Renault Duster Oroch Double Cab (2017) First Drive

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In what might be the biggest development in the small bakkie market for several years, Renault is hoping to introduce the Duster Oroch double-cab bakkie in South Africa in 2017. The vehicle, which offers the practicality of a compact car and the versatility of small bakkie, is very lifestyle-oriented and fills a particular gap in the market with aplomb, our Brazilian correspondent reports.

The Brazilian market had a bit of a headache a while ago, and from what I'm told it's one with which South African consumers are well acquainted. Small bakkies, once the darlings of small business owners and a variety of private-buyer "recreationists" are, well, small... handy as they are, they aren't suited to transporting more than a pair of occupants, at least safely. Meanwhile, most conventional double cabs are much more expensive and no longer fit in tight parking spaces.

What's the solution? Renault suggests it is called the Duster Oroch. Larger than a light bakkie and more affordable and practical than a conventionally-sized double cab, it could be perfect for other emerging markets, such as South Africa.


Whether you're a mountain biker or a surfer, the Duster Oroch was designed with "recreationists" foremost in mind.

There are a few countries in which a Dacia Duster is called a Renault; Brazil and South Africa are two of them. Besides sharing this peculiarity, the countries also share their need for affordable bakkies. Recognising a gap between light bakkies and LCV-based double cabs, Renault Brazil launched the Duster Oroch a year ago (the bakkie is currently only produced in Brazil, from where it gets exported to Argentina, in LHD form). Its availability in South Africa would probably depend on when right-hand-drive versions go into production in Chennai, India (where the Duster crossover/SUV is manufactured).

In Brazil, the Duster Oroch is offered with two engine options. Entry-level derivatives utilise a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder motor (81 kW at 5 750 rpm, 156 Nm at 3 750 rpm) mated with a 5-speed manual gearbox. Higher-spec derivatives feature a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine (105 kW at 5 750 rpm, 205 Nm at 4 000 rpm), but buyers can choose between a 6-speed manual and a 4-speed automatic transmission. There is no turbodiesel version because Brazilian law outlaws passenger cars with diesel engines (commercial trucks are integral to the Brazilian cargo transportation network and diesel is, therefore, subsidised), but considering the current Duster line-up in South Africa, we expect the local market will get 1.5 dCi derivatives.  


The Duster Oroch is near-identical to its crossover/SUV sibling, until you get to the end of the cabin... 

A closely-rated Duster derivative

The Duster Oroch, featured here in 2.0 Dynamique trim, does not have a composite name for the sheer heck of it. The double-cab and crossover/SUV share the majority of their components. From a structural point of view, the vehicles are identical from the headlights to the B pillars (including the rear doors). This is, however, the point when things start to change, even with a different floor. Renault has used thicker metal sheets in order for the vehicle to cope with more cargo.

Instead of the 493 kg payload that the (Brazilian) Duster can haul, the Duster Oroch can deal with 650 kg (which includes passengers and driver). Therefore, if you want to travel with 4 people on board, you can't overfill the load bed. Imagine carrying five adults that weigh 80 kg each: you will have 400 kg in people, leaving 250 kg for whatever you want to haul.


The Duster Oroch's front-wheel-drive unibody construction does not lend itself to lugging a full complement of passengers as well as a heavy load, but hauling luggage is not a problem. 

That sounds like quite a compromise, but Renault would probably say the Duster Oroch will be required to carry cargo when no one (besides the driver) needs to be transported and will haul luggage (and other detritus) instead of goods when the entire family goes on holiday. Yes, some people may overload the Renault; lest we forget it remains a unibody vehicle. 

Longer than the crossover

The Duster Oroch does, however, have a longer wheelbase than the crossover/SUV on which it is based (2.83 metres versus 2.67 metres), but their cabins are the same size. Why? The Duster's cabin is decently sized and comfortable enough as it is – and the increased wheelbase is required to better balance whatever is loaded onto the back of Oroch.


There is no shortage of "off-roader cladding" on the Duster Oroch... even if it is just for show. Note the integrated spotlights.

When you consider that the Duster Oroch is a front-wheel-driven bakkie, too much weight behind the rear axle could make the M0 platform lift its front end off the ground, or at the very least cause traction problems for the bakkie on uphill climbs.

