A sub-10 lakh rupee SUV of a reasonable size by a truly international carmaker. Regulars here would remember that we had pointed out that void in the Indian market some time back, and Renault seems to have taken the first mover advantage by filling the gap. But only introducing a product in a vacant segment is not enough. The product has to deliver, and that could be quite a tedious task knowing what suckers we Indians are for VFM. Three earlier products from Renault stable – Pulse, Koleos and Fluence have not been able to move off shelves in good numbers. The Duster, however, seems to hold enormous promise to change that. The reasons are many. Read on to find out
Design and exterior finish
A good thing about driving a car in a media drive event is that you get to see the vehicle in plenty of colours, on the road, in motion and from plenty of angles. It helps you appreciate it better from an aesthetical point of view. Driving behind, ahead of and opposite some other similar vehicles around the supremely scenic roads of Munnar, I was easily convinced about one thing – the Duster looks like a premium product and has more street cred than any other vehicle in its price segment. Some may argue that the XUV aces it, but I wouldn’t agree for two reasons.
a. The XUV500 is a more expensive product
b. Even with all its flash, the XUV doesn’t represent an evolved design. It kitschy and gaudy in places, which the Duster isn’t
Starting at the front, the triple slat chrome grille with the angular Renault logo setting pretty in the middle, flanked by those double barrel headlamps looks very bold. That wide bonnet along with those exaggerated wheel arches gives the face of this machine a beastly, brawny look. And that’s something which seldom goes wrong with us Indians – if it’s an SUV, it should look the part. We tend to not like the chubby faced contraptions with an SUVs nameplate. The black-and-silver-finish body under-cladding both at the front and at the rear further adds to the go-anywhere, rugged appeal of the machine.
The highlight of the Duster’s profile has to be its bulging wheels arches, both front and rear. That meaty front fender and the hefty haunches together add a lot of substance to the Duster. It’s not an enormous vehicle, the Duster, with a low height and average dimensions, but those wheel arches really lend a lot of meat to the body, helping it carry the bold and macho statement made at the front through its length. The front wheel arch is so much out of line from the doors’ surface that the place where the panels meet seems to have a huge gap. Needless to say it isn’t – it’s a design element and adds tremendously to the savageness in visuals. The aluminium finish door sill is another unique detail. It’s not a footboard, but helps define the lower portion of the car, while also adding a bucketload of ‘rugged’ character to its profile. Hard as I may try, I couldn’t resist drawing parallels between the Duster, Yeti and Force one. The Duster, in profile seems somewhat like a mix of the Yeti and Force One- with Yeti’s low roof height, roof rails and a last quarter somewhat resembling that of the One’s.
Chunky is the word to define the rear end of the car. The tail-gate is flanked by two simplistic, vertically stacked light units with their angular metallic projections on the tail-gate. The big chrome garnish with the car’s name engraved on it adds greatly to the premium feel of the vehicle, aided further by the chrome tipped exhaust muffler. Stocky, well built and athletic, the Duster when looked upon from behind somehow reminds me of Diego Maradona in his prime.
The paint quality on the car is immaculate – lustrous and even. Even the engine bay, an area which mostly is an exponent of shoddiness has a well-finished feel to it as regards paint quality. The panels have been put together well and the Duster comes across as a premium product, at least from the outside. When in motion its wide track, accentuated by a low roofline gives it a planted look. It sure looks like a rugged little machine, ready to take on any terrain. Put rivets all around the Duster, equip it with a cannon-barrel and it wouldn’t be too off from looking like a tank. Smear it in dust, muck and slush and it would probably look even more appealing.
Engine and gearbox
The Duster is available with three engine options. A 1.6 liter petrol and a 1.5 liter turbo diesel in two states of tune. Even with its 100PS / 160 Nm power / torque output, we wouldn’t like to bet even a penny on the sales of the petrol version in these times. The diesel engines produce 85 / 110 PS of peak power and 200 / 240 Nm of peak torque respectively. No prizes for guessing which engine variant we were offered during the drive though.
