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They're small in stature and big in character, but which of these tough little SUVs is best?

Whether you see them as a genuine lifestyle companion or a marketing contrivance, SUVs and crossovers have become the automotive equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, dealing with everything from round-town duties to the school run, motorways and even, on occasion, straying onto dirt roads in search of adventure. Therefore, it’s understandable that the entrance of a new model into the hotly contested segment for small SUVs/crossovers is met with a ripple of excitement, growing to a veritable groundswell of expectation when said newcomer wears the Toyota badge. Forming the entry point to Toyota’s lifestyle stable, the Rush faces stiff competition from both established players in the field, as well as upstarts from Chinese firms such as Haval.

The crew

In essence, the gathered cars can be split into two categories: those based on MPVs from their respective stables; and those with car-based underpinnings. Falling into the former bracket are the Rush and BR-V. The Rush can trace much of its mechanical lineage to Toyota’s basic but venerable Avanza MPV, while Honda’s BR-V is essentially a rebodied and mildly reworked version of the now-departed Mobilio and has become the sole seven-seater in the firm’s local line-up.

Spun off the platform underpinning the robust Logan budget sedan, the Duster (which has, of course, since been replaced) treads closer to the small-SUV line than the others, especially when you bear in mind the 4x4 model is a particularly capable off-roader.

As for the H2, its roots are a little harder to trace but it’s one of a host of models based off Haval’s family of unibody chassis and can therefore be linked to any number of sedan and crossover models from the firm’s extensive global line-up.

Why is this relevant? Well, each family counters the others’ particular strengths and weaknesses – from packaging to driveability and everything in between – meaning buyers’ decisions won’t be based on looks alone. Even so, we’d be kidding ourselves if we were to exclude the aesthetic element.

Style vs. space

On paper, the Rush, with its bold nose, bulging bonnet and cross-over cladding, ticks the requisite styling boxes and looks reasonably rugged. Meet it in the metal, though, and there’s no escaping the fact that these elements have been applied to a decidedly Avanza-shaped frame. However, while its bluff sides and tall profile with a strong downward curve to its nose may not scream pseudo-SUV, it does play host to a particularly spacious interior.

In other markets, the Rush – also badged as a Daihatsu Terios – is fitted with a third row of seats but South Africa gets only a five-seat arrangement with a sliding second-row bench, likely in an attempt to keep the newcomer from treading on the seven-seater Avanza’s toes. Losing the rear bench does, however, create a load space which comfortably eclipses those of its rivals, albeit without the added security of a tonneau cover.

The BR-V contains its spacious innards in a frame that, with its two-box profile and roof rails, has a touch more crossover flavour than the Rush but still doesn’t quite manage to hide its dowdy MPV roots. The third row can be rolled away to free up a similar amount of luggage capacity to the Rush, although the boot becomes little more than a sliver of airspace with seven aboard.

Thumbing its nose at the others’ genteel curves and creases, the Duster is unapologetically chunky and utilitarian in its styling, and possessed of a handily proportioned boot.

Looking very much the sophisticate in this company, the H2 is evidence the Chinese have finally realised the correlation between chrome and class isn’t 1:1. Block out the badge and you could just as well be looking at any number of upmarket European small crossovers and, while its boot is the smallest here at 232 litres, it’s still decently proportioned.

Behind the wheel

Climbing into the Rush, you’re immediately aware of the commanding view of the road the seating provides, but that’s about where the benefits of the lofty perch end. With limited rake adjustment for the steering column and the lowest seat-height setting still rather high, taller drivers will find the wheel uncomfortably close to their lap. The chunky propshaft tunnel of this car’s RWD configuration eats into the footwell, leaving little space to rest your clutch foot.

Although hewn from hard plastics and finished with faux stitching, the Rush’s cabin feels well screwed together and the two-tone trim lends some liveliness to the atmosphere. The neat touchscreen infotainment/sat-nav (standard fitment) system sports a crisp interface and sits usefully high on the facia.

The Duster’s infotainment system, although function-rich and with an interface as chunky as the exterior, sits way down by the driver’s knee and forms part of a cabin that’s well enough constructed but marred slightly by the scatter-gun layout of some ancillaries. Thankfully, the driving position is a touch more natural than the Rush’s, if not quite as commanding.

With their closely set gearing and snappy (albeit in the Duster’s case, slightly rubbery) gearshifts, these two prove suitably brisk and wieldy round town but things begin to go awry when motorways beckon. That close gearing sees the Rush’s rev-happy 1,5-litre engine climb to about 4 000 r/min when travelling at the national limit, with intrusive differential whine accompanying the thrashy soundtrack.

It’s better at 3 200 r/min on the motorway in the Duster and, with a mite more torque and better NVH suppression, it doesn’t feel as strained as the Toyota’s frenetic-but-seemingly unburstable 2NR-VE engine. The consensus among the team is both of these cars would benefit from a tall sixth gear to make motorway driving less of a droning affair.

