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Friday, 16 October 2015

DRIVING IMPRESSION: Much to like in Renault Duster

YOU can buy a big SUV with fancy off-road wizardry and all the luxuries, but you will pay through the nose for it these days. That is the appeal of the budget friendly Renault Duster. At R269,900 for the Dynamique four-wheel drive version, it seriously ticks the value for money box.
Renault recently introduced a facelifted version which has a new and slightly more aggressive grille, together with upgraded interior materials. It has moved away from the cheap interior but do not expect a German style level of design or solidity in there.
In the looks department it still stands out from what are generally only small family sedans and hatchbacks at the price. You could have the Volkswagen Cross Polo but that is just a pseudo off-roader with none of the ability of the Duster. And it does have ability. The four-wheel drive system is shared with Nissan and you can opt to leave it in auto or put it into proper off-road mode.
Granted it is unlikely to take you through central Africa, although it might, but it will traverse most off-road conditions that you are likely to encounter with relative ease. It nimbly climbs steep gradients and the ground clearance is decent enough to climb the odd rocky river bed.
Most people are never going to do much more than charge along a gravel road in it though, but it is equally at home in the city. That 1.5 turbodiesel motor is the same one we love so much in the Nissan Qashqai, providing excellent throttle response and one of the best fuel economy figures in the business. The six-speed manual is a pleasure to use, but it could do with the gear ratios being just a little bit wider. Pull away and you are quickly flying through the gears with even the top ratios being a bit closer than we would like, often necessity a number of downchanges for overtaking.
If I have one major complaint it is the engine noise. In the bid to keep costs down, Renault has forgone any substantial noise insulation between the engine and the cabin. The diesel motor can sound agricultural, particularly at start up, and just installing some insulation along the firewall would give the Duster a slightly better overall driving experience.
You could just turn up the volume of course and it has a great infotainment system for the budget end of the market. The touchscreen is another bugbear though. It works really well, with large icons and a straightforward layout, but the glare often means you cannot see it. Try to look through the glare while you are driving and you risk being seriously distracted. I guess Romania, where the Duster is built at the Dacia plant, does not have much sun and so the problem was not really picked up. Again the solution seems relatively simple — either allow an increased brightness or put a plastic cowling along the top. Let’s see what happens with the next facelift.
The rest of the interior is spacious and there is decent legroom at the rear. The boot space is great and you can fold down the rear seats to allow for larger loads.
There are those who will scoff at the Duster but given that you can get ability, space and a good specification for the price of a Polo, for me it is a real star in the lower end of the market.
Price: R269,900
Engine: 1,461cc turbodiesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Power: 80kW at 4,000r/min and 240Nm at 1,750r/min
Performance: 0-100km/h 12.8 seconds, top speed 168km/h
Economy: 5.2l/100km
Emissions: 135g/km of CO2
Motor News rating: Four stars.

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