A 1.5 liter turbo diesel may not sound like a potent enough engine for such a burly machine, but with its impressive power output of 110 PS, a forceful 240 Nm of peak torque the engine manages to haul the 1780 kg weight of the Duster rather well. There is a reasonable amount of turbo lag which was presenting itself in a more amplified fashion to some of the fellow journalists on the steep inclines around Munnar. However, I would like to very assertively state here that this slight bit of lag isn’t something which may even remotely have the potential to be a deal breaker. The torque build-up begins from 1500-1600 rpm mark where the vehicle begins pulling but not reassuringly enough. It’s only after the rev needle hits the 2000rpm mark that the Duster charges ahead like it should. There is also a distinctive (and addictive) turbo whistle audible at and around the said rpm which makes diesel nuts like me roll down the front window and listen to the divine melody.
Apart from being punchy enough for its size, the 1.5 liter diesel mill is also a smooth operator. The engine noise is hardly audible inside the cabin. Even outside the sound of the power plant would rate much lower on a decibel scale when compared to most of its counterparts. While part of the reduced noise can be attributed to the smoothness of the engine itself, within the cabin, the silence is augmented by heavy sound deadening. You can see big bits of foam as you look through the hinges of the front door.
The engine is mated with a six-speed manual gearbox. The sixth gear, as goes without saying is the overdrive cog, meant to enhance fuel efficiency on long straight highways. The upside of the six speeder unit is that the ratios are well spaced out so there is not sudden jerk while downshifting into a lower gear or a feeling of complete power loss as long as your are shifting within a reasonable rev range. As you hold the chrome tipped stick, you cannot feel any transmission judder – a problem which mars many a SUVs, so the Duster scores. A certain degree of notchiness, however, could be felt as you shift gears. We have experienced a better shift feel in smaller and less expensive cars, and the Duster could have done with a better feel too. It’s not worrisome though, only that wee bit rough.
The engine-transmission combo on the Duster leaves little to complain about. Apart from the slight bit of turbo lag, there isn’t really anything to grumble. The engine is smooth, silent and sufficiently powerful. The gearbox too is sufficiently smooth, though it cannot exactly be termed slick. A practical, functional and efficient engine-tranny combo means that Renault have got the most important bits on the machine right. With a claimed fuel efficiency of 19.01 kmpl, those conscious about the running costs shouldn’t have anything to worry about either.
Ride and handling quality
If there is one feature of the Duster that puts it head and shoulders above its competition (and cars from a segment or two above too) – it has to be its unimpeachable ride quality. The car swallows potholes as if they didn’t exist. We were driving on some of the roughest terrain we have seen, the unchartered territories of Munnar, where some of the devastated roads led us into complete wilderness. We literally sashayed over the Martian surface without a worry. I remember this incident where one of the road cleaning workers was feeling too reluctant to clear the road of a whole heap of bushes which he had freshly piled up. He told me to drive over the pile, I obliged – and I wasn’t able to make out when we trampled the heap of trash. Tushar who was accompanying me in the passenger’s seat, shared the sentiment. The Duster is ridiculously adept at gobbling whatever the infamous Indian roads may throw at it. Ride quality and ground clearance were two of Nissan’s focus areas before introducing the Duster to India, and the hard work they have put in shines through. The Duster would take on the rigors of the great Indian ruralscape without as much as a whimper – I personally guarantee that.
As you would probably reckon, that sort of a ride quality calls for a soft suspension setup, which would render the handling of the car pretty wallowy, endowing it with loads of body roll, turning into a driver’s nightmare. And how wrong would you be if you thought that way. The Duster, in a ridiculously amazing manner even with its stupendous ride quality drives flat around corners with minimal body roll and praiseworthy composure. Employing Independent McPherson Strut with Coil Springs & Anti-Roll Bar up front and a Torsion Beam Axle with Coil Springs & Anti-Roll Bar at the rear, the Duster simply amazes with its poise. Quite frankly I have not seen an SUV ride and handle better than this one in and around the segment this baby resides. The tech boffins at Renault have pulled off an extraordinary feat, and they need to be congratulated for having sorted the suspension of this SUV so well.
