Picture: Jason Woosey.
Johannesburg - Renault's Duster might pitch itself as a lower-priced SUV for those who consider themselves a bit too Bear Grylls for all the frills, but with today’s queue after queue of congested, frustrated and horn-honking traffic in the urban jungle where most of us reside, an automatic gearbox is becoming a temptation that fewer buyers are willing to resist.

And so Renault is following the auto-shifting migration with this new addition to the Duster range. But rather than opting for a conventional automatic, Renault is offering its six-speed EDC dual-clutch automated transmission, although it’s only available in diesel front-wheel drive format.

Renault’s EDC gearbox has taken some flak in the past for its relative lack of overall polish, but in this application I can say that it’s actually quite a happy camper.

Here’s the thing. The EDC gearbox might not be up to the task of swopping cogs swiftly at full tilt, but in this diesel-powered SUV it does as good a job as you could ever expect. The auto gear changes are smooth, comfortable and they happen when you want them to, neither too soon nor too late.

The 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine produces 80kW and 240Nm, and it’s rather economical, with our unit sipping 6.4 litres per 100km in a combination of city and freeway driving. The engine performs capably in town and on the open road, and there’s loads of low-down torque for easy cruising. It’s not fast, but one gets the feeling that there’s just enough engine for the quantity of car that needs to be lugged around.

And the Duster is quite comfortably sized. It’s bigger than the B-segment crossovers that it competes with in size, but it’s still somewhat smaller than a Rav4 or a Kuga. It’s quite close in size to the Nissan Qashqai, in fact, except that its more upright C-pillar makes for a bigger boot, which, measuring 475 litres with the seats in place, is actually quite large by segment standards.

Cabin space is also ample, and large teens as well as adults won’t feel squashed in the back.

So there’s a lot of space for the money, which is R299 900, as well as a very pleasing engine and gearbox combination, but keep in mind that the Duster lacks the overall sophistication of many modern crossovers.

It’s noisier for starters, while the ride is not quite as refined as we’d like it to be. It is comfortable, but just a tad on the firm side.

The cabin looks quite plasticky by today’s standards and the ergonomics are decidedly last-decade. The steering has no reach adjustment, for instance, although you can alter the height. Also, most of the controls are placed rather low on the dashboard, but Renault has at least installed its MediaNav touch-screen infotainment system with satnav as standard, which is rare at the price. Sure, the graphics look a little dated, but hey ... this is no Audi, and on the upside the system is quite simple and easy to operate.

The MediaNav also includes a reverse camera; other notable standard amenities in the EDC Dynamique include cruise control and a multi-function steering wheel. Safety kit comprises ESP stability control as well as front and side (head/thorax) airbags.

VERDICT

Renault’s Duster is in some ways a little rougher around the edges than other modern crossovers, but its combination of rugged styling, practicality, economy and easy-cruising ability will no doubt prove attractive to many buyers at the price. We’d happily live with this one, although Mr Grylls would probably go for the 4x4 manual.

Renault Duster Dynamique AT

Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: 6-speed automated dual clutch
Power: 80kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 250Nm @ 1750rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):11.9 seconds
Top speed (claimed):169km/h
Price: R299 900
Warranty: 5-year/150 000km
Service plan: 3-year/45 000km

IOL Motoring
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