Here’s a confession – I never quite got the Renault Duster. A rebranded Dacia (Renault owns the Romanian automaker, and the Duster is joined on local soil by the brand’s Sandero), I always perceived it to be too out of place in the chick Renault range; too utilitarian to be a viable family SUV; too “developing market” to go mainstream in South Africa.
As such, only now have I gotten behind the wheel of one – five years since it’s local arrival. It was the range-topping 1.5 dCi Dynamique 4×4 manual model (the only 4×4 version available locally), and I was keen to see whether or not my preconceptions were unfounded.
What can I expect from the Duster 4×4?
Still the same, rugged and bulky Duster we’ve known since 2013 (there was a mild facelift in 2015 that introduced a bolder grille and new 16-inch alloy wheels), the Dynamique is distinguished by its satin chrome roof rails, front and rear skid plates, and side skirts.
I’ll be honest, the design has grown on me over time, and the 210 mm ground clearance of the 4×4 model does create a stronger, more serious SUV image.
The interior is simple and functional, with hard but not unpleasant plastics adorning the dash and most interior surfaces. It’s in keeping with the rugged nature of the Duster.
With space enough for five, the seats are comfortable and covered in a fabric called “Dark Carbon”. Dark Carbon does, however, seem to stain easily, which probably won’t suit the outdoorsy types who may buy this car… Leather upholstery is an option on Dynamique models, though.
However, what may suit most buyers of the Duster is the full-size spare wheel (handy for off-road excursions) and the storage compartments below the load compartment floor (the wheel/storage does result in a shallow floor).
Is it loaded with lots of safety features and other nice toys?
The Duster is not as poorly equipped as one might think. Sure, it has manual air-conditioning and a basic onboard computer, but there are also electric windows all round; cruise control with speed limiter; rear parking sensors and a reversing camera; four airbags; anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and – on the 4×4 model – electronic stability control.
Also fitted to the Dynamique is Renault’s seven-inch MediaNav touchscreen infotainment system. It offers Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary connectivity, as well as navigation.
What’s it like from behind the wheel?
The 1,5-litre turbodiesel engine produces 80 kW of power at 4 000 r/min and 240 Nm torque at a low 1 750 r/min. While the unit is sometimes hard to start on a cold morning, it is strong and smooth when on the boil. Renault claims it’ll consume just 5,2 l/100 km on the combined cycle, though I averaged 8,2 in mainly town driving.
The short gearing of the six-speed manual gearbox ensures the engine is kept in the power band at all times – easing everyday driving and off-roading.
For those who do want to take their Duster 4×4 off the beaten path, the electronic four-wheel drive system offers easy selection and switching for various driving situations. A short off-road excursion on a muddy, undulating path showed the Duster’s potential.
Day to day, the Duster handles and rides well, if slightly on the firm side. It’s easy to live with; the main bugbears being a thick D-pillar that obstructs the rear blindspot view, and combination of wide door sills and high ground clearance resulting in one scuffing their pants when alighting from the vehicle.
Should I buy one, or look around?
Strangely, there are not many options around this vehicle’s R309 900 price tag that offer a diesel engine and four-wheel drive capability. There is only the larger and even more utilitarian Mahindra Scorpio for R2 000 more, while the Ford EcoSport 1,5 TDCi Titanium (same price plus R5) and Renault’s own Captur 1,5 dCi Dynamique (R5 000 less) are both front-wheel drive only.
The Duster 1,5 dCi Dynamique 4×4 is therefore in an interesting position of having very few direct rivals. It is, though, an honest soft-roader that is easy to drive and enjoyable in its relative simplicity. It’s a pity it took me five years to get behind the wheel of one…
The Duster is sold with a five-year/150 000 km mechanical warranty, six-year anti-corrosion warranty, and three-year/45 000 km service plan.
CyberStoep rating: 7,5/10