Even with all its adeptness at handling undulations and flat footedness around corners, the Duster doesn’t quite turn into a driver’s delight. There is a considerable amount of torque steer, and the vehicle has a tendency to run wider than desired when pushed hard around corners. The steering wheel resists being made to turn hard at speed and has a proclivity to wrangle back with you. You have to be careful while pushing this thing around, as that three spoke wheel transferring all the undulations on the road as feedback to your palms is a rebel of sorts – doesn’t like being forced around. Also, the judder at the wheel while negotiating a corner could be quite unnerving at times. The grip from the wide MRF Wanderers felt sufficient and the Duster didn’t ever seem to be losing traction, just that all that torque at the front wheels, that shaky, nervous feeling on the steering wheel along with its tendency to throw itself back doesn’t make corner carving at speed a fun experience. Having said all that, there is no dearth of balance and grip, and if the happenings around the steering wheel don’t unnerve you, you can still push the Duster around without having to deal with an unwieldy body or insufficient grip.
All in all a fantastic ride package, which promises to be loads of fun around corners, but doesn’t quite deliver. Much better than other vehicles in its category in every aspect though. I also have my grouses about the dead feeling on the steering wheel when the car is travelling straight at speeds – doesn’t inspire much confidence. However, all these are very technical things which an average Joe wouldn’t even notice. For him, his vehicle would be much better in terms of comfort and handling when compared with the likes of Tata Safari and Scorpio. XUV500, even.
Cabin comfort, features and quality
This is probably one area where the Duster has the potential to off-put some of its potential customers. Cars, even from the most basic segment are increasingly managing to look premium and upmarket from within the cabin. The Duster, unfortunately couldn’t carry through its premium exterior feel to its passenger compartment. The instrument cluster comprises of vanilla black dials with white fonts. The plastics on the dashboard are rather hard. Some of the more premium bits too, like the leather on the steering wheel doesn’t feel soft enough, and has a hard, unpleasant feel about it. The stitch on the leather wheel is also rather rough and managed to leave the fingers of quite a few fellow journalists, including those of yours truly sensitized.
The Duster, however, redeems itself in the way those plastic panels have been put together. The assembly of panels within the cabin is top notch with a very high degree of precision and neatness. There are no gaping panel joints, no untidy adhesive marks and no dangerously pointy panel ends. Everything seems to have been assembled with a vision to make things last.
French cars are traditionally known to have their own idiosyncrasies with regards to the positioning of buttons and the way some of their features function. The Duster in that regard makes its French origins amply clear. The oddities about this SUV’s cabin are plentiful, and work somewhat like a hologram, validating its French origins. Here are a few interesting ones
1. The Electric ORVM adjustment joystick is placed under the handbrake
2. The big central dial on the music system which usually controls volumes changes radio stations here
3. The headlight level adjustment knob is placed where you have the bonnet opener lever in most cars
4. There are steering mounted audio controls, but you cannot see them. Unlike most other cars, in which these controls are mounted on the spokes, on the Duster, they are placed behind the wheel on the right hand side, somewhat like the gear shifter pedals on some of the cars
5. The air circulation mode switch is positioned as a sub-knob below the blower knob. You’d struggle to find it if you don’t know where it is.
6. The tiny little AC button too is quite unusual in terms of its size and position
7. The driver seat height adjuster requires you to be off the seat if you are increasing the height. If you try to decrease it while sitting, it’ll go down all the way in one shot.
Even though the quality of plastics used on the dash is not top notch, features abound within the Duster’s cabin. The electronic trip meter is a sea of information to help you tune your driving style to meet a certain target and offers key data such as average fuel economy, distance to dry and average speed.
The center console is equipped with a music system capable of playing music via radio, Aux-in, USB drives or CDs. The sound quality is reasonably good. Door lock / unlock buttons, reverse parking sensor toggle and demister toggle are also placed on the center console. Interestingly, the quality of and the operational feel of buttons on the center console, as well as the power window buttons is surprisingly good.
