2016 Renault Duster: The shoe-string SUV

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2016 Renault Duster: The shoe-string SUV

The bare bones crossover suv gets a mild refresh inside and out

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Published: Fri 27 May 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 27 May 2016, 2:00 AM

During the early part of the millennium, the French car-manufacturer Renault realised that the global market was yearning for a low-cost, low-maintenance crossover SUV and so, in 2010, introduced a bare-boned crossover SUV called the Duster. With the much-desired SUV appeal, a sizable cargo capacity and most importantly, a price that made compact hatchbacks look expensive, the Duster was bound to be a runaway success. So much so that, by capturing markets in over 100 countries and by literally mobilising the middle-class, it has become the Volkswagen Beetle of our time.
This week we take on the rather tough task of assessing the good, the bad and the ugly of the new 2016 Renault Duster.

The first generation of this 5-seater compact crossover was officially launched at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show and it was the third model based on the Logan platform. The revamped model we're looking at this week was actually presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show, way back in 2013!
It is easy to imagine low-cost transportation like the Duster as being ugly and boring. However, the truth is that the Duster is anything but. Renault bucks that trend by providing a modern, but simple crossover SUV with a raised platform and interesting lines that give it an uncharacteristic look. If it wasn't for Renault's diamond-shaped badge and the low starting price, people would even call it handsome.
Size-wise, the revamped Duster retains its dimensions, keeping it 'city-manageable'. It measures 4,315mm bumper to bumper, which is roughly the size of a Hyundai Creta and longer than the Ford Ecosport, Nissan Juke and Peugeot 2008 - all of which are relevant rivals. Width is a lane-friendly 1,822mm, and it stands an SUV-like 1,634mm tall. Surprisingly, even in bearing the bulkier SUV moniker, at 1,205kg, it weighs substantially less than a typical hatchback like the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The square-ish headlamps from the pre-facelift model remain, albeit with the addition of a few in-cluster intricacies that makes the Duster look more sophisticated than before. Connecting the two light portals is a new 2-slat chrome grille with the familiar diamond logo. In other countries, this car wears a Dacia badge. The Duster - at least in the SE trim - comes with daytime running lights and fog lamps, both of which are commendable, given the segment it is in.
The revamped model also gets a larger front air intake and scuff plates at the bottom, front and back. Simple styling cues such as the S-shaped crease, whose curvature origins at the one pronounced wheel arch at the front and terminates itself at the pronounced arch at the rear, takes away some of the slab-sidedness of the simple design. The rest of the exterior of the SE trim is as before, with the exception of chrome-plated roof bars, door mirrors and a single exhaust pipe. Also, the wheels in the SE trim are new - a set of meaty 5-spoke alloys. We like the black painted effect!
The original car, being a cost-conscious product and all, had a slightly grim interior - the hard plastic panelling and architecture would have been considered a design of the future, if it were the 90s. Thankfully, in the 2016 model, you get a revised two-tone dashboard layout that incorporates new storage spaces, round A/C vents, an unconventional 3-spoke steering wheel with a large centre piece, and some chrome flourishes on the revised instrument gauges.
The biggest improvement is the addition of a touch screen system, but it is positioned too low within the centre stack - probably because it was never designed to be there - and this low placement makes the 7" screen not large enough. Also, the glare that comes off it during the day can be annoying. A few other niggles we faced were that the shift lever, when in 'P' or Park, blocks the HVAC controls; and the steering controls are mostly on a stalk hidden behind the steering wheel. You'd also find that the horn is a stalk on the left side and not on the wheel itself, which needs a lot of getting used to, especially if you are one of those people who honks their way through traffic.
The rear cabin now has three headrests, but the one on the middle seat in the second row obstructs the view out of the rear. In addition to that, the second row, from a spatial point of view, is fine for short trips, but nothing more, especially considering that there are no rear A/C vents. The occupants up front enjoy more comfort with better room for limbs and heads, and blind spots are of less concern thanks to the slender A- and B-pillars. However, the degree of adjustability of the driving position is limited because the steering wheel can only be adjusted for rake, not reach. In the previous model, we found that adjusting the steering wheel was a tricky task, especially because of some sharp plastic edges. But we're happy to report that this has been smoothened out in the new version and it is now much safer to use.

With the focus on affordability and fuel efficiency, the Duster was always meant to be more of a commuter than an SUV, so no enthusiastic V6s or powerful V8s here. Even in this revamped Duster, Renault has chosen to retain - across all trims, PE or SE - the same front-engine 2L inline 4-cylinder pot that is capable of pumping out 135bhp of maximum power and 195Nm of torque.
There is enough oomph to get you around town, but this isn't a highway runner. Even with your foot planted firmly down, you can only clock 0-100km/h in about 11.4 seconds, as claimed by Renault. We suspect the front-wheel drive version would be quicker. All in all, when on the move, keeping up with traffic is easy - it's the long over taking manoeuvres that require some serious computation.
The available torque is multiplied through a four-speed automatic that screams for a fifth gear, and by that I mean an extra cog would help quiet the engine/cabin noise on the highway by running at a lower rpm and would improve fuel economy. Currently you can achieve 8.9L/100km, which is sub-par when compared to its rivals, but for an SUV, it's quite alright. And its CO2 emission rate of 206g/km which means it would be a favourite at a sustainability forum.
Unlike many other SUVs, the Duster doesn't come across as a wallowing beast. When the road turns curvy, it holds its ground and steers through with good traction. However, the power-assisted hydraulic steering system feels rather stiff and needs correction at times.
The all-wheel drive system in the 4x4 Duster has been borrowed from Nissan. This system allows the driver to choose from three different driving modes including 'Auto', in which the rear-wheel drive is engaged automatically in case the front wheels lose grip, 'Lock', whereby 50 per cent of torque is consistently fed through the rear axle, and '2WD' where the transmission is locked into front-wheel drive for maximum fuel efficiency. It can do a fair amount of dirt road adventure and may take on a few trails and smaller dunes, but the Duster most definitely prefers to tread tarmac.

The Duster may be the cheapest SUV on the market, but that SUV silhouette gives it added practicality, giving owners as much as  475L of luggage space with the rear seats up and up to 1,636L otherwise. You can place two large suitcases flat side by side without a problem. We reckon you can get a small sofa in there too. But do keep in mind that the loading lip is a little high and you may end up with many scratched patches.
Apart from the new touchscreen, there's a radio with Arkamys 3D sound, which can play a decibel count high enough to make you deaf without breaking tonal clarity. It also comes with an inbuilt CD player that plays MP3s, USB ports and a Bluetooth interface to which we had no problem syncing our phone to.
Other promises of practicality come in the form of cruise control and a speed limiter, rear parking sensors to help you avoid fender benders and a rear view camera, if you prefer visuals. You also get an appreciable amount of safety features like driver and passenger airbags, emergency braking assistance, electronic stability control, and more importantly, ISOFIX mounting points for child seats on outboard rear seats.

What Renault has brought to the discerning consumer, is an honest, no-frills vehicle that provides an SUV stance, ample passenger and cargo space and just about enough power, all at a price that is low enough to include as part of your weekly grocery shopping. And with Renault offering a 3-year/1,000,000km warranty with the Duster, the competition doesn't even come close!

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