It may not be the first small, affordable or capable small SUV, the Renault Duster is however the people’s car of the crossover era. Bridging the gap between dedicated compact off-roaders like the Suzuki Jimny and small sensible saloons pitched at emerging markets, the Duster made the practical SUV an accessible option for budget-minded drivers, with 2.45 million sold since its 2010 launch as a Dacia and 2012 Middle East introduction as a Renault.
Popular in developing and developed markets, Renault are now banking on a second hit with the new Duster. Launched regionally on sun-baked southern Jordanian roads and punishing off-road trails, the second generation Duster keeps its predecessor’s basic mechanicals and platform, yet receives a thorough aesthetic makeover, and features significant driving and cabin refinements. However, the secret to the Duster’s success is ‘just right’ engineering. Small, affordable and thoughtfully executed, the Duster is big enough for daily family duty without looking or feeling cheap.
Strikingly similar yet sharing no body panels with its predecessor, the new Duster has a distinctly better integrated aesthetic, and a more assertively feisty road presence. Subtly different, the new Duster’s slimmer part-LED headlight signature, narrower grille and greater use of chrome make it look broader and more up-market. Meanwhile, a higher waistline, more rakish A-pillars, better integrated roof rails, more pronounced haunches and surfacing, wider rear skid plate and stylishly Mini-like square rear lights lend a more sportingly rugged flavour.
Noticeably improved inside, the new Duster features better aesthetics, ergonomics, textures, and longer, better cushioned and bolstered seats with height adjustability and lumbar support. Spacious inside for all passengers, the Duster accommodates a minimum of 467-litres cargo volume, while cabin ambiance is airy and visibility good. Better equipped than before, well-chosen standard and optional features include hill descent control, blindspot warning, parking sensors, multi-view monitor, auto air conditioning, 7-inch infotainment touchscreen, keyless entry and more.
Offered with either of two carryover engines, the entry level Duster receives a 115 hp 1.6-litre driving the front wheels through a CVT automatic, while the latter driven range-topping model gets a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine driving all four wheels through a 4-speed automatic gearbox. Developing 135 hp at 5500 rpm and 195 Nm torque at 3750 rpm, the Duster 4×4 makes decent progress, with 0-100 kph arriving in 11.5-seconds and a 178 kph top speed while returning modest 8.5 l/100 km combined fuel consumption.
Adequately powered for its segment and progressive in delivery, the 2-litre Duster was however strained on steep inclines, where it needed high revs and occasional on-the-move first gear deployment. Gearshifts are meanwhile smooth but could be slightly quicker. One felt that the Duster’s chassis could easily accommodate and be more rewarding with between 150-200 hp for a complementary range-topping model. Meanwhile a manual gearbox – as offered in other markets – would have made it livelier.
Talented through the twisties, reassuringly stable at speed and comfortable over Jordanian roads’ lumps and bumps, the new Duster’s suspension setup seems to be more refined, settled and eager than before. Tidy tucking into a corner, the Duster drives not too unlike a family hatchback, while its new electric-assisted steering is quick, accurate and 35% lighter. Settled on rebound and rough surfaces, the Duster delivers good balance and grip.
Isolating most noise and vibration bar the sharpest cracks, the Duster’s 215/60R17 tyres were also comfortable on dirt roads. Driven in auto 4WD mode, it can allocate power rearwards to maintain traction, while lockable 50:50 torque distribution provides more confident low-speed off-road driving. However, front-drive mode proved nimble onroad and perfectly capable throughout moderately demanding rocky, loose, narrow and winding off-road routes, where its 210mm ground clearance and good off-road angles were particularly useful.
Ignoring the unproven Chinese, the Duster continues to be the best-value crossover from a mainstream carmaker, and should carry on being a familiar sight on GCC roads.
Photos by Renault.