Brown, as a colour for a car, is one of the worst ideas in human history. I know brown was big in the 1960s and 70s, but only because they still hadn’t invented most of the colours we have today. That, or they simply lacked the imagination to draw inspiration from something else other than mud.
But brown is back in a big way. On my way to work I counted more than 40 brown cars and to make matters worse, manufacturers are starting to advertise brown cars on billboards next to the highway. There’s simply no escaping the brown wave these days.
The biggest offender is Renault. Its new Duster just arrived in South Africa and the brown billboards are everywhere. I couldn’t even escape to the sanctity of my own home, because the test vehicle Renault delivered to me was… yep, you guessed correctly. It was the brownest brown I’d ever seen.
This puts the Duster at a massive disadvantage. Before I even got in it, I had already judged it to be terrible thanks to its overwhelming brownness. I soon changed my mind though, for two very good reasons. Once you get inside, you can’t see the brown anymore, but mostly because it’s actually a decent little car.
It’s the latest model to join the smallish pseudo-SUV fleet in South Africa and the best in my opinion. You see, its competitors only offer its owners the image that goes with owning a rugged off-roader, but the Duster gives them the option of actually venturing off the beaten track.
The top-of-the-line Dynamique 4x4 I had on test came with a 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel powertrain with 80kW and 240Nm on tap. It’s mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, which allows you to make the most of the available power. Still, it’s not the fastest car around, taking almost 12 seconds to reach 100km/h.
Highway driving is a breeze, though. The Duster has no issue sitting at 120km/h and because peak torque is available from 1 750rpm, overtaking in sixth is easy as pie. The frugal engine also more than makes up for its lazy take-off by delivering a fuel-consumption figure of less than 5.5 litres/100km.
On the inside, there’s more than enough space for a family of four and their luggage. The materials Renault used are surprisingly rugged and should fare well against the abuse of small children. The rear seats also fold down in a 60/40 split for if you ever need to transport something a bit bigger than the average shopping bag.
Standard features include manual air conditioning, front and rear electric windows, remote central locking, an on-board computer and rear parking sensors. Renault then takes it to another level entirely by adding a proper infotainment system (standard on the 1.5dCi Dynamique) with navigation, radio, USB port and Bluetooth connectivity. All of this is controlled via an 18cm touch-screen interface that is easy to operate and understand.
I loved my time with the Duster. It’s a fairly unique proposition in its segment and while the styling may not be to everyone’s taste, you simply can’t argue with the R239 000 price tag. It’s cheaper than its rivals, comes with four-wheel-drive and it has that fantastic infotainment system with navigation as standard.
It’s a great little off-roader, as long as you don’t have it in brown. Don’t worry, five other colours are also available.