There are two big recesses on the dashboard to pop stuff like wallets, mobile phones and toll tickets – a very well thought out and useful feature. The front door panel offers space to store a 1 liter and a 500 ml bottle. The cup holders ahead of the gear stick, however, can hold only small cups and bottles, and by virtue of their position, will be intrusive when used. The steering wheel is tilt adjustable, though it doesn’t offer telescopic adjustability
Use of chrome around A/C vents, on door handles and for the Renault logo on the steering wheel tries to lift up the premium feel within the cabin that slight bit. Even the faux wood inserts on the door panels have a nice finish and look much better than the ones on some other cars in the segment. The rear door panels, however, don’t have any space for bottles, and you’ll have to make do with the cup holders available as recesses on the central arm rest.
The back bench offers good leg space, shoulder space and comfort. You have an A/C vent for you (top end 110 PS variant only, not available on 85 PS variant), which somewhat intrudes the leg space of the middle passenger, but offers great convenience nevertheless. The leather used on the top of the line Options Pack variant is of a good quality and with its ribbed styling adds massively to the luxurious feel of the interior. Lower variants offer fabric upholstery, which in my honest opinion could have used better quality material.
At the rear end of things, the Duster offers an enormous boot capable of swallowing 475 liters worth of stuff extendible to 1064 liters with rear seats down. A really huge parcel tray adds a great deal to the utility as you can put a wide variety of stuff there. The two huge recesses on the tray ensure that the nothing moves around or slips.
Talking of the boot, as you lift the mat concealing the insides, you will realize that there is no spare wheel under it. There is, instead a bolt, which needs to be rotated to lower the spare wheel which is positioned neatly in a cradle below the boot. You also have hooks at the four corners of the boot to fasten stuff and prevent it from bumping around on a day you get extra enthusiastic around a bend of twisties.
There are plenty more things to be discussed about the interior, which we would prefer showing you by way of images and captions to let you have a better understanding of.
Safety & Security
The Duster’s monocoque is designed to mitigate collision impact. The sturdy construction itself should go some distance offering passive safety, not to mention the sure-footedness and liveliness of the car should give the driver better control and resultantly a better chance to avert danger. Top variant offers dual front SRP airbags. While SRS (Supplemental Restraint System) airbags offer a uniform deployment of the bag irrespective of many factors such as the seat position etc, SRP (System for Restraint and Protection) which is a Renault first maximizes occupant restraint by optimizing airbag deployment taking into consideration variables like seat position, seatbelt position and respective values of pretensioner and load limiter. Apart from that ABS is also available with EBD and brake assist.
Engine immobilizer, central locking, under body protection and many other options (complete list below) are available as more features.
Summing it up
Quite frankly, we are blown by the value that the Duster offers as a complete package – especially in the cheaper 85 PS variant. Its miles ahead of its competitors in terms of visual appeal, ride, handling, performance, efficiency and intelligent use of space. We have our grouses about the dashboard quality, which isn’t quite in line with the reputation of an international car maker like Renault, but very frankly, the rivals at the same price point are offering even worse stuff. The XUV 500 offers more goodies but then it is pricier too.
Coming from a carmaker of Renault’s repute, we don’t expect teething issues, but if they actually emerge we’d be surprised. Interestingly, we had our moments when the fuel gauge suddenly decided to read 30% more after a day’s drive. A fellow journalist reported momentary failure of music system too. Minor niggles, those, nothing worth major concern – but we’d suggest Renault be wary of such little issues. Company’s India MD Marc Nassif insists that the prices of spares have been decided keeping in mind the market and its dynamics, and not the other way round. Coupled with the low pricing and good fuel efficiency of the car, that should mean that the running costs are really low – a factor which defines sales volumes for any car in any segment in our market. Renault is also working extensively to take its dealer count to 100 by the end of 2012 from the current 55. That should help both the customers and the company.
With a base price of Rs 7.99 lakh for the 85 PS diesel ex-Delhi, the Duster with its fab looks and premium appeal sure presents itself as an irresistible option. Even the top of the line RxZ 110PS variant with a sticker price of 10.99 lakh looks like a steal. There is enormous interest in the SUV, reflected to us in remote Munnar by some of the school kids in a bus who waved at us shouting Duster, Duster. Renault showrooms across the country are being thronged by potential customers. Salesmen at showrooms are finding it difficult to make time for everyone. Tell you what, there’s good reason behind that. At the price which it’s offered, you just cannot go wrong with the Duster.
