Whether this was a result of my association with the brand having owned several models, or just by sheer coincide, what did become clear with every model I drove was how the French marque had changed the perception of brand loyal South Africans in its favour after a truly shocking market spell at the turn of the century.
A good festive season Dusting
Now comfortably shifting between 1 500-2000 units a month, it was perhaps only natural that I would spend the festive season behind the wheel of one of La Régie’s models, albeit one of Romanian descent.
Facelifted in 2016, the Duster has been nothing short of a runaway success with some 13 000 units having been sold since its local debut in 2013, in addition to 1 821 units moved last year following the introduction of the EDC automatic transmission.
A vehicle greatly admired by the Autodealer team for its honest charm and rugged simplicity, the Duster was certainly not going to have it easy as it arrived mere days before I was to undertake the mammoth trek from Johannesburg to my hometown of Despatch in the Eastern Cape for the festive season.
As my Comet Grey metallic Duster was also the flagship 1.5 dCi Dynamique 4WD model, the opportunity to also test its off-road prowess made for an invitation simply too hard to ignore.
A macho stance
Aesthetically, the bluff-nosed Duster is unlikely to win any styling awards, but then again, it was designed to be as inoffensive as possible, although it did cut a tough stance with its diamond cut 16-inch alloy wheels, flared wheel arches, angular headlights and front and rear skidplates.
Basic but well equipped cab
Inside, the Duster’s interior trim is nowhere the level of other Renault products such as the Megane and Kadjar, with extensive use of shiny plastic on the centre console, some questionable ergonomics and probably the biggest annoyance, the placing of the otherwise excellent and user friendly seven-inch MediaNav infotainment system that becomes completely illegible when exposed to sunlight.
Despite this, the Duster’s cabin felt roomy and the standard equipment list extensive for a supposed budget SUV, with items such as satellite navigation, Bluetooth and USB, reverse camera, electric windows all around, ABS with EBD, Hill Start Assist, dual front airbags and traction control all standard. Despite its ride being a tad firm, the Duster’s seats offered good levels of support and thanks to the height adjustable steering wheel, getting comfortable was easy with no aches to report about even after 1 000 km spend heading to the coast.
The frugal powerhouse up front
On the open road and around town, the Duster’s party piece was without doubt its engine. A staple of the Nissan-Renault alliance for years, the 1.5-litre oil burner is by no means the most refined and its outputs of 80kW/240Nm appear modest on paper, yet it responds with vigour and delivers a noteworthy punch from low in the rev range, accompanied by a prominent turbo whistle.
The dCi is mated to a short throw six-speed manual gearbox, and rates as a big part of the Duster’s appeal, and more so when it came to re-fuelling and combined consumption.
My three-or-so weeks with the Duster, which involved the trip to the coast and back, pottering around town and even an additional 300km trip to the tiny Karoo enclave of Nieu Bethesda to visit the fascinating Owlhouse, meant that it clocked up a total of 4 527 km and only used 270.1-litres of diesel, despite widespread use of the cruise control and air-conditioning. In fact, on returning the Duster, the average fuel consumption display showed a rather staggering 6.0-litres/100km.
Not scared getting dusty
As comfortable as it was on-road, HC 96 LV GP proved to be just as accomplished off-road when the three mode (2WD, Auto, Lock) four-wheel drive dial was turned to the latter. Ranging from simple gravel to badly corrugated and rock strewn roads, the Duster made for easy progress and in spite of its basic interior, never exhibited any creaks or rattles.
Returning from a weekend off-roading trip last year while incidentally piloting the exact Duster I had, colleague Justin Jacobs summed it up as being the best value for money vehicle you can buy today.
It is a sentiment I tend to agree with as the Duster never once put a wheel wrong and impressed those who rode in it time-after-time.With a sticker price of R309 900, it rates as a truly accomplished and well throughout package that deserves serious consideration when shopping for a new small SUV.