Tested: Renault Duster dCi AWD

The dirty prospect

Namibian and South Africans love cheap cars almost as much as their adventurous, outdoorsy lifestyle. Hence it will come as no surprise to anyone that affordable SUV’s are on the up and Renault S.A. jumped at the opportunity to bring their budget bruiser, the Duster, to our local shores.

Built in cooperation with their Romanian subsidiary, the Duster is more of a Dacia than a Renault and is based on the same platform as the cheap-as-chips Sandero. Launched way back in 2010, it was only with its facelift last year that Renault South Africa managed to secure a supply from its Indian plant.

Although it is available with a multitude of engines elsewhere, our local model range consists of two engines and two trim levels. The 1.6-litre 16-valve petrol four cylinder produces 75kW or 145Nm, while the 1.5-litre turbo-diesel four cylinder chucks out 80kW or 240Nm.

All 1,600’s use a five-speed manual gearbox while their diesel counterparts make use of a six-speed equivalent. Both engines are Euro4 emissions compliant and use multi-point injection. The range starts with a 1.6 Expression 4×2 at just N$194,900 and a fancier Dynamique version costs N$204,900.

Two turbo-diesels are available only in Dynamique trim and either 4×2 (N$219,900) or 4×4 (N$239,900) – the latter is the car you’re reading about now. Crucially, even the top-spec Dusters retain their hardy nature and only spoil occupants with luxuries like touch-screen infotainment and navigation.

All but the cheapest version ride on 16-inch styled steel wheels with high 65 profile tyres and are equipped with a full-size spare wheel (again, not for the cheapy). All Dusters are 4,315mm long, 1,82m wide and 1,625mm high. They can carry up to 550kg and tow between 615-680kg unbraked or 1,200-1,500kg braked.

Other measurements are ground clearance of 205mm (210mm for 4×4), 30° approach, 23° break-over and 36° departure angles. The 408L boot space extends to 1,570L by folding the 60/40 split rear seats. Average consumption is 7.5L/100km for the petrol and about 5.5L/100km for the turbo-diesels from 50L tanks.

Top speeds are 165km/h and 171km/h respectively, while all versions will take about 12 seconds to hit 100km/h. More important are the six year anti-corrosion warranty, five year 150,000km manufacturer’s warranty and three year 45,000km service plan.

I won’t dwell too much on the car’s looks or quality as they are refreshingly simple – nothing more than you need. The black bumpers and rudimentary cabin layout give the Duster a no-nonsense look yet things like the shiny mirrors, front skid plate and side skirt covers lend the Dynamique models some flair.

All versions possess ABS brakes with emergency brake assist, four airbags, remote central locking, immobilizer, height-adjustable front seatbelts and steering wheel, power steering, power mirrors, four power windows, trip computer, fog lamps, air conditioning and rear parking sensors.

The only Duster with ESP is the top-spec 4×4 version. Expression has more basic trim and a simpler radio but it still boasts with CD, mp3, Aux, USB and Bluetooth capabilities, as well as satellite controls. Dynamiques enjoy a touch-screen radio with navigation, Aux, USB, mp3 and Bluetooth functions.

As for driving the 4×4 Duster, unfortunately this little rascal caught me at a very busy time and I didn’t subject it to more than a light sprinkling of dirty driving. Needless to say, it absolutely aced dust ‘n ditches and the short first gear made a lot of sense – it will crawl at about 6km/h with 1,000rpm.

The 4WD system inherited from Nissan provides a rotary knob for its “2WD” on-road mode, “Auto” self-distributing power and torque function as well as “LOCK” for permanent feed to all four wheels. You’ll easily spot one of these models because they carry a 4WD sticker on the tailgate.

As a little bonus, all testers found the Duster to be easy and pleasant to drive on tarmac. Provided you’re not standing on an incline, the 1.5 dCi is happiest to start in second gear and offers sufficient mid-range punch to gain momentum. Handling is acceptable for SUV standards and the suspension loves to iron out crinkly roads.

This means that the Renault Duster is easy to drive and easy on its passengers. Most importantly, it’s easy on your wallet and even the posh versions make a good value-for-money prospect. I’m sure most adventurous buyers will agree that it couldn’t have come any sooner.

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