Images and descriptions of important bits
Music system looks basic, but can play CDs, USB drives, via Aux-in and radio. Sound quality is decent. The central knob changes stations rather than increasing / decreasing volume though. Thoroughly French! Door lock / unock button on the left of hazard lights switch. On the right of it, you have seat belt warning and demister toggle.
Notice the puny A/C toggle button. More importantly, notice the air circulation knob below the blower knob. Unusual position that!
Coins compartment, cigarette lighter and reverse parking sensor toggle button. There are two small cupholders too with one being used as an ash tray.
The headlight beam level control knob is positioned way below under the steering wheel panel. Unusual position again.
The huge parcel tray is a boon. The deep recesses make sure that the stuff you pop in doesnt move around. Thanks for the pose, Tushar.
There’s another radiator grille below the main triple slat chrome grille.
See the sound deadening foam between the metal sheets? That’s one of the reasons why the cabin doesn’t let much of engine or road noise come in. There is a good amount of win noise coming in though beyond 80 km/h.
Front cup holders wont hold a 1 liter bottle. Door panels will hold it though, along with a 500ml bottle.
Central tell tale display on instrument cluster includes low fuel warning, ignition heater indicator, Engine temperature high warning, left / right turn, battery low, engine malfunction and parking brake on light. The pin on the right is meant to set trip meter.
A clean boot area which can accomodate 475 liters worth of luggage. More than 1000 liters with the back seats down as shown.
Top variants come with Lumbar support adjustment
Vertically stacked tail-lamps project themselves into the metal sheet of the tail gate. Makes the rear look even beefier.
Fuel filler compartment is quite huge. The size of the fuel cap in much smaller in comparison.
Aluminium finish door handles and ORVMs for the top end variant. Black and body coloured units for the lower variants. Notice the aluminium finish door sill – adds great character to the car’s profile.
Rear Chrome garnish with Duster marked over it. Adds a premium feel to the rear. Renault have used right amount of chrome on this car.
High mounted brake light, rear washer, demister, wiper.
Chrome tipped exhaust pipe beneath black plastic and aluminium finish undercladding.
Rear parking sensors.
Black plastic and aluminium finish door sills. it’s not a footboard though.
The area between C and D pillars is reminiscent of Force One.
Rear towing hook.
The Duster boasts overly flared wheel arches. You have to be careful while negtiating narrow passages. Look gorgeous though.
Rear boot opener. The key slot yopu see here has to be pressed to release the tail gate. There is no remote boot opener lever / button within the cabin.
Nice looking 16 inch alloys on the top end variant. The design goes well with the muscular upper body of the SUV as well as with the renault logo. The alloys are shod with 215 / 65 MRF Wanderer footwear.
Roof rails look great on the low Duster. Lend an air of sportiness, while also reminding us of the Skoda Yeti.
Wiper fluid, engine oil and coolant caps. Renault recomments ELF oil for the Duster.
The compartment for jack and spanners
Boot space with the back seat up.
No clutter below the floor mat in the boot. Just clean metal.
You have to use this spanner like this to loosen the bolt holding the spare wheel cradle. Lossening it lowers the cradle, allowing access to the spare wheel.
The spare wheel cradle.
Instructions on how to release the spare wheel from the cradle.
Front door storage. The materials on the door, including the faux wood insert dont look and feel as bad as the hard plastics on the dash. There is space for two bottles in the door pockets.
Average speed readout.
Average fuel efficiency. Dont let that figure bother you. Steep inclines, broken down roads, slow speeds – conditions were not conducive for good efficiency at all.
Distance to dry readout. We were surprised to see that the distance to dry and fuel guage level both suddenly increased by 30 % by the end of our day’s drive.
Average speed readout
Steering mounted volume controls are placed behind the wheel. While a few others had problems using it, I personally though the buttons were easy to use once you got used to them. Central button us meant to mute audio, and to make or reject calls.
Choose stations and switch media using the top two buttons.
Chrome bezels around circular A/C vents try their bit in lifting the quality quotient up.
Central recess above the center console to store items similar to the ones represnted above.
Another open storage on the passenger side. These storage spaces were designed specially for the Indian market.
