I will start off with a little disclosure here - I like automatics. While the purists will cringe, I simply cannot be bothered fiddling with the clutch in traffic when my left leg could sit comfortably on a dead pedal and tap to some nice music. Here's disclosure number two - I like the idea of the compact SUV too. It seems like the masses like them quite a lot as well. For years, lakhs of people have been thronging car dealerships and driving out with what we now call 'compact SUVs'. While their existence as a body style is questionable, one can't deny the sheer utility they bring to the table. They feel at ease inside the city; one gets used to the dimensions easily and, most importantly, they are usually as easy to drive as a conventional three-box sedan.
With the hopped up ground clearance and the large bootspace, they are just the right balance of being the weekend wheels and deal with the daily grind as well. In fact, when I had the Duster AMT at my disposal, I chose it to get to work over my Polo TSi just because I didn't have to be too careful over an odd pothole. And having driven the Creta on a long weekend haul, I know it is capable of a comfortable roadtrip. So when I had the chance to put them to the test together, I knew it would be an interesting battle.
Interesting, because in spite of being in the same category and costing roughly the same, the cars have polar opposite personalities. I cannot think of a rival pair that were so vastly different. For instance, the Duster makes no qualms about having a few extra pounds. The oversized wheel arches and the rounded edges all around make it look like a proper SUV, just scaled down to 75%. It isn't the best looker of the lot, I'll give you that - but, the updates that included new headlamps, LED taillamps and a new set of 16-inch black alloy wheels lend it a much-needed refresh.
The Creta, on the other hand, is a classic example of keeping the design 'safe'. There's practically nothing one would hate, save for the bland tail. In fact, it turns quite a few heads, even a full year after its launch. And Hyundai has recently updated the Creta automatic, so you will get the larger 17-inch gunmetal wheels instead of the 16-inchers you see here. What the Hyundai lacks, especially in comparison to the Duster, is presence. It doesn't make you give way when you spot it your rear view mirror and neither does it have the 'don't mess with me' aura about it. It is something that is elemental for an SUV in my books and possibly the only chink (design-wise) in the Creta's shining armour.
The insides are poles apart as well. Long story short, if you are picky about quality and finish, just head to the Hyundai showroom. The touch and feel of everything, right from the dashboard to the knobs and switches feel a notch above the Duster. But, my biggest grouse with the Renault isn't the quality or even the iffy ergonomics - it is the colour scheme. The brown and black mashup struggles to gel well together, and I'm glad that the AMT variant does not have the red highlights that the AWD variant gets. Both cars get a touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, steering-mounted controls, automatic air-conditioning and a reverse camera. The Creta offers leather upholstery, rear AC vents, a smart key and electrically foldable mirrors too.
Space isn't a big issue in either, and both can accommodate four adults with ease. If you have to carry a fifth passenger at most times, the Duster's extra width comes into play here. Also it feels like a bigger car on the inside too thanks to the large windows, but, the Creta doesn't give you that sense of feel.
The Hyundai is very 'car-like', even when you get going. The 1.6-litre diesel motor doesn't feel too gruff and is more than happy to oblige when you want to get somewhere in a hurry. It has a superior torque converter gearbox as well that has well-spaced ratios and minimal lag between shifts. Yes, it does moan and whine under kickdown, which is why we would recommend shifting to manual mode to get done with the overtaking. And, dare I say - it is possibly amongst the best riding Hyundais on sale today.
The suspension isn't overtly soft as the Hyundai cars from yesteryears and strikes a balance between ride quality, comfort and handling - with the bias being towards the first two, of course. It doesn't bob about too much when you go over an expansion joint on the highway and rides fairly flat at sane speeds. It does feel slightly twitchy after a while, which I'd have to blame the steering for. On the highway and while cornering, a little more communication would've been great. But, the steering is just what you would want when you are stuck in a crazy jam and want to take a quick u-turn to get out of the place.
The Duster's steering on the other hand is as chatty as SUV steerings can get. It does kick back a fair bit when you corner at high speeds, but does just fine when you aren't being a child with the throttle. The flipside, of course, is a heavy steering at low speeds. Ride quality is possibly the best in the segment and can shame a few sedans too. It gobbles up pretty much anything the roads throw at it. You will hear the bumps and the potholes, but will rarely feel it. I wouldn't blame you if you found an excuse to put the Duster through a pothole just to show off every now and then. I know I did a few times.
The higher ground clearance - 205mm vs 190mm - and the well-mannered suspension makes it the perfect highway cruiser that can take on the beaten path too. Don't get too carried away, though. The AMT is available with the FWD only and muck, slush and grass is a strict no no. Also, there's no 85PS version with two pedals either, just the full cream 110PS. The motor itself if a genuine workhorse and will soldier on through the years if you take good care.
You get a lot of turbo lag for the first two thousand clicks, post which you ride a gigantic surge of torque. You wouldn't be bothered too much about the lag in the manual version. But, the AMT tends to amplify it considering it isn't the quickest of the lot itself. Like most automated manual transmissions it is slightly jerky on the upshifts, especially if you have a heavy right foot. Weirdly enough, if you switch to 'Eco' mode, it doesn't feel all that stuttery.
So, which one deserves your hard earned money? Well, if you tend to drive around a lot within the city, the Creta automatic is the one to pick. The light steering and the supple ride quality is just what you need inside the urban jungle. The Duster fares better as the weekend roadtripper thanks to the bigger boot, the beautiful highway manners and, of course, cruise control. In the overall scheme of things, the Hyundai Creta is the better car, without a shade of a doubt - and is the logical, sane-headed choice. But, the Renault Duster continues to tug at the heart regardless of its shortcomings.
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