Johannesburg - The original Renault Duster marked a return to a simpler kind of motoring, taking a more attainable, no-nonsense approach to the ever-glamourising SUV market.

The new one that you see here picks up the baton pretty much there, but adds a few refinements as well as some extra glamour on the inside, with a new ‘Prestige’ spec grade adding features that you didn’t find in a Duster before.

But that’s not to say it’s lost touch with what it once was - the range has simply been expanded upwards. You can still buy a 1.6 Expression with ‘steelies’ for R249 900 and there’s a trio of 1.5 dCi Dynamique models retailing for between R282 900 and R321 900, depending on whether you want manual or auto, 2WD or 4WD. But even the new range topping 1.5 dCi Prestige that we have on test here is relatively affordable at R334 900.

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As per the previous Duster, you get a lot of SUV for your money at every corner of the range. Consider that the Duster is a similar size to the Nissan Qashqai and Mitsubishi ASX but with more boot space (the Duster offers 478 litres) and at a much lower price.

Stepping into our Duster Prestige test car, the upmarket shift became apparent quite quickly. You enter with a ‘card key’ in your pocket, the vehicle automatically unlocking upon detection, and crank it up with a start button, while the rotary dials for the automatic climate control now have digital readouts and fancy looking metallic trim. This flagship also comes with a Multiview camera that allows you to see in front or to the side or back of the vehicle, and there’s a blind spot warning system to keep you out of harm’s way out on the road.

None of this is groundbreaking stuff, but it’s not what you’re used to finding in a ‘basic’ SUV like the Duster.

The Prestige and Dynamique models also come with Renault’s MediaNav touchscreen infotainment centre, which does the job well enough, but the graphics are looking a bit on the dated side now and there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality.

The rest of the cabin is also an improvement on the previous Duster, there’s a bit of spunk in the dashboard design now and the materials and textures, while still hard to the touch, are really not bad. Ergonomics have taken a step in the right direction with steering that now has reach adjustment.

Leather upholstery remains a R10 088 optional extra.

It’s not the quietest cabin in the world, but the noise levels are certainly tolerable, and the driving experience is for the most part pleasant.

The 1.5 dCi turbodiesel makes 80kW and 250Nm in 4x2 EDC and 4x4 manual guises, and 66kW/210Nm in 4x2 manual form. We can’t vouch for the lower-output model, but in 80kW guise it’s more than gutsy enough to move the Duster along briskly and overtake fairly comfortably. It’s frugal too, our car sipping 6.6l/100km in urban traffic and 4.8l/100km during a brief highway run.

The EDC gearbox is not the smoothest operator, and it felt a little jerky at lower speeds. While we’re nitpicking, the steering also feels a bit dead in the centre. The Duster does have a reasonably comfortable ride quality though.

The 1.5 dCi EDC is only available in front-wheel-drive, and the 4x4 model will be available from early next year with a manual gearbox only. If the previous version was anything to go by, then that one will be quite capable off the beaten track. On that note, all Dusters boast a class-leading ground clearance of 210mm.

VERDICT

The new Duster is everything it was and more. Still great value, just smarter looking inside and out, and offering more luxury if you’re willing to stretch a little further up the price ladder. It is not the pinnacle of sophistication, but a good honest deal in an increasingly expensive world.

IOL Motoring