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Renault's Duster continues to please


When Renault's little Duster SUV arrived in South Africa in 2012 we liked it - a lot - and predicted that it would do well.

Since then the Duster and Renault as a brand have both picked up nicely, with buyers steadily regaining faith in French cars after years of unhappiness about spares pricing and availability from the previous importers.

Around 10,000 of the not-so-little wagons have found homes in South Africa so far, at an average of 333 per month, which is good in today's crowded market.

The Duster is a real mishmash of cultures, which ain't necessarily a bad thing. Developed jointly by Renault and its Romanian subsidiary, Dacia, around 60 percent of the vehicles produced are badged as Renault and the remainder as Dacia Dusters.

The cars sold here before the facelifted version that arrived in South Africa last August were built in India, while the new ones now hail from Romania. Renault implies that this has had a positive effect upon quality control, but if logistics had dictated that the move be the other way they would no doubt have said the same.

The car has been very well received internationally since its 2010 launch - we got in late with the first one - and it's earned various awards internationally, most tellingly "Budget Car of the Year" from the Association of Scottish Motoring Writers. That must have been a particularly hard nut to crack!

The facelift

The facelift was just what the name implies - a nip and a tuck here and there, a revamped grille and headlights, new roof racks, color-coded mirrors, and new alloy wheels. The interior too has been spruced up and rear parking distance sensors as well as cruise control are now standard across the range.

The upmarket Dynamique versions come with a standard 7" touchscreen and satellite navigation, and, unlike many of its rivals, the Duster is available with switchable four-wheel-drive, but in the diesel Dynamique versions only.

The range

The model range remains unchanged, with 75kW 1.6-litre petrol engines in Expression or Dynamique versions, and two or four-wheel-drive 1.5-litre diesel-burners, both specced as Dynamique.

We were sent the top of the range 1.5 dCI Dynamique for evaluation and we still like it a lot. Some of the interior plastics show that it's built to a budget, but that applies to most similar cars in this price range. It's a comfortable, attractive wagon with lots of space, and if you really want to do any off-road stuff the three-way switchable 4x4 version is very capable off-road.

The engine and gearbox work well together and the ride is, in typical French fashion, plush without being mushy. And it's economical. Renault says that the engine has been fettled to bring fuel consumption down to around 5.0 l/100 and that isn't too far off the mark - keeping it below  6 l/100 km is a doddle. And speaking of the engine - if anybody tells you you're driving a Dacia, point out that the engine was developed by Renault and Nissan together, and is used in various markets to power Mercedes-Benz A and C class cars.

The verdict

The Renault Duster is excellent value for money, selling for between R222,900 for the 1.6 petrol Expression and R289,900 for the 4X4 turbodiesel 1.5 Dynamique. This is one of those rare occasions that I'd recommend going for the top of the range model, because you get so much more for your money.

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