Renault Duster 1.5 dCi EDC: When sensible is fun, too

Renault Duster 1.5 dCi EDC: When sensible is fun, too

When it comes to spending money on a new vehicle, being sensible almost always pays dividends – even if your emotions don’t always agree. But in the case of the second-generation Renault Duster, the sensible choice happens to be fun to drive, too.

For most of us, deciding what car to buy is a process fraught with concerns and conflicts.

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Are you getting enough bang for the buck? Do you really need an SUV? Is it big enough for the whole family? Does it look smart enough? How fuel efficient is it?

And those are just some of the questions.

It would be fair to say that affordability and value for money are two of the most important considerations shared by the majority of new car buyers. Fuel economy and running costs also feature strongly, as do versatility and practicality.

But let’s be honest: it’s hard to keep subjectivity and emotions out of the decision-making process. Some brands are just more aspirational than others, while attractive styling will always have an advantage over an ugly-duckling design.

One could accuse the first-generation Duster of being aesthetically challenged. And there’s no doubt that its positioning was based on pragmatism and value, rather than aspirational appeal. And yet, it became a top seller, while creating a particularly loyal following.

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The reasons for the original Duster’s success aren’t hard to find: it’s a hardy, reliable and affordable vehicle that’s tough enough to cope with even poor gravel roads. And while it’s hardly pretty, it has a pugnacious presence and a strong personality that has resonated with its target market.

The first Duster’s popularity could be considered a perfect springboard for the launch of the new, second-generation model. However, it represents a double-edged sword, because the successor has to live up to the original’s reputation while offering meaningful improvements across the board.

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Released last year, the new Duster looks softer, sleeker and smarter than its predecessor. It’s still strong on SUV styling cues – short overhangs, bulging wheel arches, raised stance – but the shape is more curvaceous and less pugnacious.

That said, the overt presence of macho add-ons – front and rear scuff plates, bold roof rails and matt-black protective cladding – does add a utilitarian flavour that sets it apart from the wannabe soft-roader brigade.

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If you’re familiar with the “old” Duster, you’ll appreciate the significant improvements introduced to the cabin. As tested here in top-of-the-range Prestige form, it’s moved up a couple of notches in comfort, convenience and luxury terms.

Yes, there’s still a fair amount of plastic, but it’s the classier, soft-touch stuff that looks and feels just right for a practical all-terrainer. The switchgear and layout is much improved, and the centre stack gets a colour touchscreen linked to a full-featured infotainment system.

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You get to play with satnav, Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free calls, an FM/AM radio, and an eco-driving display. Also included are USB and aux sockets, and on this model, front and rear cameras linked to park distance control.

Electric windows and mirrors, air-con, remote central locking and cruise control are standard fares across the range. Best of all, there’s more space to go with the extra style, and a larger boot that now swallows up 478 litres of luggage.

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Image supplied.

Powering the 1.5 dCi Prestige model is Renault’s well-proven 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine, rated at a useful 80kW and 250Nm. It’s a willing engine that places the emphasis on low-down pulling power and midrange tractability.

The accompanying six-speed dual-clutch transmission is a good match for the four-pot mill, offering a well-chosen stack of ratios that harness the engine’s urge to good effect. There is a manual override, but the gearbox goes about its business with unobtrusive ease that mostly mitigates against any driver interference.

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Image supplied.

A weekend trip to Mpumalanga’s lush surrounds provided the perfect opportunity to try out the Duster’s prowess over longer distances, and on some gravel sections. While the engine can get a little buzzy, it never lacks fizz, and gets past slower traffic with ease.

Renault claims an impressive 4.8 litres/100km average fuel consumption, but even with a big slice of highway driving, the best I got was 6.3 litres/100km, which is still pretty decent, and translates into a useful range of close on 800km from the 50-litre tank.

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Image supplied.

Noise levels are much improved compared to the original Duster, and the same goes for overall refinement – the Duster drives much more like a city-slicker softroader than an all-terrain toughie.

However, when it comes to heading off the beaten track, the Duster is no softie. Despite the lack of all-wheel drive, the Renault’s wieldy dimensions, 210mm ground clearance and wide tracks make for plenty of poise, while the engine’s inherent grunt adds to the vehicle’s proficiency.

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The suspension soaks up the rough stuff with greater ease than expected, but without resorting to soggy responses, and the steering is crisp enough to thread the Duster through the tight with confidence. I’d have liked a bit more feedback, but then this isn’t a sports car.

For those who need true off-road talent, the Duster range includes a 4×4 version, but frankly, most users will find the 4×2 version proficient enough for weekend forays into the great outdoors.

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Dust proofing was excellent, and despite leaving plenty of the stuff in our wake, the interior remained uncontaminated – a good testimonial of Renault’s overall build quality. That was underlined by the total absence of any squeaks or rattles, even on badly corrugated surfaces.

Indeed, there’s inherent robustness to the Duster’s demeanour that is reassuring. It feels solid in the way that suggests longevity and reliability – qualities that are particularly important in a country with deteriorating roads and long ownership periods.

More than just another wannabe SUV, the Renault Duster is a true all-rounder, with a talent set that vindicates its use across a particularly wide range of applications. It’s versatile, robust and practical, but also smart, comfortable and – dare we say it – ruggedly attractive.

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It will traverse a wide range of surfaces and conditions, and with dual front airbags, electronic stability control, ABS brakes, hill start assistance and blind spot warning (on the Prestige), occupant safety is adequately addressed, too.

Even value – perhaps the most prized attribute of all – is part of the Duster’s attraction. As tested here, the 1.5 dCi 4×2 Prestige retails for R334 900. For R18 000 less, you can get the 1.5 dCi EC Dynamique, which still has most of the important bells and whistles.

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Yes, there’s a lot that’s sensible about the Renault Duster. But for once, sensible also translates into a package that’s fun to drive, and will take you almost everywhere. I suspect the Duster Owner’s Club is about to get a lot bigger… DM


Versatile, robust and well equipped. Competent on tar and gravel, too.


Might be a little too utilitarian – or is that characterful? – for some…


Renault Duster 1.5 dCi Prestige EDC 4×2


In-line four-cylinder, 1,461cc, turbodiesel


80kW @ 4,000rpm


250Nm @ 1,750rpm

Power-to-weight ratio

61.34 kW/ton


Six-speed EDC dual-clutch, FWD


17-inch alloy, 215/60 R17 tyres

0-100 km/h


Top speed


Fuel tank capacity

50 litres

Consumption (claimed/tested)

4.8 / 6.3 litres/100km

Range (claimed/tested)

1,042 / 794km

CO2 emissions

126 g/km

Retail price




Maintenance/service plan

3-year/45,000km service plan



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