Road Review – Renault Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique EDC 4×2

The value proposition remains one of the strongest – and increasingly so – drivers of car sales around the world where pretty much all, except America if you believe Donald Trump, are having less than exciting economic times.

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Since it first appeared some seven years ago, the Renault Duster, emerging rather like a Phoenix, has strongly maintained that value proposition in a practical, comfortable and generally well-structured vehicle.

To understand the Phoenix reference we have to go back to 1996 when the Romanian manufacturer, Dacia, came into being and started manufacturing Renault cars under licence – until the Bucharest Show of 1979 when it released the restyled 1310 model (even though the looks were inspired by Renault’s new styling on its 12).

Also known as the Dacia Denem in some markets its run ended in 1982 but a pickup version continued through to the mid-1990s along with a vehicle produced by another Romanian company, Aro, that utilised Dacia parts and was called the Dacia Duster in some markets.

In 1998, the anniversary year of three decades of production since the first Dacia rolled off the assembly line, vehicle number 2-million emerged from the plant and it was around this time the company had a brief sojourn in South Africa.

The cars and a station wagon were simply diabolical and, other than the Renault engine, looked and felt as if they were stuck together with chewing sum and spit – the general disdain for these cars generally probably a major influence on Renault’s decision to buy the company in 199 and stop the knock-on bad publicity.

The first ‘Renault’ out of the Dacia plant was the much publicised Logan, known as the Euro 5000 car because of it low (but never quite that low) starting price. Despite design-related criticism, it became one of the top-selling cars in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Russia.

In 2009, a new concept called the Dacia Duster was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show – Phoenix rising for the Dacia brand as the first completely new design and concept. This was also the inauguration of the platform that would be used for the second generation of the Logan and Sandero models, released in 2012

With more than 2-million cars sold globally, the Duster has now been revamped with all-new exterior styling.

For the new-generation Duster, the French carmaker makes use of the modified version of the BO/Logan platform – basically the same architecture that underpins the SUV’s current generation model.

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Visually more muscular, it has an expressive front and rear, the stance emphasised by its bold, more horizontal lines, new wheels, new more prominent aluminium roof bars and front and rear skid plates that support its adventurer credentials.

The sleeker headlamps are pushed out to the corners. What adds more to its sporty appearance are new LED daytime running lamps, wide air-dam grille and new crease lines on the bonnet along with a new scratch resistant chrome-finish skid plate.

The vehicle comes with a higher belt line that not only enhances new looks, but strengthens the body as well. It features a raked windscreen that has been moved out by 100 mm to create extra space inside the cabin.

More significant than the exterior upgrades is the fact the slightly tacky plastic dashboard of the previous model has given way to a more elegant and tactile soft-touch design along with upgrades to the quality of the upholstery on the newly designed (and more comfortable) seats.

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The Duster also offers a modular interior layout to easily adapt to needs, with the rear bench seat featuring a 1/3 – 2/3 split-fold function, while the boot boasts a loading capacity of up to 478-litres.

Now with keyless entry, a hands-free card automatically unlocks the doors on approach and automatically locks the car as you walk away.

Driver help functions include Blind Spot warning, automatic climate control, Speed Limiter and Cruise Control.

Active and passive safety technology includes anti-lock braking with EBD in conjunction with EBA (Emergency Brake Assist), while Rear Park Distance Control enables easier parking manoeuvres by warning the driver of obstacles situated behind the vehicle and Hill Start Assist.

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The Diesel 1,5-litre turbo-charged engine outputs of 80 kW and 250 Nm with consumption down to 4,8 l/100 km if driven carefully. Real world testing including some dirt roads set this close to 5,3 l/100 km.

When it was first launched, the Duster impressed because of what it was, what it offered and where it was aimed.

The new version does all of that and more to the point of possibly being underrated. Taken in its correct context – ie not a BMW X1 competitor – the Duster is an extremely driveable vehicle for everyday use, has the ground clearance for some off-highway excursions and offers a low total cost of ownership.