Although it’s only 11 kW up on the Rush and Duster, the BR-V’s 1,5-litre unit manages to be both free revving and acceptably refined. It’s also coupled with a pleasingly snappy gearbox and easily modulated clutch, making it a breeze to pilot.

Another Honda-ism is the interior, which is awash with hard plastics but ergonomically well considered and solidly put together. While it does feel durable, though, the BR-V has a certain light, slightly hollow overall feel to it, sitting at odds with its otherwise bulletproof build.


The H2’s turbocharged 1,5-litre inline-four is comfortably more powerful than its rivals’ naturally aspirated units and even bests them when it comes to refinement. This is especially apt, as the Chinese car’s cabin leaves the others’ interiors in the shade. Slush-moulded trim panels, quality switchgear and a design that’s both ergonomically sound and solidly constructed make the H2 feel a cut above the rest in its segment.

Unfortunately, the H2’s drivetrain is a chink in its otherwise polished suit of armour. The engine behaves a bit like an old-school turbo unit, wading through palpable lag before delivering the goods at higher revs. Lifting off the throttle sees it quickly drop out of the power band. Factor in a notchy gearshift that cannot be hurried and the result is sometimes laborious progress to the meat of the performance on offer, often necessitating extra revs to keep momentum going. The heavy 1,52-tonne H2’s 13,50-second 0-100 km/h sprint is the slowest in this company, while it (literally) lags anything from four to six seconds behind the others when overtaking from 60-80 km/h in top gear. With the turbo finally turning, the H2’s top-gear 100-120 km/h time sees it claw back some respectability, being the second-quickest.

The Rush’s ride, although sometimes choppy, doesn’t succumb to ungainly rebound and manages to iron out most obstructions in its path. It’s in the driving experience where echoes of the related Avanza begin to emerge. With its narrow track, long wheelbase and a profile that presents a good deal of sheetmetal, the Rush has a top-heavy feel to its demeanour. Brisk cornering unearths significant body lean, while a profile that presents a good deal of metal to crosswinds can make it feel a bit unstable when caught in a gust.

In fact, with its 220 mm of ground clearance, stability control (the only car here so equipped) and mechanical robustness, the Rush seems better suited to a leisurely pace on dirt roads. It’s only when the Duster makes an appearance that the Rush has to concede some rough ground. Although marginally down on ground clearance, the Duster’s impressive axle articulation and suspension is adept at taming rutted surfaces and tarmac, and make it a versatile go-almost-anywhere vehicle. Although its steering feels slower geared than the Rush’s, it’s nonetheless pointier and the additional weight lends the Duster a more substantial feel.

Although its 210 mm of ground clearance matches the Renault’s, the BR-V doesn’t have quite its dirt road-taming ability. That’s not to say it’s averse to straying off the tarmac but its real talents lie with its well-balanced on-road persona. The steering is typically Honda, being accurate and pleasantly weighted, if not feelsome, and the ride and body control are resolved to the extent of being more hatch-like-wieldy than its rivals here.
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
CAPE TOWN – "Are you sure?" The officer at the gate to Atlantis Dunes has a perplexed look on his face as I pull up in the Renault Duster. After I assure him this is indeed a proper 4x4, he lifts the boom and our day of fun begins. I don't blame him for his scepticism, though, as most vehicles passing through these gates are of the bakkie variety, sporting massive wheels and high-lift suspension kits…

The reason I'm so confident is that I drove the previous version of the Duster 4x4 as part of CAR’s long-term test fleet and completed 20 000 km in a year, with many off-road adventures thrown in (and it surprised me on many occasions; watch my take on the previous version here). Time to see if the new version (also a CAR Top 12 Best Buys winner in the small SUV/crossover category) is as good, then...

What's new?



In terms of styling, the Duster is more modern from the outside but still possess chunky looks pointing to its off-road potential. Inside, the facia design is completely new and much more functional than the old version, with the infotainment screen sited higher up and angled towards the driver. The climate control dials are easier to locate on the move and the steering wheel now boasts reach-and-rake adjustment (plus the hooter is now in the conventional location and not at the end of the indicator stalk).



A useful addition is a new "surround view" system that allows the driver to scan each side of the vehicle; convenient in the parking lot or when driving on a narrow mountain ledge. The overall feeling is that the new Duster is far more upmarket than before, with better sound insulation at speed. Saying this, there are still some cheap materials in certain areas, such as the roof liner and in the boot.

Powertrain



The Duster retains Renault's 1,5-litre turbodiesel, delivering 80 kW and 240 N.m. This is a good thing as it's a willing little mill serving up enough punch for a vehicle weighing less than 1,5 tonnes. The unit sometimes sounds slightly agricultural but the upside is excellent fuel consumption with less than 6,0L/100 km easily achievable when cruising.

The short ratios of the six-speed manual transmission means it's entirely possible to pull away in second gear in town (unfortunately, there's no automatic transmission option with the four-wheel-drive version). The purpose of that short first gear is to lend the Duster some off-road crawling ability, without the need for a dedicated low-range configuration.

