There's always a sense of excitement when you get your first press car of the year, the thrill of getting behind something new that is hitting the road, experiencing what it has to offer and at the end of it all, summarizing my experience for you to read. There is no choice of what we can get but more of what is available and this year, first up with Renault's new Duster. I recall seeing the Duster for the first time at it's local debut, at the then, Johannesburg International Motorshow back in 2008. It was something different from the French manufacturer and had been causing quite a stir world over. A good friend of mine and fellow motoring journalist who was working at the show spoke so enthusiastically about the Duster that it was hard to ignore it. Truth be told, the first Renault Duster didn't look spectacular, it's boxy, there's a lot of plastic elements to it but the thing that made it so attractive was its capabilities and its price tag. The Renault Duster was one of the cheapest 4 x 4's around, in a compact SUV format and you can see the appeal it had going for it, fast forward to this new model, not much has changed, its still relatively cheap and has everything other, more expensive SUV's have to offer.
White the overall design of the Duster hasn't changed much, it has evolved nicely from the box like shape to well rounded edges and more curves than before. It was never a bad looking car but with some of the latest input of the Renault Design language has done it wonders. The badge now big and bold, prominently mounted up front at the midpoint of the grille which has chrome accents and fuses well into the headlamps. The front headlights form to the new Renault design language with the day time running light LED having that signature C shape, it looks pretty cool. While the overall design doesn't look like it has changed much but if you take a closer look, you will notice it has changed a lot. Renault have added a lot more bulk to the new Duster, given it subtle characteristics to make it look robust and off-road worthy. Like the plastic console which the number plate sits on looks like a bull bar finished in brushed aluminium, it has the same feature on the back. The side just behind the front wheel arch has blacked out vent with the indicator below. The roof racks have the Duster signage visible, all these small elements added character to an already good looking vehicle. The colour I had was Dune Beige which gave the car a classy look, and suited the five spoke bi-colour rims.
Renault's 1.5dCI engine is nothing short of amazing, as it couples performance with economy and with my time with gave me endless pleasure while on my daily commute. The engine delivers 80kW and 260Nm of torque, I know that doesn't sound like much, especially for an off road vehicle but with Renault's EDC dual-clutch gearbox, which assists the engine when changing gears ensuring that speed is not lost during the gear transitions as well as no jerking or loss in acceleration. Upshiting is fast and smooth, and as mentioned before, the fuel economy is quite substantial compared to others in this segment. Driving wise, while the cabin is made up of mostly plastic, there is no weird noises or rattles, and the car gives a very smooth ride. It feels well balanced and with the various driving aides available on the Prestige model, its almost effortless to drive in tight spots and park virtually anywhere.
The cabin is extremely spacious for both the front and back occupants, the leather seats feel good and normally with cars like this, I feel that they compromise on seat size to accommodate more space but none such issue with the new Duster. The key of the Duster is the controversial card like one, which I must admit is a bit built but the slim factor helps, the proximity senor on it is second to none though, giving the term "comfort access" a new meaning, its almost freaky how good this thing works for both locking and unlocking. The Duster comes with single zone climate control which does a pretty decent job cooling the entire cabin without a sweat, and compromising the engine. The storage capacity on the Duster is pretty good too, with the entire rear seat being able to fold for extra loading space giving you a 1/3 and 2/3 split.
The Prestige model is loaded with toys for the fundies and I was quite taken a back at the amount of features it came with standard which are not even standard on other luxury cars which cost twice the price of this! While the Duster may be geared for adventure enthusiasts, it has a heck load of things to help you with city driving, from blind spot warning with lights on either side mirrors to make you aware of cars on the lane next to you. It has ABS with EDC making sure braking power is distributed to all four wheels equally. Rear PDC's to make parking a breeze and if that wasn't enough it also has multi-view camera, which is four cameras around the car. One in the front, two either side and the reverse camera which all work in union when wanting a birds eye view of the car. The Duster also comes with a speed limiter and cruise control which I found odd that the controls for these were located next to the hand brake. Speaking of hand brake, there is no need to use it when on a steep incline as the Duster has hill assist. The Media Nav Evolution touch screen infotainment cluster, which is easy to use and has big tiles for effortless navigation.
While the Duster is geared for adventure, truth be told its even more better for city driving which essentially is the place its going to spend most of its time with the odd weekend break away. It still maintains that charm which came with the first Duster and with its great looks, and very attractive price it will maintain its position in the market as the go-to cheaper alternative off-road option. With all these extras that are available for the Duster it will only make it more appealing to the buyer. For me, it wasn't the type of car I would go for but after driving around in one for a week, my perception has changed. With the increased ride height and spacious opening, its really a great way to drive and get in and out off. I won't be surprised to see this one do as well, if not better than the previous generation.
6 Speed Automatic
R 334 900