IT is all too easy to damn the Renault Duster with faint praise. After all, its origins are rooted in the Dacia brand and even with a name like Duster, you’d hardly expect it to show a clean pair of heels to its B-segment rivals.
The reality is different though as Renault SA had the foresight in September 2013 to bring in a vehicle that had made its mark overseas on unpretentious but ultimately rather important virtues, these being toughness, practicality and versatility.
While everyone might aspire to more lofty ideals, the truth is that every day motoring isn’t all about what your neighbour thinks but more about what serves the owner’s purpose. That explains why the Duster has averaged around 260 sales per month and this level could well be sustained in a difficult market given the tweaks lavished on the phase two model which arrived in SA towards the end of 2016.
Now move the clock along to mid-2017 and Renault SA invited motoring hacks along to sample the latest iteration of the breed fitted with the company’s 6-speed EDC (dual clutch) automated manual transmission mated to the familiar 1.5 dCi turbo D driving the front wheels only.
A well-sorted dual clutch transmission has a number of virtues, the most important of which is efficiency (aka no power loss) with the ease of use of use associated with a conventional torque converter transmission.
Early versions of the EDC formula weren’t exactly top of the pops as gear changes tended to be indecisive and sometimes clunky but engineers at the Getrag plant (you know – that world famous German transmission manufacturer) where EDC is sourced got out their dusters and cleaned up the software which controls the brain that activates the solenoids that ultimately effect the gear changes.
It took very little time on the launch route to work out that the gearbox internals were much more at home than before as shifts proved to be decisive, rapid and mostly very smooth. Sadly, Renault doesn’t provide paddle shifters but manual override can be effected courtesy of the rather old-fashioned shift lever.
Whatever, the gearbox does learn driver usage patterns and hangs onto gears longer when the throttle is exercised more extensively. The lack of slip when accelerating or ascending slopes makes for a much more pleasant driving experience than is offered by old school autos and doubtless has much to do with the claimed but rarely obtainable combined consumption of 4.8l/100km.
Happily, the 6-speed EDC box is a very good partner for the 1.5 dCi motor that delivers up to 80kW and more importantly, a generous torque peak of 250Nm (10Nm more than is offered with the manual shifter) that’s available from a lowly 1750 rpm.
It’s this torque output that makes the Duster a most willing performer (even at Reef altitudes, thanks to the turbo) in give and take conditions as well as out on the open road. Sure, at idle the mill can sound a little clattery, but on the move it produces a pleasant enough thrum that’s never invasive and is muscular enough to tackle quite long gradients without running out of puff.
Lag too is barely an issue as the transmission generally downshifts early enough to keep the motor spinning near to its torque plateau.
The EDC transmission is only available (from August) with 4X2 configuration and in Dynamique trim which brings with it niceties such as a 7-inch touch screen with nav and reversing camera/sensors, a USB and AUX port, leather-bound steering wheel, some extra exterior brightwork, very smart 16-inch alloys and cruise control. Leather seating is available as a R10 000 option and was fitted to our test unit.
If the equipment level is generous for the price category, it would be unreasonable to expect the interior to ooze class. Let’s say that it’s comfortable, reasonably spacious with excellent luggage space (from 475 to 1636 litres) and respectably finished with no glaring shortcuts evident, albeit that hard surfacing is widely employed. Rattles were wholly absent but on poor surfaces, sections of the roof lining creaked annoyingly.
As for the drive, we’ve already established that the engine/transmission combo works well so it’s pleasing to report that for the most part, the ride/handling package is also decently sorted. An initial overly-soft feel is reined in by effective damping such that the worst surface irregularities are more heard than felt. While the Duster doesn’t waft along like a limo, it overall comfort levels are decent enough.
The steering too doesn’t demand too much effort in that it’s nicely weighted at low speeds but it is a tad vague and lacking in feel around the straight-ahead position on the open road.
Within the 5-model Duster range, this latest EDC-equipped version mated to the effective 1.5 dCi motor is without doubt the easiest to live with on the daily drive provided that serious off-roading is not a regular on the driving menu. Nonetheless, thanks to decent ground clearance, this 4×2 version should still be capable of handling lesser off-road challenges.
While the Duster can’t fully disguise its unpretentious origins, the fact of the matter is that it offers a good value package which in South Africa is backed by very generous warranty conditions.
(All comment in this report relates to the South African market)