The hard-working Renault Duster returns to the fray with a new model that improves on some of the niggly bits of its predecessor, but remains the default rugged choice in the compact family car segment.
The 2018 Renault Duster is an all-new car, but considering that it utilises the same platform and (mildly revamped) engines as before, it feels more like a facelift model than something that's said to be a brand-new vehicle... Don’t let that deter you too much, as the changes Renault has made to the new Duster make a big difference.
The design is the most obvious change, where the LED lights at the front show the C-shape design that Renault is implementing in its new models. It’s not the same tear-drop effect that the Megane has, but still a distinct Renault cue. The rear features a new tail-light design and reminds me of the Jeep Renegade with its square shape "crosshair target" light cluster. It’s by no means a drastic restyle, but looks modern and maintains that sturdy, chunky design that makes it look like a pukka off-roader.
The square rear taillights are the major new addition to the rear end design.
The engines under the bonnet include a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 1.6-litre petrol, lifted from the Megane and the 1.5-litre turbodiesel unit is carried over from the previous Duster with a little bit of extra torque. As before, there is a 4x4 derivative in the range, but it will only be available from early in 2019.
The other major highlights of the new model are improved cabin materials, which endows the Duster's cabin with more of a quality feel, and new specification improvements, such as a new Prestige derivative that sits atop the Duster range. More on that later...
One of the drawbacks of the previous Duster was the quite harsh, plasticky surfaces in the cabin. The new model has improved on that with softer-touch areas and improved seats, which have more side support on both the lower and upper sections. The Prestige derivative includes an armrest and leather trim is a R10 088 option.
The interior has softer touch surfaces that feel sturdy. The new aircon dials are a modern touch too.
Space within the cabin (a proven strength) has grown further and the luggage bay's capacity has increased. In fact, the Duster boasts one of the biggest bays in the segment (478 litres) and the rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split. When the rear seats are folded, it's not a flat loading area, but steps up at the rear seat position.
Meanwhile, the steering wheel and its controls are of a better quality than before; there is a firmer, more long-lasting feel to them.
Is the power unit capable?
At the launch, only automatic 1.5-litre turbodiesel units were available to drive, so I can’t comment on the performance of the 1.6-litre petrol or the manual 1.5-litre turbodiesel derivatives. The automatic diesel and 4x4 manual model share outputs of 80 kW and 250 Nm. The manual 4x2 model gets a detuned version of the same 1.5-litre powerplant (with peak outputs of 66 kW and 210 Nm), while the 1.6-litre manual produces 84 kW and 156 Nm. The most efficient version is the automatic diesel we drove (a claimed fuel economy of 4.8 L/100 km) and after 2 days of driving both on and off-road, we managed under 6 L/100 km: not bad for a car in this segment.
Hill descent control is available on the 4x4 model, but that will only arrive in 2019.
The dual-clutch automatic transmission, which Renault labels EDC, is much-improved from the versions we sampled in the old Duster. Its shifts are quicker up and the downshifts are less intrusive. It's also less jerky in traffic or at rolling speeds.
The diesel does have a slight dead spot at the very bottom of the rev range (as it spools up the turbo), but it’s something that’s only obvious when you’re in a rush.
Does it ride and handle any better?
The noise levels inside the cabin have been reduced markedly, in terms of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), especially when you're travelling at freeway speeds.
The luggage bay's capacity is 478 litres before the rear seats are folded down.
The chassis underneath the Duster remains the same, so the overall feel of Renault's rugged compact family car is quite similar to that of the outgoing model. That’s to say it’s still capable when you encounter a dirt road and rides better than its direct competitors over rough terrain. The 4x4 model remains the standout derivative in the Duster range, as there aren’t many direct competitors in the small 4x4 segment, especially at this price point.
The Duster's infotainment system has been moved up above the air conditioning dials so you don’t need to look so far down into the cabin to see it anymore. Its the same system as in the Clio and Captur and features navigation as standard in Dynamique and Prestige derivatives. USB and 12V ports, as well as Bluetooth, is availed. The system does not support Apple Carplay or Android Auto, but Renault SA is testing this system and, if all goes well, will have it ready before the end of this year.
Navigation is standard on Dynamique and Prestige models. Apple Carplay and Android Auto are still being tested but may be here before 2019.
Safety features are good throughout the Duster range. All derivatives feature stability control, as well as ABS and EBD. The Prestige version gets a multi-view camera that allows you to see out of the front, sides and rear of the vehicle at any time. It also features blind-spot alert and keyless entry.
The Duster doesn’t stray too far from the formula that has made it a popular choice in the compact family car segment. It is still a rough-and-ready player that sees its target buyer as the outdoorsy type who wants to venture beyond tarred roads. Furthermore, the newcomer's interior has an improved look and feel, courtesy of more soft-touch bits sprinkled about the cabin, and, overall, the Renault feels more solidly put together now.
The automatic will attract more fans now that Renault has improved the transmission's shifting pattern and response times to user inputs. It doesn’t infuriate in traffic like the preceding turbodiesel automatic derivative did and returns excellent real-world fuel consumption figures.
Its price is still a key attraction; the Duster remains one of the cheaper off-road-capable choices at this price point and it performs its role as a compact family car solidly.
Renault Duster Price in South Africa (September 2018)
Renault DUSTER 1.6 Expression 4X2 R249 900
Renault DUSTER 1.5 dCi Dynamique 4x2 R282 900
Renault DUSTER 1.5 dCi Dynamique EDC 4x2 R316 900
Renault DUSTER 1.5 dCi Dynamique 4x4 R321 900
Renault DUSTER 1.5 dCi Prestige EDC 4x2 R334 900
Metallic paint R2 522
Leather seats R10 088