More pol­ished new Duster comes of age

LAUNCH NEWS/ Re­nault’s SUV gets mod­ernised and more re­fined, but main­tains its com­pet­i­tive pric­ing, writes De­nis Droppa

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Hav­ing been pre­viewed at last month’s Fes­ti­val of Mo­tor­ing at Kyalami, Re­nault’s all­new Duster SUV com­menced sales in SA this week.

The first-gen­er­a­tion ve­hi­cle has been a suc­cess for the French brand, hav­ing sold more than 2-mil­lion units world­wide and 15,000 lo­cally since it was launched in SA in 2013.

Its pop­u­lar­ity has been un­der­pinned by its keen pric­ing, and Re­nault says the new Duster re­mains at its core a tough, sim­ple and af­ford­able SUV, but boast­ing all-new ex­te­rior styling, a more pre­mium in­te­rior and bet­ter re­fine­ment.

The new de­sign has a more as­sertive and ro­bust look em­pha­sised by its bold new lines and front and rear skid plates. LED day­time run­ning lights and a chrome grille add vis­ual zing, while the tail lights with their cross mo­tif take in­spi­ra­tion from the Jeep Rene­gade.

The Duster now has greater of­froad ca­pa­bil­i­ties too, thanks to an en­hanced ground clear­ance of 210mm, bet­ter ap­proach and de­par­ture an­gles, and the in­tro­duc­tion of hill de­scent con­trol in the 4x4 model.

Inside, this com­pact SUV has be­come more user-friendly with en­hanced er­gonomics, which in­cludes a steer­ing col­umn that’s ad­justable for both height and reach.

Pre­vi­ously crit­i­cised for its rather cheap-look­ing in­te­rior, the new Duster has an up­graded cabin with a re­designed dash­board and im­proved per­ceived qual­ity. It’s still bud­get­con­scious hard plas­tic cov­er­ing the dash in­stead of the more ex­pen­sive soft-touch type, but it’s now tex­tured for a some­what more up­mar­ket look.

The seats, which are cloth­cov­ered across the range but op­tion­ally avail­able in leather for 10 grand ex­tra, have been re­shaped for bet­ter com­fort. There’s rea­son­able cabin space though taller adults might feel a bit squeezed in the rear seat, but the boot is a use­ful 478l.

The Duster will be sold in five de­riv­a­tives, with the 4x2 ver­sions avail­able straight away and the 4x4 to fol­low in Jan­uary.

Start­ing the line-up is the 1.6 Ex­pres­sion 4x2 front-wheel drive which car­ries over the 1.6l petrol en­gine from the out­go­ing Duster range, but boosted in out­puts from 77kW and 148Nm to 84kW and 156Nm. Avail­able only as a five-speed man­ual, the 1.6 Ex­pres­sion sells for R249,900, which is R3,000 more than its pre­de­ces­sor.

That price comes stan­dard with a rea­son­ably high level of fea­tures in­clud­ing cruise con­trol, air­con, a ra­dio with Blue­tooth ca­pa­bil­ity, hill-start as­sist, ABS brakes, elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol and dual front airbags.

Next up is the 1.5dCi Dy­namique 4x2 turbo diesel five-speed man­ual, putting 66kW and 210Nm through the front wheels and of­fer­ing a fac­tory-claimed fuel econ­omy of just 5.1l/100km. This model is also avail­able with an EDC au­to­matic six-speed trans­mis­sion, with power in the 1.5l en­gine tweaked to 80kW and 250Nm and sip­ping just 4.8l/100km, ac­cord­ing to Re­nault.

The Dy­namique spec­i­fi­ca­tion, over and above the afore­men­tioned fea­tures, adds items such as au­to­matic climate con­trol, height-ad­justable driv­ers seat, 16-inch al­loy wheels, rear park­ing sen­sor, side airbags and a seven-inch touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem with nav­i­ga­tion. The range-top­ping 4x2 model is the 1.5dCi Pres­tige EDC auto which uses the more pow­er­ful ver­sion of the diesel mo­tor, and is dolled-up with black and satin chrome roof bars (the other ver­sions have black bars).

Along with the im­proved ground clear­ance, the Duster 4x4 also has hill de­scent con­trol and se­lectable all-wheel drive to give it bet­ter-than-av­er­age of­froad­ing abil­ity in this seg­ment, plus a mul­tiview cam­era.

Only the 4x2 ver­sions were avail­able to drive at last week’s Duster me­dia launch held in Mpumalanga, and they gave a good ac­count of them­selves on both tar and rough gravel.

The sus­pen­sion in par­tic­u­lar is well re­solved and strikes a good bal­ance be­tween ride com­fort and han­dling sharp­ness. Re­nault’s SUV carves the curves neatly, with a car-like at­ti­tude that isn’t ham­pered by ex­ces­sive body roll.

The light elec­tric power steer­ing doesn’t have much feel but that isn’t an is­sue in a ve­hi­cle that has no sport­ing as­pi­ra­tions. More im­por­tant is that chang­ing di­rec­tion re­quires min­i­mal arm mus­cle, mak­ing this SUV easy to ma­noeu­vre around town or on the trails.

A trip through rough gravel roads in Mpumalanga’s forests exposed the Duster’s ca­pa­bil­ity as an ad­ven­ture ve­hi­cle, es­pe­cially in its im­pres­sive ride qual­ity. It smoothed the bumps very ef­fec­tively and the ve­hi­cle felt solid, with­out any sig­nif­i­cant rat­tles. It seemed well sealed too.

SMOOTH GEAR­BOX

I drove the 80kW diesel and while it’s no pow­er­house it pro­vides de­cent com­mut­ing and cruis­ing pace. There is some turbo lag from a stand­ing start but oth­er­wise it pulls cleanly across the rev range, and that dual-clutch auto gear­box is a smooth-shift­ing de­light.

The Duster’s also im­pres­sively re­fined, and the tweaks Re­nault has made to sound­proof­ing are ev­i­dent. This is an im­por­tant fac­tor in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket seg­ment that in­cludes ri­vals like the Ford Ecos­port and Haval H2

Re­nault’s new Duster has kept the sim­ple and unas­sum­ing essence of the orig­i­nal, and kept it af­ford­able, but perked it up with ex­tra re­fine­ment and some es­sen­tial mod­cons. It’s sold with a five-year/150,000km war­ranty and three-year/ 45,000km ser­vice plan, with 15,000km ser­vice in­ter­vals.

IT SMOOTHED THE BUMPS VERY EF­FEC­TIVELY AND THE VE­HI­CLE FELT SOLID, WITH­OUT ANY SIG­NIF­I­CANT RAT­TLES

1.6 Ex­pres­sion 4x2 — R249,900 1.5 dCi Dy­namique 4x2 — R282,900 1.5 dCi Dy­namique EDC 4x2 — R316,900 1.5 dCi Dy­namique 4x4 — R321,900 (ar­riv­ing Jan­uary 2019) 1.5 dCi Pres­tige EDC 4x2 — R334,900

THE NEW DE­SIGN HAS A MORE AS­SERTIVE AND RO­BUST LOOK EM­PHA­SISED BY ITS BOLD NEW LINES AND SKID PLATES

Right: The new de­sign has a more as­sertive and ro­bust look, and ground clear­ance is raised for bet­ter of­froad abil­ity. Left: The dash­board is still made of hard plas­tic but the in­te­rior look and feel has im­proved.

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