers select their own gears with a single movement of the gear lever, and automatic mode, requiring no driver action.

Among the benefits Renault claims are: the vans are "impossible to stall"; the engine always operates in its optimum speed range, thanks to auto-adaptive gearchanging characteristics; the ability to decelerate or hold speed using engine braking, as with a manual gearbox; and reduced average fuel consumption (by 8 to 10% according to version) in automatic mode when compared with a conventional manual gearbox.

Like the similar systems now available on many passenger car models in Europe, the Renault automated manual vans have a 'joystick' type of gear lever. To move away from rest, the driver depresses the brake pedal and the vehicle shifts into automatic mode by default. Pressing the accelerator pedal starts the van moving, as with a full automatic transmission.

Renault's Quickshift6 van transmission features two aids to starting from rest: one when the vehicle is heavily laden, the other in low-friction conditions. These functions are selected via a dashboard-mounted switch and an indicator light on the dashboard shows the selected mode.

The "load" mode, for use when the vehicle is heavily laden, reduces clutch slip and alters the gearchange threshold points.

The "snow" mode automatically activates the automatic mode and limits wheel spin when starting from rest.

The Quickshift6 transmission also features some automatic operations which make for easier use and minimise the risk of driver error.

Changing up is inhibited if the accelerator pedal is suddenly released and changing down is inhibited if it would result in engine over-speeding. Automatic downshift takes place if the engine is under-speeding and automatic downshift occurs if the brakes are operated.
First gear is automatically selected if the speed falls below 7kph (4mph).

The selection of the ideal gear is made, as in Renault's Proactive automatic transmission, in accordance with auto-adaptive parameters stored within the memory of the transmission computer.

Other features include a 'kickdown' function for rapid downshifting in emergency situations (avoidance, overtaking, sudden braking) and greater transmission responsiveness.

For easier parking manoeuvres, the transmission allows full automatic transmission -like movement at idling speed, sometimes known as "creeping". In first and reverse gears, the vehicle moves at idle speed after the brake pedal and/or handbrake is released. This function also allows the vehicle to be held steady on a shallow gradient and facilitates hill starts.

In automatic mode, which switches between auto-adaptive characteristic curves using fuzzy logic, each gear change occurs at maximum torque. Engine efficiency is always ideal and there is no overreving. Fuel consumption can be reduced by up to a claimed 8% on the Master and 10% on the Trafic, by comparison with a conventional manual gearbox.