JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – It’s no secret we rate the Renault Duster highly. In fact, at our recent Top 12 Best Buys competition, we awarded the new Duster first place in the small SUV/Crossover segment. Now Renault South Africa has finally again added a 4x4 version to its local range. We head up to Johannesburg to sample the newest addition.

What’s new?

At launch in October 2018, the Duster range comprised four front-wheel-drive derivatives. But the introduction of this new 1,5 dCi Dynamique 4x4 takes the line-up to five.

Thanks to its Dynamique trim level, this model features plenty of standard equipment, including a multi-view camera, a special 4x4 monitor (showing the vehicle’s pitch and roll angles), hill-descent control and blind-spot detection. For seamless smartphone integration, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also offered.

Off-road enthusiasts would be happy to learn the Duster 4x4 offers 210 mm of ground clearance, with an approach angle of 30° and a departure angle of 34°.

The four-wheel-drive system

Between the front seats you’ll find a transmission mode selector used to switch between 2WD (front-wheel drive only), Auto (all-wheel drive when the system picks up any slip) and Lock (the latter distributing engine torque equally).

On the road

As in front-wheel-driven models, the 80 kW 1,5-litre turbodiesel is strong with sufficient grunt for most needs. Indeed, while the front-driven manual model generates 210 N.m (and the 4x2 EDC derivative some 250 N.m), this all-paw version benefits from a peak figure of 260 N.m, offered from as low as 1 750 r/min. The six-speed manual transmission, meanwhile, shifts slickly enough.

Since this is by no means a luxury SUV, don’t expect to find fancy materials in the cabin. That said, the seats are comfortable and the driving position decent, providing a commanding view of the road ahead.

Off-road

We sampled the Duster over many kilometres of gravel road. The suspension set-up coped well with the modestly rough patches, although larger bumps did filter into the cabin.

An off-road course, however, allowed the Duster to show what it’s capable of. Renault has cleverly mapped the throttle, so once you engage first gear and let out the clutch, the vehicle simply idles along (and the engine doesn't stall). Once you meet an incline, just lean on the accelerator a little to maintain momentum. Hill-descent control is useful during trickier sections, while the Duster can also overcome some modest axle twisters.

Summary

Priced at R327 900, the 4x4 variant is actually some R13 000 cheaper than the front-wheel-drive, dual-clutch-equipped Prestige derivative and R39 000 more expensive than the front-driven Dynamique (in manual, that is). At this price, it represents strong value, particularly for buyers who might not be hardcore 4x4 enthusiasts but like to occasionally venture off the beaten path.

That said, the Duster will probably surprise you with its off-road ability once you spend some time behind the wheel. After all, we enjoyed 20 000 km with the previous generation model and learned all about its abilities (watch the video here).

FAST FACTS:

Model: Renault Duster 1,5 dCi Dynamique 4x4
Price: R327 900
Engine: 1,5-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel
Power: 80 kW @ 4 000 r/min
Torque: 260 N.m @ 1 750 r/min
0-100 km/h: 12,5 sec
Top Speed: 168 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 5,2 L/100 km
CO2: 138 g/km
Transmission: six-speed manual
Maintenance Plan: Three-year/45 000 km service plan