Tested: Renault Duster TechRoad is practical, frugal and well priced
JOHANNESBURG - In a nutshell, you could say that the latest version of Renault’s Duster has been to ‘finishing school’, but it hasn’t forgotten what it is.
The first generation Duster was conceived as an affordable SUV for the masses. No fancy trimmings or finishes, just plain old good value. With the second generation, released in late 2018, Renault gave it a more eye-catching design as well as a smarter look and feel inside, but without impacting on affordability. To this day it offers plenty of metal for the money, with prices ranging from R260 900 to R340 900.
Recently Renault added a little more polish to the Duster with the introduction of the TechRoad model grade, which replaced the 4x2 Dynamique derivatives. We recently spent some quality time with the EDC version of the TechRoad, with Renault having lent it to us over the December holiday period. Needless to say, a road trip to the KZN coast was in order.
It must be said that the Duster is sensibly sized for a family vehicle. It’s small enough to be efficient and easily manoeuvrable, yet large enough to cope with holiday luggage. The boot is particularly vast and feels much bigger than the claimed load volume of 478 litres suggests, and rear legroom should prove adequate for most occupants.
I was also impressed by the new seat trim that’s fitted exclusively to the TechRoad models. It’s a dark and durable cloth with red and grey accents that lift the ambience of the cabin. For the record, this version is also set apart by red trim on the air vents, centre console and inner door panels.
On the outside, the Techroad distinguishes itself with diamond-cut 17-inch alloy wheels, complete with red centre caps, as well as gloss black side mirrors with red strips. The Duster is, in my humble opinion, a good looking vehicle by modern SUV standards and these changes make it all the more appealing.
Both versions of the Techroad are fitted with Renault’s 1.5-litre dCi turbodiesel engine, the difference being that in the manual version the outputs are 66kW and 210Nm, while the EDC auto model is blessed with 80kW and 250Nm.
The little diesel unit makes the Duster much more economical than you’d expect from a vehicle of this size, and our car averaged 5.2 litres per 100km on the 1200km round trip, with the trip meter recording 4.8 l/100km on the downward half of the journey and 5.6 l/100km on the 'great climb' back to Joburg.
Performance was decent in most situations and will certainly be acceptable for the average owner, although when tackling some of the steeper hills I did wish for a little more steam.
The EDC version is fitted with Renault’s six-speed EDC dual-clutch gearbox. Most of the time it gets on with its job unobtrusively, but there were a few occasions at lower speeds when it felt a bit jerky, which is a common characteristic of dual-clutch boxes. Personally I feel that a simpler torque converter autobox would have worked better in this vehicle as dual-clutch gearboxes are complex and if luck isn't on your side it could be costly to repair when the vehicle gets older, although if you’re buying new then there should be little to worry about as the Duster comes with a five-year/150 000km warranty.
We subjected the Duster to a variety of road surfaces and its suspension delivered a comfortable ride, and the vehicle also felt reasonably stable through the bends.
When it comes to road and engine noise, however, the Duster is not as whisper-quiet as many of the modern SUVs on the market these days, particularly those from South Korea, but that certainly wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me if I was in the market for one, and here we should also keep in mind that the Duster is somewhat cheaper than most other vehicles of a similar size.
All in all, though, it got us to our destinations comfortably and efficiently, and it had me questioning why many people choose to spend so much more money on the more premium SUVs on the market.
In terms of features, the Duster Techroad ticks most of the boxes, with standard kit including cruise control, single-zone automatic climate control and a touchscreen infotainment system with integrated satnav, reverse camera as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. It’s not the most modern looking infotainment system in terms of its graphics, but it is a cinch to use and that’s what counts at the end of the day.
If you’re looking for a reasonably sized SUV for the price of a smaller one, the Duster gives you lots of metal for the money, while the 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine provides acceptable performance and excellent fuel economy. You're essentially getting something almost as big as a C-segment SUV, in the lower end of the B-segment price range. As mentioned, Duster prices start at R260 900, while our Techroad EDC model is listed at R332 900.
The Duster is a comfortable vehicle too and it looks like an SUV should look. Most models are 4x2s, but if you want to go off-roading, there is also a 4x4 version on offer, albeit with a manual gearbox only.
All considered, the Duster range offers excellent value for money and it worth keeping at the top of your list if you’re looking for a family-sized vehicle.