The Renault Duster is here and it's extremely competitive, but does it have what it takes to land a powerful punch of practicality well above its entry-level class?
The Renault Duster is a good car – bordering between being an overgrown hatch and a full blown SUV, it truly defines the meaning of the crossover genre that has been gaining global popularity over the years. The mantra is simple – a car needs to be big enough to satisfy your ego and small enough to fit into a parking spot in any crowded city. It needs to be powerful enough to give you the thrills but frugal enough to minimize fuel bills. The Duster does all that, after all it was designed for emerging markets and saw light of day badged as a Dacia – pretty much on the lines of the Logan, but in a different segment altogether.
Renault seems to have got the timing right with this little SUV considering that there will be a slew of Premier Rio sized mini SUVs hitting the market soon. The French have even got the pricing right which always seems to be the tricky factor for any international manufacturer trying to make headway into the Indian space. So as far as competition from its own segment goes, it’s pretty much a no-brainer because the Duster has got the quality, style and frugality to beat pretty much any other SUV between under 10 lakh Indian rupees. Between the 104PS 1.6-litre petrol engine and the 85 PS 1.5-litre diesel mill, Renault has the likes of the Scorpio and the Safari decently covered.
But could the 110PS diesel Duster (Read: Renault Duster First Drive) just be bordering on the edge of greatness? It may still be the small SUV that everyone seems to be talking about but with the top-of-the-line RxZ variant and its extensive features list could it just entice a buyer with a bigger budget to save some cash and be happier in the process too? To put things into perspective it only made sense to pit the Duster against one of the most successful SUVs in recent times – the Mahindra XUV 5OO.
The XUV itself is a success story like no other – not really belonging to the entry level SUV segment and not quite making it up to full blown mud-plugger status either, it fills a gap that had been wide open for the longest time between the Scorpios and Safaris and the Fortuners and Pajeros of our world. With the kind of bookings that the XUV 5OO (Read : XUV500 Road Test) recorded within a month of its launch, this homegrown butch is a behemoth in its own right. Of course, the XUV costs more than the Renault but that tag difference is down to about Rs 2 lakh for the W8 2WD variant compared to the Duster’s 110PS RxZ. Suddenly, things don’t seem too much in favour of the Duster at this point!
Round 1: Design and sheer size!
If there’s one Indian vehicle that we can all be proud of in terms of its styling, it’s got to be the XUV 5OO. While the whole cheetah-inspired PR speak may be a little too cheesy for our tastes there is no denying that Mahindra has done a fantabulous job with penning the XUV. All the way from the peeled-away bodywork under the headlights to the LED daytime running lights and that very feline wheel arch bulge that intrudes into the slab of glass at the back all made us go weak in our knees when we first laid eyes on it. In fact the whole of the XUV is so sculpted it looks like Schwarzenegger before he got into politics!
The XUV has simply set the benchmark in terms of vehicle design for anyone looking to bring in a macho machine. It makes the Tata Safari look like a pencil pusher and even a car as attractive as the Skoda Yeti seems to be batting its big eyelids in appreciation. All that design flair extends inside the car as well with a very geeky centre console with enough going on there to keep somebody with Attention Deficit Disorder occupied for days. Then there’s that very Honda Civic-inspired hand brake lever and the optical illusion air con vents with the whole cabin delving in and out of black, maroon and metal accents. The XUV (Read : XUV500 Road Test) then seems like the perfect vehicle to intimidate others on the road while feeling nice and smug behind the wheel – perfect description of an SUV isn’t it?
While the XUV 5OO exudes testosterone from every shutline, the Duster (Read: Renault Duster First Drive) seems like the cute big bug that everyone wants to pet. There really isn’t much happening on the outside – it’s actually a whole bunch of simple body panels put together really well at first glance but the Duster grows on you and when it does you’ll fall in love with its simplicity. The first thing that you’ll see apart from those massive headlamps glaring at you is the way the wheel arches bulge out on all four corners. And then there’s this sense of width that will hit you in the face when you stare at it for longer owing to the lower half of the front bumpers being blackened out.
That’s further exaggerated by the overall stance of the Duster – short in height, but nice and wide with a nice mix of positive and negative spaces along the sides. But what really gives the Duster its masculinity is the inclusion of very hardcore SUV details like the bash plate that folds up hugging the lower halves of the front and rear bumpers and the very classy roof rails. What could have been a very boring rear end is saved by a clever use of subtle creases and bulges around the tiny vertical tail lamps. Put the XUV and the Duster next to each other and the difference in sheer size is compelling but that is the real genius behind the Renault’s design. In effect it is a small vehicle – the roof being only slightly taller than a Suzuki Swift when we parked it in the office, but stand alone, the proportions on the Duster along with strong design elements make it look a whole lot bigger than it actually is. It’s body mass versus clever trickery and we’d have to say, the Duster definitely holds its own against the XUV here!