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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.