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The much-loved Duster undergoes a top-to-bottom remake, but does it retain its predecessor’s simple charm?

The last time we tested a Duster – which wasnt all that long ago – it came off third-best against the Honda BR-V and Haval H2 but bested the new Toyota Rush in a battle of the budget SUVs. While in that comparative test we appreciated the Renault’s value-oriented pricing, well-resolved suspension tuning and practical cabin, it betrayed its age with an interior constructed from fairly basic materials and one studded with a scattergun control layout.

At the recent launch of the second-generation Duster, Renault SA’s representatives stressed the newest vehicle has addressed these concerns without, heaven forbid, making it too sophisticated and so denting the little SUV’s robust appeal (more than 15 000 have been sold in South Africa, after all).

So, what we have here is a new Duster with a slicker appearance, better cabin materials, a revised line-up skewed heavily towards the diesel end – how refreshing in an era where diesel has become an, ahem, dirty word – and a clutch of new technologies to make driving it more effortless and comfortable.

This Prestige variant crowns a five-strong model line-up which kicks off with the 1,6 Expression (the sole petrol in the range) and peaks with this Prestige EDC model. Between them, there’s a single (soon-to-launch) 4x4 model and two other Dynamique variants. The more powerful diesel variants boast a dual-clutch transmission option (the EDC in the name) while the others use either five- or six-speed manuals.

As we mentioned, a big part of the old Duster’s appeal was its utilitarian, traditional-SUV appearance and, while the new model certainly looks classier thanks to such touches as 17-inch alloys on the Prestige, tasteful chrome trim and redesigned lights front and rear (the ones on the nose are surrounded by neat LED daytime-running signatures), it still appears fetchingly rugged.

The same is true inside. The quality of the finishes has improved – it even offers soft-touch panels on the doors and optional leather upholstery, as specified on this test unit – and Renault has updated the infotainment system and climate-control panel. The former is sited higher on the facia for quicker use on the move and the latter, with its brightwork-encircled bezels, is really neat and gives the otherwise plain facia a visual lift; one tester compared it to the treatment the German manufacturers dole out to their models. That said, perceived quality is still a step behind small hatches such as the Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta and Renault’s own Clio.

That scarcely matters, though, because this cockpit gets the fundamentals right. The seats are comfortable if a touch too unyielding (there’s lumbar adjustment on the Prestige and reach adjustment on the steering column across the range, making it easy to find a suitable driving position) and it’s a doddle to use the infotainment touchscreen with sat-nav functionality, although no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are offered. What’s more, it has more rear legroom than before (although a 4 mm increase is hardly the work of a magician) and a boot that’s 40 litres larger than that of the outgoing car. Curiously, though, lugging suitcases into that cavernous space is more of a chore due to a 45 mm higher load lip. Refinement has improved, too, and the Duster is sufficiently hushed at 120 km/h.

The entry-level 1,6-litre petrol is shared with the Mégane range and now boasts outputs of 84 kW and 156 N.m. As before, though, the real star of the range is the 1,5-litre turbodiesel. Offered with outputs of 66 kW/210 N.m on the 1,5 dCi Dynamique and 80 kW and 250 N.m for models coupled with the EDC ‘box – the 4x4 manual gains an additional 10 N.m – the diesel is acceptably torquey at lower speeds.

What it isn’t, however, is sprightly at highway speeds and overtaking manoeuvres should be planned carefully (this is not helped by a six-speed dual-clutch transmission that’s occasionally indecisive in its workings). Performance tails off markedly above 100 km/h, evidenced by the Duster requiring 13,04 seconds to reach the three-figure mark but another 17,39 seconds to add an additional 40 km/h.

Its braking performance was impressively consistent, with the stops from 100-0 km/h registering between 2,80 and 3,20 seconds for an average across 10 stops of 3,04 seconds.

Thankfully, the powertrain makes up for its sluggishness with sober drinking habits; over a weekend’s spirited driving with the air-con on, our 1,5 dCi Prestige consumed just 5,80 L/100 km, while it posted an excellent figure of 5,70 L/100 km on our combined-cycle fuel route.

Under its new skin, the Duster employs a reworked version of the previous model’s B0 platform – the one which underpinned the last-generation Sandero and the Logan small sedan – and that’s a good thing. The system consists of MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam aft (the 4x4 ditches that setup for a more sophisticated multilink arrangement for improved articulation and wheel control).

What a pleasure it is to encounter a modern family car with lenient suspension tuning that doesn’t favour iron-fisted body control over passenger comfort. Whether it’s on pitted tar or gravel, the new Duster rides well. Yes, you sacrifice control as the body leans and pitches but for commuting – especially in those provinces where road maintenance appears to be a leisure pastime instead of a priority – the little Renault is perfectly judged.
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.

2020 Renault DUSTER 1.5dCi Prestige

Ref No: 1772089

Latest Resutls for Renault Duster

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
  • Lumbar support adjustment: driver
  • Front armrests: 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
  • Lane change blindspot warning assist monitor: Standard
  • Automatic drive away locking: Standard
  • Start stop button: 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: keyless
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Key less access start hands free key: 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
  • Camera for park distance control: front + rear + sides
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: diesel
  • Fuel range average: 1042 km
  • Driven wheels: front
  • Driven wheels quantity: 2
  • Gearratios quantity: 6
  • Gearshift: automatic
  • Transmission type: automated dual-clutch
  • Transmission name: EDC
  • Front tyres: 215/60 R17
  • Reartyres: 215/60 R17
  • Spare wheel size full: Standard
  • Length: 4341 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1804-2052 mm
  • Height: 1693 mm
  • Wheel base: 2674 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: 478 L
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 1304 kg
  • Load carrying capacity / payload: 550
  • Gross weight (GVM): 1854 kg
  • Towing capacity - unbraked: 685
  • Towing capacity - braked: 1500
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 50l
  • Fuel consumption urban: 5.2 l/100km
  • Fuel consumption extra urban: 4.5 l/100km
  • Fuel consumption average: 4.8 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 126g/km
  • Emission control phase Euro EU level: 3
  • Power maximum: 80 kW
  • Power maximum total: 80 kW
  • Power peak revs: 4000 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 66 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 250 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 1750 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 250 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 199 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: 11.9s
  • Maximum top speed: 169 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: 54037165
  • Introdate: 2018-09-26
  • DuoportarecordID: RenaDust2e5

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