Attaining simplicity is sometimes the most complex thing. In a world comprising products riddled with confusing design languages, incomprehensible tech and a whole load of finely veneered gimmicks termed as features, honest products which deliver on what matters to the consumer still manage to shine. The Duster is a fine example in that regard. Even with all its French idiosyncrasies with regards some of its controls and a relatively basic cabin, the humble compact SUV has managed to create a shining example for what a product in this segment needs to do.
A rugged machine with a powerful yet sensible engine, loads of space and a personality which has the wherewithal to stand the test of fast changing trends – the Duster has created a success story in one of the most hotly contested segments of the Indian car bazaar. We drove the Duster Easy-R AMT Diesel for more than 4 days, over a distance of more than a thousand kilometres, and here’s what we feel makes this machine click with the Indians. Sure, there are some downsides too, and those have been duly reported at the bottom of the page. Here’s our quick analysis.
Solid build quality, rugged looks
Despite being a soft roader, the Duster looks the part to the quintessential SUV lover. It’s well proportioned, and with a wide track and a relatively low roof height, radiates a squat, solid impression. The flared wheel arches, the chunky bulges around the tail-lamps and other bits like roof rails and faux bash plates further boost its personality as a go-anywhere machine. Also, as the user experience over the years has proved, it’s a solid product which has what it takes to take the abusive Indian roads in its stride with aplomb. No wonder it has done well in tier 2 and tier 3 towns, as well as rural areas where all these things matter. The recent visual updates in the form of new headlamp detailing, a new twin-slat grille, brushed silver cladding front & back, new black alloys and restyled S-shaped LED lights have also upped the appeal of this dextrous machine.
A capable AMT option
AMT is the new buzzword among automakers to offer the Indian customer the convenience of an automatic without escalating the cost by much and without affecting the fuel efficiency negatively. While AMTs have their advantages, they are not quite as smooth or responsive as some of the more expensive automatic transmissions. AMTs on some other cars have been disappointing from a fun-to-drive perspective. The Duster’s AMT, termed Easy-R by Renault performs much better in that context. The Duster diesel AMT responds well to part throttle and the upshifts are pretty smooth and timely. Lift off gently and the downshifts are pretty acceptable too. Mashing the pedal or braking hard brings to fore the relative slowness of the system, but it still performs better than some of its other counterparts. You also have the manual mode here though, which offers you more control and can be used if you wish for a more engaging drive. The fuel efficiency is as good as the manual version too. To top it all, the Duster AMT comes with a hill-hold assist function as well, for preventing rollbacks on inclines.
That legendary ride quality
Quite seriously, the Duster is in a league of its all when it comes to an impeccable ride quality. We were astonished with the absorbent suspension of this machine when we first drove it through the scenic tea gardens of Munnar, and in all honesty, nothing comes close to its ability of making a mockery of the most vicious rough patches even today. The Duster simply flattens potholes, coarse surfaces and undulations with a degree of disdain unmatched by machines from even much higher segments. French cars have traditionally been known for their fantastic ride quality, the Duster is a shining example of the fact. Not just that, the Duster also excels in terms of sure-footed handling and offers ample grip, controlled body roll and driving engagement for the enthusiastic driver. It’s a fun to drive a car which doesn’t mind being pushed hard or shown apathy over bad roads.
Spacious, comfortable innards
Unlike some of the other compact SUVs which look and feel ‘compact’ from the outside as well as inside, the Duster offers space in spades and looks rather big too from the outside. Compare it with the Ecosport and you get the picture. The seats in both the rows are rather well made, with ample back and under-thigh support. The leg, head and shoulder room for the second row occupants is pretty generous too and in conjunction with the car’s comfy ride quality allows for fatigue-free long drives. In addition, the Duster also boasts a cavernous boot volume of 475 litres, extendable to 1064 litres with the second row down. So while it’s not a seven seater, it can allow the five occupants it seats to venture out for a longish holiday with all their stuff.
An affordable package that ticks most boxes
Right from the outset, the one thing that has made the Duster stand out is its reasonable price tag and the value it brings to the table as a complete package. Comparing variant to variant, the Duster is anywhere from INR 1.5 lakh to INR 2.0 lakh cheaper as compared to its closest rival, the Hyundai Creta. Sure, the Creta comes across as a more refined, more feature packed machine, but for those looking at it from a value perspective, the Duster makes a lot of sense. The two diesel AMT variants of the Duster are priced at 12.1 (110 PS RXL 4X2 AMT) and 14 lakh (110 PS RXZ 4X2 AMT) ex-showroom. The top end variants comes loaded with all the features that matter and has a pretty solid safety kit too, boasting Dual Airbags, ESP, ASR, ABS, EBD, BA and Hill Hold etc.
As is the case with every car, there are some negative aspects to be discussed as well, and it’s important that we list them down here.
Interior quality and ergonomics
In all honesty, the quality of materials and layout on some of the smaller cars looks and feels better than on the Duster. Even with all its ruggedness and solid build quality, the Duster can probably do with softer materials inside the cabin, and a more modern layout. Re-arranging some of the buttons and controls in more ergonomic positions would also help.
The steering that fights back
Those who have driven the Duster enthusiastically around a set of bends would know what we are talking about here. The steering wheel on the Duster has a tendency to resist turning while negotiating sharper corners, especially at speed. It’s almost like the steering is trying to fight back to return actively to the neutral position. While not a major issue, we really think this small niggle with the steering wheel could probably be fixed to enhance the driver’s experience.
110 PS diesel engine variant could have been more linear
As we know, the 1.5 dCi diesel engine on the Duster is offered in two states of tune – 85 PS and 110 PS. So while the 85 PS version offers fantastic driveability and great low-rev response with a linear power delivery, the bigger 110PS version has a bit of a lag. Not that it’s a deal breaker or overly pronounced, but some more juice at the bottom of the rev reservoir would most definitely have helped the cause of convenient city driving, mainly for the MT version. This small issue is taken care of by the AMT version though, where the gear shifting duties are taken care of by the automatic system.
Agree or disagree with some points? Have some points of your own to add? Do share your thoughts with us via one of our social media channels using the hashtag #Motoroids – and we’ll most definitely respond.