Let’s face it, established carmakers like Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai are now alarmingly vulnerable to some sales beating from Renault more than ever. The latter, here in India, is a relatively young automotive player, after all. That said, thanks to well thought-out products like the Kwid and the Duster doing extremely well, Renault India has managed to trundle along the right path and gain a respectable market share in a short span of time. While the Kwid is still factory-fresh and off to a flying start, it’s been nearly four years since the Duster practically kickstarted the compact SUV trend as we know it.
After introducing a handful of special editions and an all-wheel drive version based on it, Renault India has pensioned off the original Duster. Subsequently, the brand has dished out a major facelift for the model, complete with refreshed styling, a better-equipped interior and an all-important automatic gearbox option. On paper, then, this new Duster comfortably outdoes the original, but is it any better to take on the opposition?
Those anticipating a sea change to the exterior would be disappointed to know that Renault hasn’t fiddled much with the Duster’s design. Yes, the purposeful-looking stance is still there though what’s new for this 2016 model is some garnishing to the bits that matter. The square-ish headlights, for instance, are a lot busier now and feature multiple sharp creases and the front bumper, too, is equally refreshed with dollops of brushed silver cladding.
Never is a major facelift complete without a newer set of alloy wheels and for the Duster, Renault has opted for a 5-spoke blacked-out design that seems to have been inspired from those good old die-cast models from Hot Wheels.
The new Duster also gets chunky-looking roof rails, different wing mirrors and a revised taillight cluster with funky detailing. While these new taillights retain the basic shape of the old units, they do look rather nice when lit up. Rounding off the changes, there’s a new colour option as seen on the car here. Called Cayenne orange, this shade really brings out the taut and beefy lines of the Duster.
The cabin is quintessentially Renault, from the odd-numbered speedometer, the large steering wheel, sub-par plastics to the quirky layout overall. When the Duster was introduced in 2012, poor interior surface feel was one of its main shortcomings. Now, though, Renault has improved the quality of the surfaces, there is still a low-rent feel to the doors and centre console surrounds… more on this later.
Coming to the design and layout, the previous model’s old-school design has made way for a somewhat modern look. The combination of black and brown upholstery and silver highlights across the centre console and the door panels do a good job of hiding the cabin’s age. The centre console’s layout is pretty minimalistic with the central fascia dominated by a touchscreen infotainment system responsible for almost all the functions on board. Rounding out the major changes to the dash are the revised air-conditioning controls which are set painfully low. Mind you, this isn’t the only quirk in here. The driver’s seat height adjuster still requires bit of an effort to operate and having separately placed buttons on the steering wheel and the centre console for the cruise control isn’t the brightest of ideas either. Thankfully, the rear-view mirror controls are no longer underneath the handbrake and are now on the driver’s side panel.
As for space and comfort, the Duster remains unchanged and in no way that’s a bad thing. The front seats are just about the right size and offer enough back and knee support. They also helped us to limit fatigue over a full day of full-on driving. More importantly, the rear-seat space is also plentiful with better thigh support than the competition. What’s noticeably changed, though, is the amount of standard equipment; Renault is finally offering climate control for top-spec variants while other highlighting features include rear-view camera with guidelines and an updated touchscreen infotainment system. All in all, the Duster’s cabin still doesn’t feel as premium as the competition, but there’s no denying that it’s more appealing than before. If anything, it’s certainly more luxurious than its badge-engineered sibling, the Nissan Terrano.
The 1.5-litre, K9K diesel engine continues its long run of service under this Renault’s bonnet and it’s an adequate if somewhat agricultural performer. What’s entirely new in the powertrain department though is the addition of an automated manual transmission or AMT to the range, and by range, we mean the RxL and RxZ trim. Also, the AMT comes mated to the 110bhp/248Nm, front-wheel drive Duster only.
While we have already seen AMTs do their job in some of the newer small cars, the one in the Duster is a fairly advanced unit and with 6-speeds, it’s also the one with the highest number of gear ratios. Out on the road, however, it works just as good (or bad) as the ones we are familiar with. To start with, the shifts are hardly seamless and the whole car rocks back and forth while shifting cogs – this is particularly evident under full throttle. On part throttle, however, the gear shifts are relatively smoother and one can better things further by going off throttle for a fraction of a second while upshifting. For those looking to take occasional control, there’s a manual mode as well which will only upshift at the screaming end of the powerband.
The 1.5-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine, on the other hand, remains the same as before and delivers strong power only above 2,000revs. This means one has to keep the Duster on the boil and that’s important for instances such as darting into traffic gaps just as much as it is overtaking at triple digit speeds. Thankfully, the engine makes up for the lag by offering reasonable grunt throughout the mid-range and the top-end without sounding too coarse.
It’s not just the engine that impresses. The Duster’s impressive road-holding manners have also been carried onto this new model. This means you get the similarly progressive and mid-weighted steering feel that is only a little bit loose on center. Too bad that three-spoke wheel still judders when taking corners over undulations. Renault has certainly worked on reducing the juddering; however, it’s still there and would probably prove to be unnerving for some drivers.
No such groaning when it comes to the ride quality as the Duster simply manages to hover across bad roads. Yes, it is slightly stiff when compared to something like a Hyundai Creta but the trade-off to this is that the Duster feels a lot more solid when going through median bumps and potholes. We also sampled the AWD Duster with the independent rear suspension and shorter gearing, Dynamically, it's noticeably better than the two-wheel drive model thanks to a more planted ride and better low-end grunt.
|Variant||RXZ 4X2 AMT|
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||108 bhp @ 3900 RPM|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||248Nm @ 2250 RPM|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||50|
|Tyre size||215 / 65 R16|
|Touchscreen infotainment system||Yes|
Competition All Specs
|Variant||RXZ 4X2 AMT||1.6 SX Plus Auto|
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||108 bhp @ 3900 RPM||126 bhp @ 4000 RPM|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||248Nm @ 2250 RPM||265 Nm @ 1900 RPM|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||50||60|
|Tyre size||215 / 65 R16||205 / 65 R16|
The original Duster may have set the ball rolling for an entirely new breed of compact SUVs but since then, the world around it has moved on and so has the way in which we perceive these practicality-infused models. And yet, the new Duster, in essence, is what it has always been – a purposeful looking, no nonsense product with slightly old-school interiors. It’s not the most sophisticated or clever and with this top-spec AMT version coming in at Rs 15.30 lakh (on-road, Mumbai), not a well-priced proposition either.
It is likeable though and remains a good performer and at least in this AMT form, less taxing to drive than before. If you have always wanted one, now is the time. But if you value sophistication or quality above all else, you ought to look elsewhere.
Photo Courtesy By : Kapil Angane