The Duster is a strikingly styled SUV that looks big, but is actually bigger. Based on the Logan platform, the Duster is 4315mm long and 1822mm wide. Large chrome grilles and dual barrel headlamps give the Duster a ruggedized appearance up front. Buffed up wheel arches, chunky alloy wheels and sleek roof bars further enhance its SUV attitude. However, the rear didn't impress me as much as the front did, although I liked the large chrome 'Duster' nameplate there.
Space, comfort & convenience
Once inside, the first thing you'd appreciate is certainly the SUV-high driving position. Although there are some hard and glossy plastics, the cabin is solidly built. Seats are comfortable and the Duster offers plenty of room for four, even for five if those in the backseat are willing to snuggle up. You get rear A/C with independent control, but with only one vent in the centre, so never think of driving peacefully with both your kids on the rear.
The whopping 475 litres of boot volume deserves special mention. I would however be happier with a roomier rear seat than the sizeable boot. Jump seats are available as part of the accessories, which means you can convert your Duster into a 7-seater if you wish. There's a large, sturdy parcel tray covering the boot space that offers more convenience and easy storage. I also found a smart storage area on the centre console to keep my camera and cellphone.
The controls for HVAC and music system look classy with a dash of chrome here and there.However, you really need to get used to Duster's quirky ergonomics; you are not going to find any of the controls where you normally expect it to be. The audio controls are placed behind the steering wheel, but it's not all that tricky to access them as you would expect. The door mirror controls are weirdly placed under the handbrake, headlight height adjuster switch near the bonnet release and door lock switch on the centre console. At the end of the day, ergonomics is all about getting used to, right?
The Duster is offered in three engine options. The 1.6-litre petrol engine that delivers 104 PS at 5850rpm and 145 Nm of torque at 3750rpm is mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox. Two variants of the 1.5 dCi K9K diesel engine are available — one developing 85PS and the other, 110PS. Both diesel engines are paired to six-speed manual transmission. Only the 110PS diesel was offered for test drive and thanks to its meaty 248 Nm of torque, it proved to be a fun-to-drive car along the serpentine roads in the hills of Munnar. Moreover, the Duster weighs less than 1300kg, making it quite agile over challenging conditions. The motor is slightly flat when revs drop below 1800rpm and I had to shift to the first gear at every tall speed-breaker.The gear ratios are well-matched to Indian driving habits and conditions. Even though the gear shifting is slightly jagged, you get short gear throw like a sedan.
Renault claims the petrol Duster offers a mileage of 13.4 kmpl and the 85PS, 110PS diesels return 20.45 kmpl and 19.01 kmpl respectively. During the performance test, the 110PS dCi’s drive computer was showing 10.5 kmpl and on the highway it displayed 15.9 kmpl.
Ride & Handling
It's a big challenge to make a tall car both handle and ride well. Renault has managed to make the Duster a great handler, without ride going for a toss. Independent MacPherson struts in front and non-independent, torsion beams at the back are capable of soaking up bumps well enough. Average aerodynamics and chunky door mirrors mean you hear wind noise on the highway, but road noise is well contained, even on rough terrains. The heavy steering transmits road imperfections back to the driver and that was my only disappointment with this car.
With the 205 mm of ground clearance and approach and departure angles of more than 30 degrees, the Duster has remarkable off-road capability as well. Although 4X4 is not yet available, the 2WD has the potential to scramble much further off-road than you'd expect.
The Renault Duster majors on performance, handling, ground clearance and value for money. Moreover, it offers the muscle of an SUV, ride quality of a sedan and affordability of a hatchback. With the launch of the Duster, Renault is creating a new segment, targeted at the customers of all these three segments. If Renault lives up to their promise of expanding the dealer and service network to 100 by the end of the year, no doubt, they are going to have a conqueror in their hands.