Reasonably spacious illuminated glove box
Renault’s very own SRP (System for Restraint and Protect) airbags are known to be more effective in the event of an accident when compared with the SRS (Supplemental Restraint System) airbags
Door panels and materials quality much better than the dash. Power window switch, chrome door handles and fauz wood inserts – everything has a good quality feel to it.
Weird position for electric ORVM adjustment joystick – under the handbrake!
Neat space for another bottle. An elastic fastener in front passenger’s footwell.
Individual reading lights for all passengers.
Height adjustable front seat belts.
Power outlet behind the rear passenger’s seat.
No bottle holders for the rear door.
Seems like the position of the power window switches has been moved. Earlier place for window switches has been covered by this plastic panel on all doors.
More pictures of the rear door panel, handle and wood insert.
AC vent for the rear passengers. Aids cooling, but intrudes in the legspace for the middle passenger. Two fan speeds, Becomes rather noisy at full blast.
Lever to collapse the backseat.
Finally – Variant wise features list of the Duster
EXTERIOR– Double headlights with chrome bezel, Chrome front grille and Rr embellisher, Body coloured + black bumpers, black side sills and black roof bars, black door handles and ORVMs, 16″ styled steel wheels, Wheel center cap with chromed Renault logo, Green tinted glass.
INTERIOR– 2 tone light grey/dark carbon dashboard, bright chrome air vent rings, shiny medium grey center fascia, bright chrome instrument cluster rings, bright chrome steering wheel ring, shiny medium grey door grab handles, black inside door handles, 2 tone dark grey/Black seats, Rear bench foldable 1/1, vanity mirror on passenger sun visor.
SAFETY– Immobilizer, Day/Night IRVM, steel engine sump protection guard, 2 rear headrest <<balloon>>, 3 pts rear side seat belt, 2 pts central, RF remote control (boot included), single tone horn
DRIVING/COMFORT– Power steering, Manual HVAC, keyless entry with central locking, manual internal adjustment for ORVM, tilt steering column, front central roof light with dimming effect, front and rear power windows, ashtray, trunk room light, 2 reverse lights, rear parcel shelf, strut type hood lifter, internal cable release for fuel filler lid, tailgate push button
RxL = RxE + following
EXTERIOR– Front fog lights, black door handles, body coloured ORVMs
INTERIOR-2 tone beige/carbon dashboard, shine champagne door handles and door moulding, beige fabric on door panels, shiny champagne STW add on, shiny champagne grab handles, shiny black center console, all beige fabric/vinyl seats
SAFETY– ABS + EBD + BA
DRIVING/COMFORT– On board trip computer, 2 DIN integrated radio with MP3, USB, AUX In, SD Reader, 4 speakers, Audio and phone controls behind steering wheel, height adjustable front seat belts, electrically adjustable ORVMs, front roof light incl, map lights on both sides, rear seat armrest with cup holders, glove box lamp, rear side passenger reading lights, rear glass wiper, washer, defroster, rear 12v socket
OPTIONAL– Dual front airbags, navigation, 16′ alloy wheels, rear parking sensors. ABS+EBD+ Brake Assist
RxZ = RxL + following
EXTERIOR– Chrome satine skid plates, black and chrome satine roof bars, chrome satine side mirrors, chrome satin finish door handles, chrome satin door sill add on, 16″ alloy wheels with with centre cap of chrome Renault logo, chrome exhaust pipe finisher
INTERIOR– 2 tone beige/grey fabric seats, leather steering wheel & gear knob, wood like finish on embellisher, shiny black inside door handles, shiny black mouldings (baguette), bright chrome inner pull handles
SAFETY– ABS + EBD + Brake assist, dual front airbags, driver seat belt reminder, impact sensing door unlock , speed sensing door locking
Renault Duster (ex showroom, Delhi) prices are as follows:
Petrol engine 104PS
RxE: 7.19 lakh
RxL: 8.19 lakh
Diesel Engine 85PS
RxE: 7.99 lakh
RxL: 8.99 lakh
RxL diesel optional pack: 9.99 lakh
Diesel engine 110PS
RxL: 9.99 lakh
RxZ: 10.99 lakh
RxZ diesel optional pack: 11.29 lakh