The load bed is 1.17 metres wide, 1.35 metres long and 43 cm tall. In case you need to carry longer objects (2 metres long, placed longitudinally), such as a motorcycle, Renault sells a bed extender as an accessory. With it, the tailgate supports a bed-floor drawer that prevents cargo from falling out and can also be used as a ramp for putting a motorcycle on the bed.


The load bed extender option will suit a dirt bike enthusiast to a tee.

Best of the Duster, worst of the Duster

One of the best things about the Duster Oroch is that it is affordable and roomy, just like the crossover. It is cheaper than a conventional double-cab and, in some cases, can cost even less than a light bakkie. One example is the Fiat Strada, the best-selling small LCV in Brazil. In Adventure trim, it costs R$72 050. The Duster Oroch starts at R$67 400.

As it is only 7 cm longer than a Toyota Corolla (for example), the bakkie is easy to park in most places (for the record, the Duster Oroch is also 1.82 metres wide and 1.70 metres high).

Inside, its cabin is not different to the one you find in a Duster, but that is both a good and bad thing. Let's start with the gripes: ergonomics aren't great... The side mirrors' adjustment console is under the handbrake lever, for example. Another aspect that should have been addressed by Renault is the location of the touchscreen infotainment system; it does not fall readily to hand and reading it requires you to take your eyes off the road, so it can be a worrying distraction for the driver.


Using an aged fascia design helps to bring the Duster Oroch's production costs down, but ergonomic issues remain.

The good news is the Oroch offers the best of its Duster sibling too, such as an independent multilink rear suspension. It adds to the bakkie's production cost, yes, but delivers a pliant ride quality. We did not evaluate the Oroch fully loaded, unfortunately, but in regular use, the bakkie feels the same to drive as the crossover.

Of course when you look in the rear-view mirror and see the tonneau cover and a pair of black bars behind the rear screen you're quickly reminded that you are driving a pick-up! But that familiarity is really a feather in the Duster Oroch's cap, even if the vehicle on which the bakkie is based has never been regarded as one of the most engaging vehicles to drive.


By bakkie standards, the Duster Oroch has a forgiving ride quality, even if the suspension is a bit noisy.

The suspension offers a comfortable ride, but it is a trifle noisy. On rough tarmac, you will only realise that a wheel has struck a pothole due to the knock that emanates from under you. Although the Duster Oroch is not sporty, its handling is surprisingly deft. Had it not been for the high seating position, some drivers would probably tackle corners with more zeal.

Meanwhile, the Duster Oroch's 2.0-litre engine is not the most powerful unit on the market, but it is more than enough for the unloaded bakkie. There is plenty of torque at low revs and the Renault can maintain a steady 120 kph with very little effort. The electro-hydraulic power steering provides good assistance, especially in parking manoeuvres, but it's bereft of feel. 

The re-imagining of the Duster has not coincided with improved sound insulation either, unfortunately. As is the case with the crossover, above a certain speed (around 90 kph), wind noise can be intrusive.


As is the case with the Duster, the bakkie can seat rear passengers in comfort. It is a major advantage!

Summary

Renault has been extremely savvy in creating the Duster Oroch. It's more comfortable and versatile than a small bakkie (such as the Chevrolet Utility and Nissan NP200) and (should be) more affordable and practical than the majority of double cabs on the market. Renault South Africa is understandably keen to introduce the bakkie to the local market and given the prospect of the Alaskan double-cab arriving here (eventually), the French marque may establish itself as a bakkie brand!  

There are admittedly shortcomings to the product, most of which pertain to the Duster crossover/SUV too, but fortunately for Renault, South Africans are happily accustomed to the compromises associated with owning and driving a bakkie. In Brazil, the Duster Oroch even has competition in the shape of the Fiat Toro, which has attracted a whole lot of customer attention.

Granted, it may not be a 4-wheel-drive, but as a lifestyle vehicle the Duster Oroch offers a special blend of traits that no other manufacturer offers on the South African market. It is undeniably an attractive and utterly desirable product.

Watch a promotional video of the Duster Oroch in "full lifestyle mode" below:

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