Renault’s Duster is the ideal companion — but choose the right model
The Intens lacks four-wheel drive but has an impressive breadth of capabilities and exceptional fuel economy
It’s rare to find a crossover SUV that’s both a family car and a bushwhacker in one, but Renault has pulled it off with the Duster. This segment is alive with a host of rivals, including the Ford EcoSport, Haval Jolion, Kia Seltos, but if you want a crossover that can fit an average family and their luggage in comfort, and hang out with proper off-roaders, the Duster with all-four traction is it.
But it’s not the impressive 4WD version on test. This is the 1.5dCi Intens, a front-wheel drive only range-topper crammed with the latest tech. For starters, you don’t need to lock or unlock the vehicle using its card key to enter. You simply approach and “click” all doors are unlocked; a walk away and another ‘click’ signals full automatic lock-up.
It’s got new design 17-inch wheels, silver roof rails and prominent front and rear skid plates alongside updated front and rear LED lights and daytime running lights. The new look avoids the dainty, city fashionista look so prevalent in the segment and refines the tough-cookie style, which speaks volumes about its go-anywhere capabilities.
The interior is touched up with a modern-looking dashboard and new fabrics adorn the seats. The rear seats are split-foldable to create more loading space and there are numerous storage nooks around the dash to hide oddments from prying eyes. New technology includes a colourful 8-inch multimedia display that also plugs into mobile device features through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Voice commands are also possible.
All Duster models are powered by a 1.5l four-cylinder turbo-diesel. In this Intens guise it kicks out 80kW and 250Nm and powers the front wheels only via a six-speed automatic transmission. The 4WD model gets an extra 10Nm.
It’s an eager unit that fires off the Duster from standstill to 100km/h in 11.9 seconds, and maintains a spirited boil to reach a top speed of 169km/h. It has great fuel economy too, returning an exceptional 5.6l/100km average on test, making it a good choice if you rack up mileage, and it’s assisted by conveniences such as a speed limiter and cruise control.
The body is well-controlled at higher speeds and it never felt hampered by its front-drive configuration to corner fast and sure. You also have no fear of potholes, manholes or speed humps in city surroundings, thanks to a higher-than-average ground clearance.
It’s the same results of poise and stability when driven on gravel roads; you can confidently wander off into the wilderness better than most crossovers because it has the same chunky set of wheels and articulation and the same 30-degree approach/34 departure angled bumpers as the 4WD model, and it clears the same obstacles thanks to a similar 210mm ride height
The 10Nm torque deficit shouldn’t disadvantage the Intens’ ability to clamber up some average steep gradients, but you need to curb your enthusiasm before tackling some obstacles. Slippery surfaces and deep ditches are strictly for the 4WD model.
The Duster Zen 4WD model is my pick, and further supporting my view is that its traction system is part-time, meaning it’s front-wheel drive under normal circumstances, and you call on the all-wheel traction only when the need arises. While it has a marginal fuel consumption penalty, it sells for R8,000 less than the front wheel drive Intens.
But if you live in the city and have the occasional need for gravel driving, the Duster Intens is perfectly good and acceptable in that respect. You gain an automatic gearbox (4WD is manual only), painted skid-plates, keyless entry and lumbar support, all the things required to navigate the concrete jungles comfortably.
Renault Duster 1.5dCi Intens technical specifications
Type: Four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Type: Six-speed auto
Type: Front-wheel drive
Top speed: 169km/h
0-100km/h: 11.9 sec
Fuel Consumption: 4.8l/100km (claimed), 5.6l/100km (as tested)
Electric windows, LED daytime driving running lights, multifunction steering-wheel controls, electric mirrors, keyless entry, Bluetooth, USB port, cloth upholstery, lumbar support, climate control, cruise control, drive modes, park distance control, rear blind-spot assist, ABS, stability control, brake assist, and four airbags
Warranty: Five years/150,000km
Service plan: Three years/Unlimited mileage
Lease: R8,378 a month at 10% interest over 60 months, no deposit
WE LIKE: Space, fuel economy, pricing
WE DISLIKE: FWD underpinnings
VERDICT: A practical family crossover
Motor News star rating
Value For Money ****
Chery Tiggo 4 Pro 1.5T Elite auto, 108kW/210Nm — R354 900
Citroën C3 Aircross 1.2T Feel, 81kW/205Nm — R401,900
Hyundai Creta 1.5 Premium 84kW/143Nm — R395,500
Kia Seltos 1.6 EX Auto 90kW/151Nm — R408,995
Haval Jolion 1.5T Luxury auto, 105kW/210Nm — R385,900
Ford EcoSport 1.0T Trend auto, 90kW/170Nm — R367,900
Mazda CX-3 2.0 Active auto, 115kW/206Nm — R373,400
Mitsubishi ASX 2.0 ES auto, 110kW/197Nm — R391,995
Peugeot 2008 1.2T Active, 74kW/205Nm — R381,900
Toyota Corolla Cross 1.8 Xi, 103kW/172Nm — R360,400
Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0TSI Comfortline, 70kW/175Nm — R411,400
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