First Drive: 2019 Renault Duster

Renault has given its popular Duster a much-needed refresh

05 October 2018 - 14:40 By Denis Droppa
Renault Duster
Renault Duster

Having been previewed at last month’s Festival of Motoring at Kyalami, Renault’s all-new 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 budget-conscious 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 cloth-covered 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 478-litres.

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 1.5-litre 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.

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.

New 2018 Renault Duster Pricing:

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