Ever since we got word that Renault India would bring the Duster to India, we knew that the entry level SUV market was in for a major change. It’s been a long wait, however the hard part is over for the Duster is set to be a reality on Indian roads shortly. With production in full swing at Renault-Nissan’s Chennai plant, the Duster for the Indian market has been reworked to cater to Indian tastes.
Set your eyes on the Duster and you are bound to be hooked. It’s a striking looking SUV that boasts of clean muscular lines, large headlights, a big grille with three horizontal chrome slats, protruding wheel arches both front and back, large wheels, fine shut lines and dimensions that are perfect for the urban environment. The rear has also received a fair share of scalpel treatment and the sculpted boot with the metal mimics of the taillight design and the large chrome plate with ‘DUSTER’ written across are a visual treat. The Duster that we had to drive around at the Chennai plant happened to be the top end RXZ variant which also boasts of neat roof rails and chrome rims that further enhance its visual appeal.
Step inside and you are greeted with a well appointed interior. Although there is an abundance of hard plastics, the visual effect is up market, while I will add that some of the plastics didn’t feel as great and on closer inspection the fit and finish could have been better. Having said that, the Duster is essentially built to a price and considering its competitors, the Duster will have no problem in swaying the audience in its favour when it comes to the topic of interiors. The A/C ducts are straight out of the Logan and that is where the similarity ends.
According to Renault, they have spruced up the interiors beyond what is available on the Duster in any other market in the world! I can vouch for that for I have seen the Duster at numerous international motor shows and thankfully we don’t get the drab sea of black plastic here. Despite being slightly smaller in size than its competition, interior space isn’t that bad and while the front seats are rather comfortable, the rear can seat passengers in considerable ease as leg space for the center passenger is hampered by the rear A/C vent. The 470 litre boot is a delight and if you need more space, the rear bench does a 60:40 split for increased versatility.
The Duster comes with an adequate amount of kit which includes a neat stereo system that is neatly integrated into the center console, power windows, power steering, electrically adjustable ORVMs, an audio control stalk (mounted right behind the steering on the right), a powerful HVAC unit and enough pockets to store away knick-knacks. As mentioned earlier, the Duster also features a rear A/C unit which has been specifically designed for the Indian market. It is an ingenious device that isn’t just a blower, but actually pumps out cold air on its own which is a boon for rear seat passengers as they don’t have to wait for the cold air to flow through the ducts to the vent like on other vehicles that just offer blowers.
Powering the top end variant is the 1.5 litre DCI diesel engine that churns out a healthy 110PS. It sounds good on paper and while I was skeptical about performance myself, a spin on the test track at the factory rid me of my fears for the Duster is a spirited little fellow! The engine is refined and while the diesel can be heard, it isn’t obnoxious or loud. Shift through the rather slick 6 speed gearbox and the Duster is able to cross over into three digit speeds with ease. Low end driveability also checked out okay however I would really like to see how the Duster does with a full load on a steep mountain road.
Maybe I’ll do that the next time I drive the Duster, but for now I’m rather convinced that the Duster has the mettle and the grunt to handle the urban jungle and a bit of spirited rough road driving with élan.Speaking about engines, the Duster will also be offered with a petrol engine as well as a detuned 1.5 dCI diesel that churns out 85PS. While I didn’t get to drive the petrol, I was offered a short drive in the 85PS diesel, which surprisingly offers a linear power delivery however it does run out of steam and is considerably louder than its 110PS counterpart.
Based on the Logan platform, the Duster is a monocoque construction and this works in its favour when it comes to ride quality and handling. Body roll is limited and is rather confidence inspiring around fast corners and the car like ride quality is comparable to some of our midsize sedans. Taking it for a drive on some undulated surfaces was a revelation as the Duster didn’t lose its composure and soaked up the bumps quite well. Another element that became apparent under hard braking was the fact that the Duster didn’t nosedive towards the tarmac which is a welcome change when compared to how the competition behaves.
Set to take on the Mahindra Scorpio and the Tata Safari, the Duster does have its job cut out. While it does dominate in terms of ride quality, handling, and to a certain extend even build quality, it is a size smaller and seats only five as opposed to seven or eight that the others offer. For number crunchers, the engine is almost a litre smaller than the competition and adding to that, Renault doesn’t have any immediate plans of introducing a 4x4 model.
While these issues may raise questions, the fact remains that as a package the Duster has it made and can very easily dominate the segment for all that remains is an aggressive price tag and we have enough reason to believe that Renault is working at getting that right; after all they are aiming for an 80 per cent localization on the Duster to achieve such figures. That said, the Duster is a vehicle of merit and its set to upset the scales in the entry level SUV segment.
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