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Driving impression: Renault Duster

13 May 2014

I’ve just spent a week behind the wheel of the Renault Duster and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the biggest bargain currently available in SA.

One of the reasons it’s such a good little car is its 1,5-litre turbocharged diesel engine. Such a small engine sounds depressing in theory, but it’s actually a lot more powerful than you’d think.

Renault claims a torque figure of 240Nm, but in all honesty, it feels closer to 300Nm. It pulls like a little steam engine, even at 120km/h in sixth gear.

The other upshot is relatively low fuel consumption. Renault claims a combined figure of 5,5 l/100km, which I struggled to achieve, but got very close to.

On the inside it’s a lot more luxurious than the sticker price would have you believe. As standard you get electric everything, remote controls for the sound system behind the steering wheel, a host of active and passive safety equipment and a touch-screen interface in the centre console.

It’s this touch-screen infotainment system, supplied by LG, which controls everything from the sound system to the navigation unit. There was, however, one issue with the navigation. It absolutely refused to acknowledge that places like Kaapsehoop and Barberton exist. You could simply bypass the city input by using GPS coordinates, but it would be much easier if the navigation accepted the existence of smaller towns.

On the road it’s rather comfortable. It cruises easily enough at 120km/h and sixth gear overtaking maneuvers makes the driving experience that much easier. I would have like cruise control as standard as well, but other than that it proved very comfortable on the open road.

The Duster allows you to select between front-wheel drive and permanent four-wheel drive. I drove the test mule deep into the woods on a few bad gravel roads, but only engaged four-wheel drive once, if only to see what it was like.

It front-wheel drive the Duster feels solid enough, but having the option of four-wheel drive is a nice-to-have. I guess it all depends on what you want to use it for. If you’re only going to use it in the city, save a few bucks and get the front-wheel drive model. If you’re in the market for something that can play rough when needed, go for the full-fat version.

Even in full-fat guise it’s cheaper than it’s direct, front-wheel drive only competitors. It’s been a while since I’ve come across such a nifty bargain, which is quite impressive considering the current economic climate.

For around R245 000, you get a spacious, family friendly compact crossover with adequate off-road ability. It has a nippy, yet frugal 1,5-litre diesel engine and it’s equipped with every feature the modern man/woman could possibly ask for.