Renault’s Duster is in every respect one of the better sub-compact SUVs out there. It’s a package that ticks all of the right boxes and is equipped with the kind of desirable smart features.

You also don’t need excessive funds to purchase or to run it. I’ve always liked the look which has always reminded me of a modern take of a Lada Niva. The new-generation Duster, launched here late last year, features redesigned rear light clusters and the rearrangement of lines on the front bumper have resulted in quite a distinctive visual bang. Newer and more appealing materials are added in its largely unchanged cabin architecture.

Our test car here is the new 4x4 addition to a line-up that has until recently been available in front-wheel drive only. It’s a part-time all-wheel drive system which allows the vehicle to be driven in front-wheel drive mode to save fuel, in 4WD Auto, or 4WD Lock .

A button is used to manually select between FWD where the engine torque is distributed to the fronts exclusively. In this mode the Duster is regular and potters about without trouble.

A long hitlist of features includes automatic climate control, side airbags and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation. Picture: SUPPLIED
A long hitlist of features includes automatic climate control, side airbags and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation. Picture: SUPPLIED

Or you can select Auto where the vehicle’s computer brain constantly monitors traction on all wheels, actively switching the distribution of power between the two axles depending on grip levels or power load. Particularly handy for driving on wet or loose gravelly surfaces is 4WD Lock, which apportions drive to both axles at the same time. A digital display on the dash alerts you to all of this interaction.

As more people get in on the lifestyle of new explorations, having a Duster with adjustable 4WD truly has unparalleled perks above the FWD alternative. It’s akin to having the best of everything in one vehicle.

The significant change to the new generation Duster is its increase to a generous 210mm of ground clearance, with good approach and departure angles of 30° and 33°, Hill Descent Control, and Hill Start Assist. Engine torque that peaks around 2,000rpm is part of its climbing arsenal.

However when the dust-busting is over and you are back in the city, that engine characteristic of premature torque delivery forces early up-shifts on its six-speed manual transmission to reach higher road speeds.


Renault Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique  4x4           

WE LIKE: Looks, 4WD capability, ride quality, price

WE DISLIKE: Noisy engine

VERDICT: Plucky and affordable compact family crossover


This may help drive down fuel economy to the 5.2l/100km claimed by its maker but it keeps the driver quite preoccupied with managing the engine revs. Perhaps if the option existed to mate it to a six-speed dual-clutch EDC automatic gearbox, life with the 1.5dCi diesel engine could be easier and happier in stop/start traffic.

However this Duster 4WD is exclusively fitted with a manual transmission, and the auto ‘box is available only for the 4x2 car. The engine noise can be a bit tiring too.

In the scenario that your lifestyle circumstances dictate a compact, diesel SUV with active 4WD but you aren’t ready to upscale to something larger and fancier for these attributes, the Duster 4WD is a one of a kind.

Renault has certainly done its homework on packaging it well but crucially for finding that perfect spot in a maelstrom of price and segment alternatives that are mostly petrol powered and front wheel drive. This particular Duster is for people who are inclined to driving on gravelly roads with determination to reach remote locations.


Tech Specs

Engine

Type: In-line four, turbo diesel

Capacity: 1,461 cc

Power: 80kW

Torque: 260Nm

Transmission

Type: Manual six-speed

Drivetrain

Type: Two-wheel drive with selectable 4WD Auto and 4WD Lock

Performance

Top speed: 168km/h (claimed)

0-100km/h: 12.5 seconds (claimed)

Fuel Consumption: 5.2l/100km/100km (claimed); 5.6l/100km (as tested)

Emissions: 138g/km

Standard Features

Automatic LED daytime running lights, electric mirrors, climate control, electric windows, hands-free key card, cruise control, automatic LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, six airbags, ABS brakes, stability control, hill-start assist, parking sensors, reversing camera, blind spot detection, automatic headlights, automatic wipers, central locking, height- and reach-adjustable steering wheel, cooled/warmed cupholder, infotainment system with 22cm capacitive touch screen, navigation, voice command, 225/60 R18 tyres, tilt/ telescopic steering wheel adjustment

Warranty: Five years/150,000km

Service plan: Three years/45,000km

Price: R327, 900

Lease*: R7,061.56 per month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit


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