The four-wheel-drive system employs a central clutch pack that sends drive to the rear wheels, featuring independent suspension. The driver can choose between a 2WD, Auto or 4WD lock setting, depending on the use.

Sand driving



 








Some light overnight rain compacted the top layer of the sand and the going was even easier than expected in 4WD lock mode, with traction control switched off. That is until a couple of runs at the same dune churned up the sand and revealed the tough surface for which Atlantis is known. But the Duster is up to the challenge, with the short gearing allowing it quickly to get up to speed, with mostly first and second gears employed.

The short overhangs made it possible to charge the dunes without the risk of taking the front bumper off. Dropping the tyre pressures to 1,6 bar allowed enough grip and the opportunity for dynamic driving without popping a tyre of the rim ... or so I thought.



Carving another turn in the now-rutted sand was too much for the Giti GitiPremium right front tyre. At least the Duster comes with a full spare wheel, although it is fitted to a steel rim rather than an alloy. Tyre changing can be difficult in soft sand but packing some wood underneath the jack to create a steady base did the trick. The Duster was back in action in no time.

Conclusion

What I've left out until now is the price. The Duster offers amazing value at R327 900, considering it can play the role of family SUV during the week and capable off-roader over the weekend. There is nothing in our market that can compare. The capable Suzuki Jimny is too impractical for family use and the Mahindra Thar too utilitarian for most. In my opinion, Renault has a winner on its hands and it fully deserves all the accolades it receives.

I am sure the officer at the gate of Atlantis dunes agreed when we left with big smiles on our faces...


Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Cloth upholstery: Standard
  • Leather upholstery: Optional
  • Seats quantity: 5
  • Split rear seat: Standard
  • Folding rear seat: Standard
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Climate control automatic air conditioning: Standard
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Brake assist (BAS/EBA): Standard
  • Traction control: Standard
  • Stability control: Standard
  • Hill descent control downhill brake control: Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Front side airbags: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 4
  • Automatic drive away locking: Standard
  • Engine auto Stop Start idle stop ecostop: Standard
  • Hillstart assist hillholder: Standard
  • Alloy wheelsrims: Standard
  • Power steering: Standard
  • Multifunction steering wheel controls: Standard
  • On board computer multi information display: Standard
  • Navigation: Standard
  • Cruise control: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • Aux in auxiliary input: Standard
  • USB port: Standard
  • Central locking: remote
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Electric windows: front + rear
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Daytime driving running lights: LED
  • Frontfog lamps lights: Standard
  • Highlevel 3rd brakelight: Standard
  • Rear fog lamps lights: Standard
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: diesel
  • Fuel range average: 962 km
  • Driven wheels: all
  • Driven wheels quantity: 4
  • All wheel drive: part-time
  • Gearratios quantity: 6
  • Gearshift: manual
  • Transmission type: manual
  • Front tyres: 215/65 R16
  • Reartyres: 215/65 R16
  • Spare wheel size full: Standard
  • Length: 4341 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1804-2052 mm
  • Height: 1682 mm
  • Wheel base: 2676 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 210 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 10.1 m
  • Approach angle: 30.0
  • Departure angle: 34.0
  • Load volume / capacity: 414 L
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 1320 kg
  • Load carrying capacity / payload: 550
  • Gross weight (GVM): 1899 kg
  • Towing capacity - unbraked: 695
  • Towing capacity - braked: 1500
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 50l
  • Fuel consumption urban: 5.6 l/100km
  • Fuel consumption extra urban: 5.0 l/100km
  • Fuel consumption average: 5.2 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 138g/km
  • Emission control phase Euro EU level: 5
  • Power maximum: 80 kW
  • Power maximum total: 80 kW
  • Power peak revs: 4000 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 61 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 260 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 1750 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 260 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 183 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: 12.5s
  • Maximum top speed: 168 km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 1461 cc
  • Engine size: 1.5l
  • enginedetailshort: 1.5TD
  • Engine + detail: 1.5 turbo diesel
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Valves per cylinder: 2
  • Valves quantity: 8
  • Turbocharger: Standard
  • Warranty time (years): 5
  • Warranty distance (km): 150000 km
  • Service plan: Standard
  • Service plan time (years): 3
  • Service plan time (distance): 45000 km
  • Service interval (distance): 15000 km
  • Brand: Renault
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 54037161
  • MMVariant: DUSTER 1.5 dCI DYNAMIQUE 4X4
  • Introdate: 2018-09-26
  • DuoportarecordID: RenaDust2e4

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Renault DUSTER 1.5dCi Dynamique 4WD for sale in Brackenfell from one of Carmag.co.za's apporoved car dealerships
Used DUSTER 1.5dCi Dynamique 4WD availbale from the following auto dealer:
Imperial Select Brackenfell used car dealership located in: Brackenfell, Western Cape, South Africa

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