How do you make a ve­hi­cle that’s al­ready good (and pop­u­lar) even bet­ter? You give it a proper gear­box, of course.

Go! Camp & Drive - - Contents - Text and pho­tos Leon Botha

Re­nault’s Duster hasn’t been in the coun­try that long, but since its en­try into the mar­ket in 2013, more than seven of them are sold ev­ery day. The sales have sur­passed 12 000, and it seems as if ev­ery third car on the road is a Duster. Its pop­u­lar­ity can be chalked up to a num­ber of rea­sons: It’s af­ford­able for a new car, it’s a com­pact yet com­fort­able car per­fect for a fam­ily, and then of course it also per­forms well when you hitch a car­a­van or trailer to it. The 1,5 ℓ diesel en­gine’s 240 Nm torque is more than enough to tow a ve­hi­cle with far more than its tare weight (that’s if it was le­gal of course). Now Re­nault has ex­panded the range by in­tro­duc­ing the Duster’s first au­to­matic vari­ant. Not only do buy­ers now have more op­tions, but the EDC au­to­matic trans­mis­sion is the trans­mis­sion of the fu­ture, in more ways than one. Re­nault also gave this model’s diesel en­gine a bit more oomph and pushed the torque up to 250 Nm.

In high gear

From a tow­ing per­spec­tive, dou­ble cab bakkies and util­ity ve­hi­cles have taken over the mar­ket, and on closer in­spec­tion you’ll no­tice that most of these ve­hi­cles have diesel en­gines. The Duster fits per­fectly into the smaller util­ity ve­hi­cle seg­ment. Three of the five mod­els have diesel en­gines and their prices also don’t dif­fer vastly. The cheap­est diesel model costs R280 000, the new au­to­matic model is R20 000 more, and for an­other R5 000 you’ll get be­hind the wheel of the 4x4 model. Be­sides the de­cent price and en­gine, the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion isn’t just any old trans­mis­sion. The EDC stands for “ef­fi­cient dual clutch” – the type of trans­mis­sion com­monly used by man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Volk­swa­gen, which calls its ver­sion a DSG. This trans­mis­sion

is known for seam­less shift­ing be­tween gears with­out hav­ing to com­pro­mise on torque. It’s there­fore ideal for tow­ing and even more eco­nom­i­cal than a man­ual model. It’s odd that man­u­fac­tur­ers don’t all throw their weight be­hind this type of trans­mis­sion, be­cause you still see con­ven­tional au­to­matic gear­boxes in new and even more ex­pen­sive ve­hi­cles. The dual-clutch trans­mis­sion in essence isn’t a pure au­to­matic gear­box but rather an au­to­mated trans­mis­sion. It’s ba­si­cally two gear­boxes in one, with a clutch plate that makes the gear changes in a frac­tion of a sec­ond. The one clutch works on the un­even gear num­bers (1, 3 and 5) and the sec­ond one on the rest (in­clud­ing re­verse).

The lighter side

The Duster is not a heavy­weight and also not in­tended to tow heavy trail­ers. Be­sides the 4x4 model that has a tow­ing ca­pac­ity of 1,5 t, the rest can tow up to 1,2 t. If you look at the tare weight, the car­a­van or trailer’s gross ve­hi­cle mass (GVM) is not al­lowed to ex­ceed 1 136–1 224 kg (de­pend­ing on the model). With the au­to­matic model it’s 1 224 kg, which means there are only a hand­ful of car­a­vans you can choose from. You can, for ex­am­ple, tow only one of Jur­gens’ range of seven road car­a­van if you ad­here to Re­nault’s 1,2 t limit, and that’s the Sprite Sprint with a recorded GVM of 1 110 kg. You could also tow the heav­ier Sprite Swing (with a GVM of 1 240 kg), be­cause empty it weighs 1 016 kg, but its GVM is 16 kg heav­ier than the Duster’s tare weight, and the au­thor­i­ties don’t al­low that. The Kil­ber-Startrek tow bar (which is on our test ve­hi­cle) iron­i­cally enough is re­stricted to a tow load of 1,5 t, but the al­lowed ver­ti­cal weight on the ball (the car­a­van’s nose weight) is fixed at a measly 45 kg – among the light­est on the mar­ket. That lim­its you, be­cause Re­nault’s own limit for the nose weight is 75 kg. Look­ing at the Sprite again, it’s highly un­likely that you’ll be able to pack the car­a­van in such a way that the nose weight won’t ex­ceed 45 kg with­out neg­a­tively im­pact­ing the car­a­vans’ road-hold­ing abil­ity. The Duster with this type of tow bar is there­fore bet­ter suited to smaller car­a­vans (like the teardrop type, smaller camp­ing trail­ers, as well as fi­bre­glass trail­ers built by com­pa­nies like Sherpa Leisure). The nose weight of the Sherpa Tiny, which we used for this tow test, is 48 kg (that in­cludes the Sherpa’s spare wheel in the back and not in the nosecone). >

