It was the Renault Duster that had kicked off a storm in the affordable SUV segment in India. Before the Duster arrived, the Mahindra Scorpio and Tata Safari were ruling the roost but Renault clearly knew what the Indian buyer wanted. The Duster became quite a success story and it also established the Renault brand in India. However, it’s been almost 4 years since this SUV was launched and it started feeling very outdated, what with rivals coming up with far more polished vehicles. Renault has now given the Duster a new lease of life so let’s see what we’ve got here.
For starters, the Duster facelift isn’t much different to begin with from the original Duster. You do get blacked out and upgraded headlights that look quite futuristic with it’s distinct cuts and details and a set of new tail lights with a very unique LED lighting pattern. What you also get is a new grille that is better styled than the older one. And then there are the new wheels. Now although some like this blacked out design, we think Renault could have given us a far sportier and slightly larger set of wheels on this new Duster. You also get a set of silver skid plates on the front and the rear bumper and a chrome exhaust tip that adds to the look. The overall SUV look of the Duster combined with the wide stance are still very much as they are and all these smaller updates actually help accentuate it. Although a little late to the party, the upgrades on the Duster make it look quite nice and modern and personally I prefer the simplistic lines on this car as compared to the over the top design of some other SUVs in its segment. As a final note on the design, we personally love this new and bold orange shade that the Duster now comes in.
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 Renault Duster comes with the same 1.5-litre dCi diesel powerplant in two states of tune – 84bhp and 109bhp. There’s also a 1.6-litre petrol engine mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. The biggest addition though is of the automated manual transmission (AMT) on the more powerful diesel version. Renault also claims to have improved the packaging of the engine bay and have strengthened it in key areas to improve safety. The AMT gearbox is available in the top RxL and RxZ variants and comes only in front-wheel-drive guise. Let’s start with the positives. This is by far the best iteration of the AMT we have experienced till date, across makes. This ZF-sourced system works well on the highway and part throttle gearshifts are relatively smooth. You also get a creep function which is a boon in stop-start traffic But as soon as you put your foot down you get that typical AMT pause as the hydraulic actuators struggle to downshift quickly enough to keep up the momentum. Even in stop-start traffic, power delivery can be jerky and upshifts at lower speeds feel painstakingly slow. It’s in the manual mode that this gearbox feels the best and there is a way of getting around this drawback by just lifting off before every shift. Unfortunately, this defeats the whole purpose of having an automatic in the first place. Despite the slow gearbox, performance figures are quite impressive with 100kmph coming up in 13.61 seconds. But it’s in the drivability test where the Duster AMT suffers as it takes 8.08 seconds for the 20-80kmph dash and 10.46 seconds in the 40-100kmph kickdown. This makes it nearly two seconds slower than the Hyundai Creta automatic on both drivability runs. We also sampled the AWD version of the Duster and as before we came away really impressed. The AWD variant uses shorter gearing as compared to the 4X2 variant and this helps its drivability considerably. There is loads of pulling power from the word go and even at speeds as low as 20kmph you can easily pull away in third gear. Renault seems to have made the clutch lighter too which makes town driving a hassle free affair.
DRIVING DYNAMICS ;
The New Renault Duster AMT is surprisingly a delight to drive. What came to notice instantly is that it responds well to throttle inputs. Drive with a heavy foot and the upshifts get delayed, thereby providing adequate power. The AMT is very easy to drive in the city. The good part is that the usual lag during shifts, that AMTs have, is reduced and is hardly felt while driving in a relaxed manner. Its only when you push the New Renault Duster AMT hard that the lag is evident. Another impressive thing about the New Renault Duster AMT was that while driving in the manual mode, rev-limiter comes in to play only beyond 5000 rpm. This gives ample room to the driver for maneuvering the SUV as desired and is especially useful while driving in hilly areas and ghats. I would’ve preferred a slightly taller gear selector lever in the AMT. The lever in the New Renault Duster AMT feels a tad short and hence one needs to stretch out a bit more than normal, while driving in manual mode.
Talking about safety, the 2016 Renault Duster comes with dual front airbags and ABS. The AMT transmission also gets features like Hill Hold and ESP. There is also a traction control system on offer which does its job pretty well should you decide to have some fun around the twisties. In terms of after-sales service, Renault does have a not-so-good network and it just doesn’t match the quality levels of Hyundai for that matter.
Despite the automobile scenario being a bit dull overall, the Duster has still come in at just the right time for Renault India. While it is still going to be a tough task to keep the tempo going for the Duster, it is quite clear that it is not without reason that prospective buyers are queuing up for test drives and causing traffic jams outside Renault showrooms around the country.