In the compact SUV category where it competes with the likes of the Hyundai Creta, Mahindra KUV 100, Peugeot 2008 and Mazda CX3 it is, very much, the answer to a thinning wallet.

Again, keeping it all in context, it is not designed to be hurled into corners like a Formula 1 car and should you decide to try it, accept there is a fair amount of body roll and, with the 4×2, a propensity to plough on in understeer.

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That said, it also does not offer unwelcome handling surprises and will remain obedient to driver inputs – these coming from a nice seating position that allows full visibility of the front corners at all times.

As is standard across Renault’s entire product range, the Renault Duster Model ranges comes with a 5-year/150 000 km mechanical warranty and a 6-year anti-corrosion warranty. Services take place at 15 000 km intervals and a standard 3-year/45 000 km service plan applies.

 

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New styling for Duster

Renault has reshaped the Duster with more aggressive lines to give visual confirmation to its SUV status and to modernise the overall look in line with fashion trends in the segment.

With more than two million cars sold globally and 15 000 units sold in South Africa since its initial launch, the new Renault Duster builds on and reinforces existing strengths.

The new Renault Duster boasts exterior styling delivering a distinctly assertive and robust look, highlighting its SUV pedigree. Visually more muscular, the design tone is set by the more aggressive lines and a more expressive front and rear.

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The Duster’s stance is emphasised by its bold, more horizontal lines, 16-inch or new 17-inch wheels, more prominent aluminium roof bars and front and rear skid plates. The chrome trim of the grille, alongside a raised waistline and the powerful C-shaped light signature complete image.

Travelling comfort is heightened by the newly designed and more enveloping seats, numerous easily accessible stowage spaces and improved accessibility of controls and amongst others, an enhanced Multimedia experience.

It also offers a modular interior layout with the rear bench seat featuring a 1/3 – 2/3 split-fold function, while the boot boasts loading capacity of up to 478 litres.

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The New Duster offers a multitude of active and passive safety technology as standard across the range, such as anti-lock braking with EBD in conjunction with EBA.

Rear Park Distance Control enables easier parking manoeuvres by warning the driver of obstacles situated behind the vehicle and Hill Start Assist, triggered by taking one’s foot off the brake, takes over the vehicle by holding it steady for two seconds, allowing the driver to accelerate normally without stalling or rolling back.

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The Duster comes with two fuel options and three engine options.

There is a choice between the 1,6-litre 16V and two versions of the 1.5 dCi turbo engine. The Diesel 1.5 dCi 4×2’s engine has outputs of 66 kW and 210 Nm and consumes just 5,1 l/100 km. The 4×2 EDC and 4×4 Manual versions have outputs of 80 kW and 250 Nm with claimed consumption of 4,.8 l/100 km.

The 6-speed Dual-Clutch EDC Automatic gearbox is now available with the 1.5 dCi Diesel engine. Upshifting is fast and smooth, with no jerking or loss in acceleration, with fuel consumption is comparable to that of the manual.

As is standard across Renault’s entire product range, the new Renault Duster comes standard with a 5-year/150 000 km mechanical warranty and a 6-year anti-corrosion warranty. Services take place at 15 000 km intervals and a standard 3-year/45 000 km service plan applies.

RECOMMENDED RETAIL PRICING
• NEW Renault DUSTER 1.6 Expression 4X2 R249 900
• NEW Renault DUSTER 1.5 dCi Dynamique 4×2 R282 900
• NEW Renault DUSTER 1.5 dCi Dynamique EDC 4×2 R316 900
• NEW Renault DUSTER 1.5 dCi Dynamique 4×4 R321 900
• NEW Renault DUSTER 1.5 dCi Prestige EDC 4×2 R334 900

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Road Impressions – Renault Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique EDC

When the Renault Duster was first launched in 2013 it impressed on a couple of levels – price positioning and the quiet, understated capability.

With the SUV market in South Africa continuing to show growth, the arrival of a well-priced player at the lower end of the cost spectrum was a welcome addition, especially since its high level of standard fit actually put the proverbial cat among the pigeons.

