2018 Renault Duster 1.5 dCi 4×2 Prestige EDC

It’s the automatic Prestige version on test here, which as the flagship of the range sells for R334,900 and comes with additional niceties like automatic climate control, side airbags and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation. It also has driver aids, including blind spot detection and a reversing camera.

The engine outputs might seem humble but they translate into fairly easygoing performance. The Duster darts about the urban jungle with punchy acceleration once some initial turbo lag is shaken off, and it’s happy on the open road too.

Our test vehicle sipped a reasonably economical 6.2l/100km in a mixture of town and freeway driving, though the optimistic factory-claimed 4.8l seemed out of reach.

Renault has worked on improving the Duster’s refinement and this is evident in the vehicle’s soft-spoken nature; it hums along without the occupants needing to raise their voices too much.

What surprised me most was the neat handling abilities, more car-like and confidence-inspiring than I expected for a vehicle with such a high ground clearance. The electric power steering felt almost abnormally light, however, and some drivers might prefer to have more feel in the turning process. But the flipside is that it makes the Duster child’s play to manoeuvre in tight urban confines.

Renault’s suspension engineers have done a great job in terms of ride comfort, and the Duster very competently absorbs the bumps of rough gravel roads.

More sophisticated but still with its attractive price point, the new Duster should be a strong contender for SA’s 2019 car of the year title.

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