New Renault Duster: Less beast, more beauty

New Renault Duster: Less beast, more beauty

The original Renault Duster might have been a sales hit, but it certainly didn’t win any beauty prizes. Seven years later, the second-generation Duster replaces some of its brutalist, Eastern European DNA with a welcome touch of French finesse. But can it still cope with the rough stuff?

Like a bull terrier, the Renault Duster’s pugnacious, angular lines have resulted in a vehicle that’s so aesthetically challenged that it’s actually likeable. Besides, those chunky looks were vindicated by an adventurous spirit and a go-anywhere attitude.

The compact all-terrainer, conceived as a Dacia but sold in South Africa under the Renault banner, became an unexpected sales hit here, finding more than 15,000 buyers in a market where design often outweighs capability in swaying purchasing decisions.

The Duster’s no-nonsense styling suited its talent set, which always exceeded expectations. Its robust construction, rugged execution and raised ride height allowed it to tackle challenging terrain with ease, even in 4×2 form.

Perhaps more importantly, the Duster was priced affordably, ensuring a strong value proposition in a market where the privilege of owning an SUV usually comes with a hefty price tag.

Enter the all-new, second-generation Duster. Immediately apparent is how much sleeker and streamlined the newcomer looks. It exudes a smart and even stylish character – and it loses some of the original’s feisty, dare-to-be-different appeal in the process.

Those squared-off lines have been softened, and the silhouette gains a more wind-cheating profile, while the overall length and height have increased, too. If the first-generation Duster was the bull terrier pup, then its replacement has become the more composed, less boisterous adult – at least in visual terms.

Some of the key Duster cosmetic cues remain, however. The wheel arches are as pronounced as before, offering a home to 16-inch or even 17-inch wheels, depending on model. And the short overhangs – vital to ensure capable approach and departure angles in off-road terrain – have also been retained.

Prominent roof rails, front and rear scuff plates, and contrasting lower body mouldings all confirm the Duster’s go-anywhere aspirations, as does the 210 mm ground clearance. In that sense, the design remains more purposeful than most quasi-SUVs.

Of more everyday value, however, is an interior that’s now bang up to date, with a much stronger emphasis on visual and tactile quality. It’s more spacious too, especially as far as rear accommodation is concerned, while the boot now swallows 478 litres of cargo.

The new front seats look and feel more comfortable, and the ergonomic execution is more driver-friendly, with better-arranged switchgear. Materials and finishes are smarter, but still look durable enough to cope with the Duster’s rough-and-tumble positioning.

Leather is a R10,088 option, but probably a good call: given the kind of terrain you’ll want to traverse in this Renault, the hide will be both durable and easy to clean, even if the standard cloth is likely to be more comfortable .

The need for tech and connectivity isn’t ignored, either: except for the base model, the Duster’s dashboard features an integrated colour touchscreen which serves as the interface for a full-blown multimedia system that wouldn’t look out of place in a sophisticated hot hatch.

It offers full satnav, as well as Bluetooth hands-free telephony and streaming, plus USB connectivity, an FM/AM tuner, and multi-speaker audio. There’s also an eco driving display and, on the 4×4 model, all-terrain monitoring.

Add niceties such as cruise control, remote central locking, aircon, electric power steering and electric windows, and it’s clear that Renault wants to make Duster owners happy.

For the more upmarket models, aircon is replaced with auto climate control, and the top version even gets a card key with autonomous locking and unlocking, and keyless starting.

So how many models are there? The new line-up offers a total of five derivatives, spanning both petrol and diesel engine options, as well as manual and EDC dual-clutch transmissions. As before, there’s also a proper 4×4 version.

The most affordable Duster is the petrol-powered1.6 Expression MT 4×2, which offers 84kW of maximum power and 156Nm of torque – significantly more than the previous 1.6. The gearbox is a five-speed manual.

