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?
DESIGN AND STYLING ;
The dual headlamp cluster looks nice with chrome edging on the new Renault Duster. They are connected with parallel running lines at the centre with a large Renault Logo. The parallel lines are place on the age old honeycomb grill of the duster. The fog lamps are placed at the base of the bumper with a large silver cladding in the centre. The bonnet is flat on the new Renault Duster and the whole looks gives a feel of aggression with classiness.
There have not been major changes but the small ones are not insignificant either. There is a silver strip that runs along the running board adding to the up market feel. The indicators have moved their location to the rear view mirrors and looks great. The thing that will attract you the most are the matt black five spoke alloys with a thin silver lining running along the circumference. The roof rails have now gotten a really sleek Duster badging. This is a strange place for badging but the Duster manages to pull the looks off very well. The major difference at the rear is the tail lamp going full LED and the bumper getting a really large silver cladding. The thick chrome strip also has the Duster badging.
Though Renault has made improvements over the years, the Duster’s cabin has always come across as a bit utilitarian. That feeling has reduced, though still not completely gone, thanks to a fresh round of upgrades on this facelifted version. For starters, the new black and chocolate-brown plastics help cover up the rougher edges better than the lighter tones of the earlier Duster. You’ll also notice more silver highlights and a bit more chrome detailing (on the air-con vents, for instance) that help spruce up the cabin. The centre console also gets a lot more gloss-black plastic. On the whole quality has improved, but it’s still not at Hyundai levels.
The facelifted Duster also gets embossed branding atop the glovebox, but only those very familiar with the earlier Duster’s cabin will note that the layout of the centre console has been slightly revised. The buttons for the hazard lights and door lock now sit higher up and are more convenient to access. On a related note, the mirror controls that were formerly under the handbrake have been moved to the more traditional position near the window switches, which is more practical. However, the cruise control switches are still scattered between the dash and steering, and the steering column-mounted audio controllers continue to remain out of view. The cumbersome driver’s seat height adjust is also something that should have been improved. The seats themselves are trimmed in richer fabrics and the front pair get armrests for added comfort.
ENGINE AND PERFORMATION ;
The Duster is offered with two engines, one each of petrol and diesel. Knowing well that the diesel is likely to be the overwhelming choice, Renault India is offering the engine in two states of tune. Of course, the engine here is the now familiar 1.5L K9K dCi engine, which is shared by quite a few cars from the brand. The variant with the higher state of tune features this 1,461cc diesel engine with a variable geometry turbocharger and an intercooler, which together bump up the peak power to 110PS, which is available from about 3,900 rpm. Peak torque of 248Nm is delivered at a bit delayed 2,250 rpm. Just like the numbers indicate, the engine starts delivering decent levels of pulling power to the front wheels only after the needle crosses the 1,500 rpm level.
I drove this version of the Duster only and though I felt the turbo lag a bit more due to the hilly terrain that I was testing it out in, buyers who will be mostly driving it in urban conditions will probably not miss more torque in lower end of the rpm band. This 110PS variant is mated to a six-speed gearbox with a very sedan-like short throw, slick shifting gear stick. The same common rail direct injection engine is also offered with a lower tune state. Here the engine produces 85PS of power at 3,750 rpm and peak torque output is 200Nm at 1,900rpm.
Going by the stats, this engine could be the one that is more suited to urban driving conditions, with more lower end torque and possibly more fuel efficiency too. This could be the version that rakes in the most numbers, since most city buyers should be satisfied with this level of performance. Both the diesel variants offer the best performance when the engine is kept within a 2,000 to 3,500 rpm band.
The petrol engine on offer is the Renault 1.6 K4M engine. The 1,598cc engine produces 104PS of peak power at 5,850 rpm and 145Nm of peak torque at 3,750 rpm. The petrol engine version and the 85PS diesel version are both paired with a 5-speed gearbox. The Duster is not being offered with a four-wheel drive option, though it is available in other markets.
RIDE AND HANDLING ;
The Duster has always been the best handling compact SUV in India and nothing has changed in this new version. The steering feedback on the chunky steering wheel is great and the Duster sometimes feels more like a sedan or hatchback rather than a compact SUV. Ride quality too has not been compromised and continues to be one of the best in the segment. The brakes though, just like on the previous Duster, lack enthusiasm after few heavy braking scenarios and could affect confidence levels of the driver. Renault should have seriously considered a rear disc brake option especially on the top of the line models.
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.
The Renault Duster was always an impressive product and now with the upgrade it’s better than before – interiors are plusher, there’s more standard equipment and it looks even more macho now. Plus, there’s the additional draw of an affordable automatic version. It still has its shortcomings, of course – for a car that costs Rs 15 lakh or thereabouts, the plastics needed to look and feel richer, and the AMT – with its slow-witted nature – just doesn’t cut it. A modern torque converter or a DCT gearbox would have been the right fit for this price. So, as we see it, the Duster to buy, continues to be the AWD variant. And it is in this trim with its added capability that it’s a great alternative to the Hyundai Creta.