This little five-door proved that a true adventure wagon could be affordable. French. And good.
There are a lot of candidates for SUV of the decade. All of them have validity but there is one SUV that has been the true hero. In a local context, there is no question that Toyota’s Fortuner remains unassailable as South Africa’s favourite SUV.
But the Fortuner was originally launched back in 2006 and its success is continuation instead of revolution. The SUV segment has seen impressive product additions since 2020.
VW’s Golf7 based Tiguan set new standards for driveability, refinement, and drivetrain. Jaguar, as a brand, managed to do the implausible and reconfigure a traditional British sports car company to have a product portfolio of luxury SUVs.
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But our SUV of the decade is French. A decision that might appear odd, but we have justification. Launched in early 2010 the Duster has been a huge success for Renault.
Especially in South Africa. Whereas previous French adventure vehicles had been credibly innovative (Scenic RX4), the Duster’s product planners managed to deliver an excellent adventure vehicle, which was affordable – without being odd.
Potent and frugal
The Duster’s simple styling played on that traditional two-box design appeal. Beyond the pleasing looks and Renault keeping the trend with Smartphone technology, Duster also has real gravel travel ability. Renault’s engineers cleverly evaluated customer expectations with Duster.
The result was a design that only had 7% less ground clearance than a Fortuner when it launched. And then there are the engines. Renault has been a small capacity powertrain specialist for decades and with Duster, it gave the market a 1.5-litre turbodiesel which was both potent and frugal.
Image: Renault SA
Duster diesel models are renowned for their incredible fuel consumption, capable of attaining real-world 5.0-litres/100km economy at cruising speeds.
Sand driving is another aspect which gained the Duster a legion of followers. Renault’s compact 4x4 has a close-ratio six-speed gearbox, which makes it an excellent sand driving adventure vehicle. With its low weight, high-volume tyres and responsive turbodiesel engine, the Duster is a convincing sand track exploration vehicle.
Duster’s smaller rims and high-volume tyres also give the compact French SUV outstanding pothole strike survivability, which has become a real purchasing issue for South African customers over the last decade.
There have been a lot of potentially great French cars, undone by their oddness in terms of design and function. Especially when those vehicles had a purpose that involved gravel travel and light off-road adventuring.
Duster took the one thing that French car companies do particularly well – small turbodiesel engines – and packaged it into a delightfully simple compact SUV.
The idea was not hugely original, but its execution was perfect. This little five-door proved that a smaller SUV did not have to contain your sense of adventure.
It also refurbished the French’s brand local reputation. And even as 2019 tips into 2020, there is no question that Renault’s Duster 1.5 DCi 4x4 is the best SUV in its class.