Sabie, Mpumalanga - Two million of them have been sold around the globe; South Africans are behind the wheel of more than 15 000 of them.

Now, though, after the launch of the original Renault Duster seven years ago, the French have decided to completely revamp its popular B-segment SUV to maintain its relevance and continue on an upward trajectory of sales.

Renault has become an increasingly popular option (bar one or two models) across their range in South Africa and the Duster certainly stands tall even among its competitors.

The original brief for the Duster was that it should be a solid, reliable, attractive, affordable vehicle that should not only be good enough for Europe but must also be able to drive on roads less travelled outside of Europe.

That standing order remains with the New Duster and the designers tackled it with some enthusiasm.

The exterior looks bolder and more aggressive than its predecessor, it’s been given new wheels (16 or 17 inch), more prominent aluminium roof bars as well as front and rear skid plates that give it it’s go-anywhere looks.

With 210mm ground clearance an approach angle of 30 degrees and departure angle of 34 degrees the Duster remains a very under-rated and probably under-used bush vehicle. The 4x4 version arrives on our shores at the beginning of the year, but the rest of the range is already in showrooms.

Inside too there is a marked improvement with the cabin, having lost a lot of the plastic-to-the-touch feel associated with the previous model.

It’s still hard plastic inside, but the quality is definitely much better, and the overall look and feel of the cabin is almost premium. The seats too have been redesigned offering more support and the optional leather fitted to the cars we drove at the launch in Mpumalanga last week rounded off a neat and functional cabin. Renault has also added more stowage space such as below the passenger seat but I would still have liked a centre console storage space to keep odds and ends.

The back seat is a 1/3-2/3 split with a class leading boot capacity of up to 478 litres.

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Also new is keyless entry with a hands-free card that unlocks the car when you’re a metre within range of the vehicle and locks itself when you walk away; nice in parts of the world where remote jamming hasn’t caught on yet, but locally you’ll have to actually push the lock or unlock button.

Speed limiter and cruise control buttons are easy to access while all models have climate control and blind spot warning, too.

The new Renault Duster is available with two fuel and three engine options. There is a choice between a 1.6-litre 16V and two versions of the 1.5 dCi turbo engine.

The Diesel 1.5 dCi 4x2’s engine pushes out 66kW and 210Nm of torque while the 4x2 EDC and 4x4 manual versions have outputs of 80kW and 250Nm.

We drove the 1.5 dCi Prestige EDC fitted with a 6-speed dual-clutch and found it incredibly smooth, particularly driving along the twisty hills in and around Graskop and Sabie where there was a lot of gear changing taking place.

Also impressive was the dust proofing. We spent some time on the forest roads where logging trucks have churned the sand into a fine powder and once we were back on the tar the trail of dust from on and under the car continued for a few minutes while inside everything stayed pristine.

A reworked suspension has improved the ride quality with an almost top-end premium feel, giving it a solid showing around corners as we found out after having inadvertently taken a wrong turn on the way back to the airport. We drove the Duster hard, a lot harder than most owners would ever do and it didn’t flinch with body-roll hardly evident.

When we pulled in to the drop off zone, consumption showed 6.1 l/100km; impressive considering the time and distance we travelled to make our departure on time.

Once the 4x4 version hits the showrooms look out for some nifty tricks that include hill descent control, multi view camera (also available in the Prestige) and a 4x4 monitor that allows you to check the pitch and roll angles while you’re driving.

You’ll be able to switch between 2WD mode, automatic Mode allowing distribution of engine torque over the four wheels and lock mode for engine torque distribution to all four wheels.

Standard across the range you get safety features such as ABS, hill start assist and rear park distance control.

The Renault Duster comes standard with a five-year/150 000km mechanical warranty and a six-year anti-corrosion warranty. Services take place at 15 000km intervals, and a standard three-year/45 000km service plan applies.

Renault Duster prices

1.6 Expression 4X2 R249 900
1.5 dCi Dynamique 4x2 R282 900
1.5 dCi Dynamique EDC 4x2 R316 900
1.5 dCi Dynamique 4x4 R321 900
1.5 dCi Prestige EDC 4x2 R334 900

Options include: Metallic paint (R2522) and leather seats (R10 088).

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