Dual-clutch Duster brings two-pedal value to the small SUV sector
We’ll admit to having become quite fond of the pugnacious Renault Duster. As compact SUVs go, the French machine has a slightly quirky, unmistakably extrovert character, while exuding a sense of rugged honesty that is as reassuring as it is endearing.
It’s certainly no sleek city slicker, and it’s more likely than many other so-called softroaders to be used in the mud, the gravel and the dust of the great outdoors. Given its compact dimensions, short overhangs and raised ground clearance, it’s pretty competent off the beaten track – even in 4×2 form.
Of the two engines on offer, the gutsy 1,5-litre dCi turbodiesel is easily the better option, eclipsing the 1,6-litre petrol alternative thanks to plenty of low-down shove and good tractability. The petrol is more refined, yes – but it’s just not punchy enough.
No wonder then that Renault has chosen to partner the dCi model with its EDC dual-clutch transmission. The six-speed gearbox offers the convenience of auto shifting, but the efficiency and immediacy usually associated with manual transmissions.
Officially listed as the Duster 1.5 dCI Dynamique EDC, the new model is offered in 4×2 format only. Renault SA says demand for the 4×4 model is too small to warrant adding an EDC version to that drivetrain, too.
With 80 kW of power and 240 Nm of torque, the Duster 1.5 dCi is sprightly around town, and any concerns we might have had about the EDC’s shift behaviour were soon proven unfounded.
The gearbox swaps cogs smoothly but emphatically, while making the most of the engine’s torque. There was no tendency to hunt between gears, and the ‘box even gears down when approaching a sharp corner or an intersection, ensuring instant response to throttle input.
There are no shift paddles, which makes sense, given that the gearbox operates best without driver intervention. Yes, you can shift gears sequentially by slotting the lever into manual mode, but most of the time, the EDC transmission’s own shift decisions are better, and more efficient.
It always keeps the engine on the boil, but never extends the revs beyond the usable power band, while remaining mindful of the fat, flat torque curve on offer.
FRUGAL FUEL BURNER
Performance is adequate, with a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 11,9 sec and a 169 km/h top speed. No, it won’t burn rubber, but it’s pretty good in economy terms: Renault claims 4,8 litres/100 km for the combined cycle. In real-world day-to-day commuting, expect 6,5 litres/100 km, which is still pretty decent.
The rest of the package remains pure Duster. The short overhangs, wide tracks and 205 mm ground clearance make for a wieldy, planted package that tackles tar and gravel with equal ease, and isn’t intimidated by compromised surfaces. However, with only front-wheel drive, and no diff lock, this isn’t a vehicle for tackling rough terrain.
The steering can feel vague at times, but turn-in is crisp enough, and the slight over-assistance of the power steering makes parking manoeuvres a pleasure. The ride finds a good mix of forgiving damping and chassis control – enough to make short work of suburban speed bumps, but never to the extend of robbing the little SUV of its inherent composure.
Refinement levels could be better: the engine sounds busy most of the time, and at highway speeds, there’s more road noise and wind noise than expected. But somehow, it suits the overall character of the vehicle, and it’s never intrusive enough to become unbearable.
LOTS OF STANDARD KIT
In standard Dynamique trim, equipment levels are impressive, ranging from satnav, air-con, electric windows and remote central locking to a colour touchscreen display, multi-speaker sound with USB and Bluetooth, hands-free telephony and satellite controls.
You also get cruise control and a speed limiter, ABS brakes, ESP stability control and both front and side airbags. The cabin execution is smart and functional, with attractive, durable cloth upholstery, gloss black trim accents and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Accommodation front and rear is good for a compact SUV, and at 435 litres, the boot is impressive. Fold down the rear bench seat, and you can load a lot of cargo: it will swallow a full-sized mountain bike with ease, without having to take the front wheel off.
VALUE ANOTHER PLUSPOINT
The 1.5 dCi EDC 4×2 becomes the new pick of the Duster bunch, because it adds convenience and effortlessness to a package that already impresses on most fronts. That includes value: the newcomer squeezes in at just under R300k, with a recommended retail price of R299 900. Included is a five-year/150 000 km warranty and a three-year/45 000 km service plan.