First Drive: 2016 Renault Duster

First Drive: 2016 Renault Duster

At any time over the past few weeks you went out and bought yourself a Renault Duster, I hope you got yourself a damn good discount! Why? Because if you had held on until now, you would have got the facelifted version, which is packed with a whole host of new features for a mere R2 000 more than the old list price.

I’ll stop just short of saying this could be the “Buy of the Year” in the B-SUV segment, but for Renault to peg the price increase of the new Duster to less than 1% over the old, yet fill it with new features… it makes it a vehicle definitely worth looking at. It took a while for the Duster to arrive in South Africa after its overseas launch back in 2010, but in the two years it has been in this country, it has done extremely well, with more than 8 000 sold. That’s an impressive number, considering what a competitive segment the Duster is in, and that the French brand has had its work cut out combating the scores of rumours swirling around its name. Renault has kept things simple, in that the Duster lineup is exactly as before.

It starts with the 1.6 75kW Expression 4×2 followed by the 1.6 75kW Dynamique 4×2. Then you have the two diesels in the form of the 1.5 80kW dCi Dynamique 4×2 and the top-of-range 1.5 80kW dCi Dynamique 4×4. Production of the 2015 Duster has moved from Chennai, India, to Pitesti, Romania. The significance of this is that a number of Duster parts are already made in Romania and, as Jeffrey Allison, product manager at Renault South Africa pointed out: “Moving production to Pitesti provides us with the opportunity to refresh the Duster within a sharper turnaround time — good for the brand and good for our customers.” The Pitesti plant also supplies the UK market and has a reputation for solid build quality. So what are those upgrades that might have some new owners wishing they had waited until September? The most significant addition is that cruise control is now included as a standard feature.

From an exterior perspective, you will notice chunky new roof bars with the Duster name etched into the aluminium insets. Previously, the roof bars looked a bit lightweight, but these new ones definitely make more of an impression. As do the new alloy wheels, colour-coded side mirrors and the redesigned radiator grille and headlights. The result is a simpler, more purposeful look. Rear parking-distance control sensors are now standard. Inside, the previously plain fabric makes way for patterned seat covers, or you can go for leather as an optional extra on all three Dynamique derivatives. The top-end 4×4 model now offers buyers the choice of three settings: two-wheel drive, automatic and “lock”, which is basically four-wheel drive.

During a comprehensive business presentation at the launch last week, much was made of the two power plants on offer, with the emphasis on the turbodiesel engine. An interesting statistic is that this 1.5 dCi engine is found in one in 85 vehicles worldwide. From Renault to Nissan, Mercedes-Benz to Mahindra, it’s an engine that is tried and tested, but has been refined even more to increase fuel efficiency from 5.5 litres per 100km in the previous model to a claimed 4.8 litres per 100km. Carbon dioxide emissions are 127g/km in the new 4×2 model, earning it a Euro 5 rating.

And fuel efficiency is a critical aspect to consider when entering the SUV market, because the main purpose of the vehicle is to traverse wide open spaces. So with all this emphasis on the engine’s efficiency, it was no surprise to find that the launch of the new Duster involved an economy run. With our fuel tank filled to the brim (and sealed!) at a garage just north of OR Tambo International Airport, near Johannesburg, 14 Dust ers headed for our final destination of Parys in the Free State — on a rather roundabout route. It was an interesting exercise in that, although fuel-efficient driving was our primary concern, we also had to cover certain distances in an allocated time — and were penalised for being early or late. In other words, we had to complete nine stages — some up to 72km long — as efficiently and timeously as possible, and it wasn’t long before the competitiveness of the participating journalists was revealed. The Duster’s slogan is “It’s time for tough” and a considerable amount of our driving was off-road. It was primarily gravel and the car handled the conditions extremely well. Colleagues point out that the 4×4 version is very capable in tricky situations.

A decent-enough ground clearance (210mm) and approach angle of 30° meant we could navigate large drops in the road confident that we wouldn’t be leaving the undercarriage behind us. At times during the drive we employed the old tricks of economy driving — sealed windows, no air-conditioning, freewheeling — while at other times it was foot-to-the-floor action The result was a return of around 6.5 litres per 100km, which, I’m sure, can be easily reduced with careful driving. I’ve mentioned plenty of positives about the Duster, but are there any negatives? One would certainly be the overabundance of grey and black plastic surfaces inside. It does give you a feeling that this is one area Renault targeted to cut costs. But then again, if the Duster is used by families with young children and is going to be seeing a fair amount of off-road action, then perhaps this material might be easier to maintain than, say, the soft plastics or padding that we sometimes see. Also, the steering wheel is only adjustable up and down —not in and out.

But that’s about it as far as my criticisms go, which means the pros definitely outweigh the cons. So, if it’s action and adventure you crave in the great outdoors over the weekend, or simply a nice, elevated ride during your daily urban commute, the Duster will be an excellent choice. With excellent pricing, proven fuel-efficient engines, a five-year/150 000km warranty and a three-year/45 000km service plan, it leaves you with some money in your pocket to enjoy yourself while there.

Renault Duster 1.6 16V 4×2 five-speed manual Expression and Dynamique:
Engine: 1 598cc four-cylinder petrol
Power: 77kW at 5 750rpm
Torque: 148Nm at 3 750rpm
0-100km/h: 11.5sec
Top speed: 165km/h
Fuel consumption: 7.6l/ 100km
CO2: 181g/km
Price: R215 90 (Expression); R233 900 (Dynamique)

Renault Duster 1.5 dci 4×2 six-speed manual:
Engine: 1 461cc four-cylinder, diesel turbocharged
Power: 80kW at 4 000rpm
Torque: 240Nm at 1 750rpm
0-100km/h: 12.2sec
Top speed: 169 km/h
Fuel consumption: 4.8l/ 100km
CO2: 127g/k m
Price: R254 900

Renault Duster 1.5 dCi 4×4 six-speed manual:
Engine: 1 461cc four-cylinder, diesel turbocharged
Power: 80kW at 4 000rpm
Torque: 240Nm at 1750rpm
0-100km/h: 12.8sec
Top speed: 168km/h
Fuel consumption: 5.2l/ 100km
CO2: 135g/km
Price: R269 900

Bruce Fraser