What does the in­side look like?

For this class of ve­hi­cle, a rearview cam­era is a lux­ury. The screen is an im­pres­sive 15 cm wide and is lo­cated in the cen­tre con­sole, in front of the gear lever. Un­for­tu­nately the cam­era’s lens isn’t in the mid­dle of the back door. It’s above the num­ber plate above the tow bar but off­set to the right by 22 cm. That means the im­age of the tow bar on the rear-view screen is to the left – on the first third-line. So if you’re us­ing only the screen to re­verse to­wards a car­a­van or trailer, it re­quires prac­tice be­cause the images makes it ap­pear as if you’re re­vers­ing askew. Many ve­hi­cles in this class have park­ing sen­sors that sound an alarm if there’s an ob­sta­cle in its path. With some cars you can’t even switch the alarm off and in oth­ers you can, but it de­ac­ti­vates when you switch the ve­hi­cle on and off. The Duster’s stays off un­til you switch it on again. An­other lux­ury is the high­tad­justable head­lights. It en­ables you to lower the an­gle if you’re tow­ing or even if you have pas­sen­gers and lug­gage in the car. The knob is to the right of the driver, closer to the bot­tom of the panel. If you want to see what an­gle you’ve set it to, you have to get out of the car, and judg­ing by how dif­fi­cult it is to turn the knob, it seems like a com­pli­cated pro­ce­dure. The lever that opens the bon­net is be­low the beam-an­gle knob. The bon­net is easy to lift and is propped up by gas struts.

Pi­eter says:

The Duster is neat on the in­side, but very plain. The driver seat height can be ad­justed, but not when you’re sit­ting on it – you have to get out to do it. The set­tings are lim­ited and I strug­gled to get com­fort­able. You have to be ready to re­ally hit the brakes, es­pe­cially if it’s your first time be­hind the wheel. Ini­tially you don’t brake hard enough to bring the Duster to a com­plete stand­still, but you do get used to it. The steer­ing wheel is small – al­most like a race car’s. I like it! And the bot­tom is flat­tened to cre­ate more leg room and it’s nice and thick for a strong grip. One thing though: I would have pre­ferred it closer to my body – with my long legs it’s im­pos­si­ble to sit any closer to it. Un­for­tu­nately the door han­dles are in the way of the con­trols for the elec­tric win­dows. If you look at the dash­board, I miss the en­gine’s tem­per­a­ture gauge. I pre­fer to be able to see the tem­per­a­ture. The 250 Nm torque for the 1,5 ℓ en­gine is good and the car tows fine, even though the car­a­van or trailer is lighter than it’s tow­ing ca­pac­ity. The en­gine sounds a bit gruff com­pared to to­day’s qui­eter diesel en­gines. The most com­fort­able tow­ing speed is 100–110 km/h. At 100 km/h the revs are at 2000 rpm in sixth, and goes up with 400 rpm if you ac­cel­er­ate to 120 km/h. It’s not a bumpy ride be­cause the Duster has a soft sus­pen­sion. It han­dles well and there’s no sign of body roll. And, of course, the trans­mis­sion to­tally takes the cake. >

The Duster is not a heavy­weight and also not in­tended to tow heavy trail­ers.

ALL THE RIGHT BUT­TONS. The but­ton on the end of the wiper stalk is for cruise con­trol. The large dig­i­tal clock dis­play on the re­verse cam­era screen is a nice touch. The park­ing sen­sors can be tog­gled on or off.


ON POINT At­trac­tive cloth seats come fit­ted as stan­dard on the Duster but the tow bar is a Re­nault-ap­proved af­ter­mar­ket ac­ces­sory.

Pi­eter Crous has been tow­ing his whole life – this is what he thinks of the Duster.

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