Dacias Duster has been updated for its place in Renault Brazils line

Dacia's Duster has been updated for its place in Renault Brazil's line

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Renault’s ambitions for the Brazilian market are large. To reach 8% market share in 2016 (currently 5%) it will count on 16 products (not all new models). The Brazilian version of the Dacia Duster begins the rush.

There will be a fierce battle in the lower-priced SUV sector. This sub-segment was first probed by Ford with the EcoSport in 2003, the top ranking model. The Mitsubishi TR4 and Suzuki Jimny lag far behind both on price and appeal.

Besides the Duster, Renault will have Chevrolet and Hyundai on its heels in the coming years, not to mention the new EcoSport itself.

The small Romanian Dacia utility arrives here just 19 months after launch in Europe. Manufactured in São José dos Pinhais, local content is 67% and will reach 75% soon.

Engineers and designers teamed up to make 774 changes to the original design to soften exterior styling and improve the interior, particularly the dashboard and roof console. It's on Logan/Sandero architecture, albeit with a generous wheelbase of 105.1 inches (2.67 m) and ample rear seat room.

Price is its obvious advantage in Brazil, ranging from R$50,900 ($28,800) to R$ 64,600 ($36,500). It comes in 4x2 versions (1.6 flexible-fuel engine) and 4x4 (2.0 flexible-fuel, manual and automatic). The Duster does not feature an external spare wheel, which helped to trim cost. Boot volume decreased from 16.8 cu. ft. (4x2) to 14.1 cu. ft (4x4) due to the spare wheel housed in the later (4x2: under boot floor).

Dynamically, the smaller engine struggle somewhat to cope with over 2,645 lbs. (1,200 kg) curb weight. Yet it handles well on paved roads, despite the 8¼ in (0.21 m) ground clearance and the 66½ in (1.69 m) height. The low-geared transmission increases engine noise, though.

There is manual centre differential lockup for a 50% torque split to each driving axle. The Duster performs well in gravel and muddy terrain, thanks to the two-litre engine aided by a manual six-speed gearbox with an almost crawler first gear. On the 4x2 automatic the engines just whispers when cruising at 75mph (100km/h).

Plans call for retailing 2,500 units monthly which would push Renault to 6% of annual market share in 2012.