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.