Both the 4X2 and 4X4 versions were, as mentioned, quietly capable with the latter able to traverse terrain much worse than would normally be associated with a kerb-crawler soft roader.

The down side came from the fact Renault has not always been able to achieve the parts and service pricing it (and buyers) would expect and this is again evidenced in the latest results from the annual Kinsey Report into Parts Pricing.

In the Compact Crossover class where the Duster competes – and the example used is the 1.6 Dynamique – it finished fourth in the class behind the Peugeot 2008D, Ford EcoSport 1.0T and Mazda CX3 with a parts basket costing some 37,67% of the total retail price, compared to the winner’s 30,32%.

Last year the same model also finished fourth with the winner on 33,63% of retail and the Duster at 36,22%.

This is not simply down to an issue of foreign currency exchange rates as the winning cars in each case for 2016 and 2017 are also fully imported models.

In a perfect world the Duster should be at the head of the class – but, the pricier replacement parts certainly did not dissuade buyers with some 12 000 of the vehicles sold since the original launch, which brings me to the latest addition to the range in the form of an automatic option.

The test vehicle, the Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique EDC, is the top of range of the 4X2 models.

The EDC (Efficient Dual Clutch) is a 6-speed automatic gearbox with two clutches, for optimised efficiency with the ideal gear selected via an electronic control unit. This ‘dry’ dual clutch system combines the comfort of an automatic and the responsiveness of a manual – offering flexibility and fuel efficiency.

The EDC is mated exclusively to the 1.5 dCi engine with an output of 80 kW at 4 000 r/min and 250 Nm of torque at 1 750 r/min, delivering a fuel consumption of 4,8 l/ 100km, and CO2 emissions at just 126 g/km.

Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes, Emergency Brake Assist, ESP with traction control, driver and passenger air bags (front +side).

The front suspension is a McPherson type strut with rectangular lower arm and anti-roll bar and the rear comprises a flexible axle with programmed deflection and coil springs and it rides on 6.5 J 16 wheels with 215 / 65 R 16 tyres – and there is a full-size spare.

Convenience features include a six-function on-board computer offering total distance, trip distance, fuel used, average fuel consumption, kilometres remaining and average speed, coded engine immobiliser system, fog lamps, electrically operated door mirrors, heated rear window, central door locking, power windows front and rear and manual air conditioning.

Also included are intelligent technologies such as the MediaNav touch screen with Bluetooth, USB and Auxiliary and satellite controls, Radio/CD/MP3 player with Bluetooth, USB and satellite controls, integrated navigation, reverse camera, rear park sensors and cruise control with speed limiter.

Eschewing dramatic body styling and arty curves, the look of the Duster conveys exactly what the vehicle is intended for –  the raised ride height providing the additional visibility required from a SUV and the 16-inch wheel and tyre combination a counter to potholes and other road irregularities.

The square shape of the passenger cell also means neither visibility nor headroom in the rear is diminished by a fancy sloping roofline – and for a player in the ‘B’ segment I was impressed with the amount of space available.

The driving position is good with tilt adjustable steering and the seats – often cost compromised in this segment with thinner frames – are good for many hours on the highway without inducing lower back discomfort.

The EDC gearbox takes care of progress in an efficient manner and is good left to its own devices for most urban situations or long haul cruising. Getting a bit more adventurous on secondary roads or dirt roads the manual option allows the driver the additional control to manage progress when the going gets a tad more technical.

On the road, it remains firmly planted and is less susceptible to cross winds than the body shape might suggest. The steering is positive and accurate and it does not object to a bit of ‘welly’ through the twisty bits, remaining mostly neutral with a hint of understeer.

Four years down the track (from original launch), this vehicle remains a solid SUV offering on so many levels – and the automatic option begs the question, why did it take so long!

As with Renault’s entire product range, the Renault Duster models come standard with a 5-year/150 000 km mechanical warranty, a 3-year/45 000 km service plan (with service intervals at 15 000 km intervals) and a 6-year anti-corrosion warranty.

It would be such a win if Renault South Africa could shave those parts prices down a notch or two.