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Long term update: Renault Duster 1.5 dCi AWD





14 June 2016


A fond farewell to a good friend.

The Renault Duster 1.5dCi 4WD recently left the building. This caused Gerhard Horn, the Renault’s custodian, to shed a quiet tear…

A part of me hoped that Renault would completely forget that we had a long-term Duster. It may seem ridiculous, but manufacturer fleet managers often forget to collect a vehicle, sometimes for longer than a week.

Alas, it was not to be. We received a polite mail from Renault asking when they could collect it. “Over our dead bodies,” we wanted to reply. “Come and get it if you dare.”
For a while we contemplated an intricate heist, but then someone made the brilliant suggestion of buying it.

Good idea, but for what purpose? There are new long-termers on the way and each one of us has a personal vehicle too.

We sampled the Duster in two flavours – a brown pre-facelift model that was damaged by a nincompoop who chose not to stop at a stop street, and an olive green facelifted model that filled the gap while we waited for this model to arrive.
The brown unit quickly transformed itself from a lifeless mobility device into a member of the family. It fulfils a lot of needs, no question.

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A big part of its appeal lies with its sheer simplicity. It’s a big contender in the compact crossover segment, but unlike its competitors, it doesn’t rely on quirky styling features or flamboyant interior detailing to help it sell.

The Duster relies on the fact that it’s much bigger and cheaper than its class rivals. It’s a WYSIWYG car – what you see is what you get. It’s a fully fledged family car. Even if you have three kids, the Duster can fit all of them in comfortably, while still having enough room left over in the boot for all their stuff.

Unfortunately it’s neither as luxurious or as refined as most of its suave crossover competitors, but Renault had to save money somewhere. The recent facelift added leather seats and improved NVH levels, but for the most part, it still feels a generation behind on the inside. It is robust, however, and it’s highly unlikely that even the most rambunctious of kids will ever be able to tear it apart.

And while it may not feel luxurious, it’s certainly decently specified. As standard it comes with air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, USB hub and navigation huddled together in an easy-to-operate touchscreen interface.
Most of all, we liked the combination of a punchy 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel engine, six-speed manual and all-wheel drive. It’s the same 4WD system used in the Nissan X-Trail, and it features settings for 2WD, 4WD Auto and 4WD Lock.

This is no hard core bundu basher, but with an unusually low first gear (you can take off in second gear in normal driving conditions), a claimed 205mm ground clearance and the diesel engine with plenty of low-down torque, the Duster can go some ways off-road. It can certainly handle 90% more than other compact crossovers.

Renault-Duster-dirty

The Duster entered the SA market as an underdog, but it soon revealed itself to be highly capable in the sort of situations where you’d never expect to find a so-called soft-roader.

Our first encounter with the car was in Namibia and tourists simply couldn’t believe that we drove the crossovers into Sossusvlei’s Death Valley. How could we, when the signage warned us not to attempt the soft sand in anything but a proper 4×4?
It took some time, but we finally convinced a nice fella in a Toyota Land Cruiser that we drove it in there, by driving it out again.

Up until that point, he was firm in his belief that a chopper had dropped the Renault there as part of a marketing stunt…

This was but the first fond memory of a car that has snuck very deep into all of our hearts. Like all the best SUVs, bakkies and crossovers out there, the Duster was built for enthusiasts and it’s enthusiasts who buy them and use them for the purpose of going on adventures.

We know this for a fact, because whenever we wrote something nasty about it, we’d have to contend with the Duster Owners Club and numerous phone calls from ‘Frikkie’, who had driven his Duster up Mount Doom.

Seriously, the guys who buy Dusters are passionate about Dusters. With such a cult following, it’s clearly a good vehicle.

Having said that, it’s not without its faults. Our facelifted model discharged a huge cloud of smoke every time we fired it up (when it was cold). The Bluetooth connection function is terrible and the sound system really isn’t up to scratch.

But remember, you get this crossover for less than R300 000. Even better, a low mileage pre-owned unit will offer even more value for money, and it comes with a solid warranty from Renault SA too.

Passive safety could be an issue for some potential buyers though. It received a three-star EURO NCAP rating and it failed the ‘Moose test’ conducted by a well-known international publication.

The pre-facelift unit settled some of our personal fears. During a shoot-out between compact crossovers, a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT skipped a stop street and drove into the side of the Duster. The Duster had a toddler strapped into the back seat.

Amazingly, the Jeep’s front-end was unrecognisable, but the Duster drove away from the scene, its occupants shaken but completely unharmed. We later found out that it had suffered some cosmetic damage and a bent shock absorber. So it may not corner like a Porsche 911, but it’s tough as nails and it protected what most of us would consider as our most precious cargo.

For that, we will always be grateful.

In our minds, it remains the compact crossover of choice for someone who has adventure coursing through their veins, and who doesn’t want to spend a fortune on a highly capable little 4×4 crossover.

Renault Duster 1.5dCi 4×4
Distance received/now: 189km/5 933km
Distance completed: 5 744km
Average fuel consumption: 8/100km
Fuel tank: 50 litres
Range: 625km
Selling price new: R289 900
Service/Maintenance plan: Three-year/45 000km
Why do we have it: To find out why Renault’s pavement special is so darn popular
Driven by: Gerhard Horn

Lekker
It’s large enough for most families
Not a pukka off-roader, but way better than you probably think
Loads of standard equipment, including navigation
Fuel economy
What you see is what you get

Not so lekker
The Bluetooth connection can be unstable, but it depends on what phone you use
The sound system’s quality is not the greatest
Cool LCD screen, but not great to use and tough to see in sunny conditions
Cold-start smoke clouds
It is not as polished and refined as some other crossovers. But at the price…

Words: Gerhard Horn