However, most Duster buyers will have their heart set on the more frugal and gutsier dCi turbodiesel engines, offered in three different flavours depending on model. Here, the entry point is the 1.5 dCi Dynamique, which also brings more standard kit to the Duster party, including that colour touchscreen.

In this guise, the 1.5-litre turbodiesel s good for 66kW and 210Nm, with the latter figure being the more important one. The gearbox is a five-speed manual.

Want more urge? Arguably the pick of the range is the 1.5 dCi Dynamique EDC, which links a more potent version of the turbodiesel engine to the convenience of the EDC dual-clutch gearbox. Power and torque increase to 80kW and 250Nm respectively.

If all-wheel drive is a priority, the 1.5 dCi Dynamique 4×4 is the only choice. Only available from next year, it has the same engine as the 4×2 version, but gains an extra 10Nm of torque. Selectable 4×4 is standard, and it also gets Hill Descent Control to up its off-road talents.

The flagship 1.5 dCi Prestige EDC 4×2 is the Duster flagship, and adds even more extras to the standard spec list, as well as smarter, silver-hued exterior detailing.

I spent a day driving the Duster in Mpumalanga, in a variety of conditions, much of which reflected its natural habitat. The top-spec 1.5 dCI Prestige EDC 4×2 model was the only one on offer, and we tackled everything from town traffic and country roads to twisty mountain passes and some fairly rough gravel sections.

The newcomer has made substantial strides in terms of refinement, with much lower drivetrain and road noise levels, even at speed, or on compromised surfaces. The suspension set-up is admirable, with plenty of compliance to soak up ruts and berms, but without turning the Duster into a waft-mobile.

It also displays unexpected composure. Leaning it into corners hard, I expected the squealing tyres to announce the onset of understeer, but the Duster resolutely toed the chosen line. The steering is almost too sharp and doesn’t deliver much in the way of feedback, but still allows confident cornering.

A bit of rally-style off-roading on gravel roads, with plenty of sharp rocks, potholes and humps to negotiate, proved that the Duster retains its poise on the rough stuff, too. It underlines the wisdom of the relatively modest 17-inch wheels and 60-profile tyres, which still offered good traction.

The diesel engine is peppy enough, and remains remarkably quiet, even when pressing on, but it’s no ball of fire, and there’s little point in revving it hard. That said, midrange response is good, thanks to decent lashings of torque, easing overtaking manoeuvres.

The EDC gearbox is a good match, and is best left to its own devices, especially as there are no shift paddles – manual changes are only possible using the gear lever’s sequential shift action. However, the ‘box does a good job of swapping cogs without driver intervention.

Renault claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 12.5sec and a 168km/h top speed, which is more than adequate in this context. And while I pedalled it hard at times, typical Duster owners are unlikely to push the little SUV’s limits to that extent.

It’s also good to know that safety is meaningfully addressed across the range. Dual airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution and emergency braking assistance, as well as electronic stability control with hill start assistance, are standard across the line-up.

Dynamique and Prestige models add dual side airbags to that list, while the Prestige also boasts a blind spot warning system.

The new Duster represents a major stride forward in key areas such as comfort, refinement and quality, without losing that inherent ruggedness at the core of its DNA. Its still an authentic compact SUV in a segment where most alternatives are wannabes.

Granted, it has given up some of that bull terrier-like, love-it-or-hate it pugnacity, but even the most loyal Duster fans will admit that the new version’s sleeker, slicker execution and enhanced comfort is a good trade-off for the original’s functional aesthetics.

Even better, value remains a core attraction: the pricing of the Duster continues to reflect decent bang for the buck, despite our weaker currency. And that should seal this second-generation Duster’s ultimate success. DM


Duster 1.6 Expression 4X2 – R249,900

Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique 4×2 – R282,900

Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique EDC 4×2 – R316,900

Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique 4×4 – R321,900

Duster 1.5 dCi Prestige EDC 4×2 – R334,900


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options