This is the second outing of the Renault Duster at CarWale’s Off-Road Day. At the inaugural edition back in 2016, we saw the Duster impress us with its AWD hardware over most of our scientifically laid out challenges. Now, Renault updated the Duster just a few weeks back and although the changes are only cosmetic and not mechanical, we couldn’t help but bring back this gutsy little Renault to our 2019 Off-Road Day. And that’s simply because it is one of the best 4x4 in its class and price point.
Powering the Duster here, we have a 1.5-litre dCI four-cylinder diesel producing 110bhp of power while the torque is rated at 245Nm. So the question we’ll be looking to answer this year is whether or not the new and updated Duster continues to perform well off the beaten track? And, will it take astride everything that we throw in its way or will it surprise us? Let’s find out.
First up, the acceleration test. So, as we lined up the Duster at the start line, a realization hit us – the Duster was the only manual SUV of the lot. Even after turning the rotary knob to the 4WD lock, the Duster felt tricky to get off the mark in the slushy conditions. But, a time of just 2.9 seconds to reach the set 30kmph of speed isn’t bad at all. It was a delight, watching the Duster spin all its four wheels and run lifting its skirts like a runaway bride.
Stopping as quickly as possible when there is minimal grip on the slush and muck is scary. In this test, the anchors are dropped at 30kmph to see how quickly the SUV comes to a halt while putting the tyre’s grip and ABS to test. Seeing the Duster fly in quickly and stop at a dime on the wet, verdant and muddy surface was surreal. Although it’s fitted with drum brakes at the back, the good ABS set-up made the stopping of this SUV effortless, and it showed.
Even with the lack of any kind of electronic aids or interventions, the Duster felt quick decelerating, taking mere 13 feet to grind to a complete halt in our braking test. Courtesy of its light chassis and a kerb weight tipping just over 1300kg, the Duster was very quick to stop and felt effortless while doing it.
Being the smallest car of the lot, we thought the Duster would come out on top sculling its four wheels in the tightly laid-out course. Although it did feel nimble and light, the Duster’s rather heavy steering wasn’t best fit for quick direction changes, especially with lesser traction in the slush and grassy track. While the steering gave a quick bicep workout to Santosh as he set down the time, the wide rear track of the Duster managed to step out and catch the cones unaware on many occasions. In the end, with all its four-wheel-drive understeer, the Duster finished with a time of 41.67 seconds.
Also part of our scientific tests is the Trail Test. In this, we got the co-passenger Ninad clothed in his raingear and hold a beaker full of water. Then, the SUVs were driven on a trail full of sudden dips and small crests, a flowing stream and a ditch of water, stony and rocky sections, twists and turns and a few rut-infested ridges too. To pass this trail test, the cars must simply displace the least amount of water from the beaker.
Surprisingly, the Duster 4x4 tied with the MU-X displacing 60ml of water from the beaker, despite the fact that the Isuzu is a lot roly-poly in comparison. The Duster’s suspension setup is slightly on the firmer side and this means, the Renault – which is acclaimed for its excellent ride quality – found it difficult to flatten out the choppy terrain as we’d expected. Nonetheless, the Duster wasn’t jittery at all and managed to sprawl over most of the jagged terrain with ease.
Off-Road Hill Climb
Our hill climb test isn’t anything like Pikes Peak. Instead, it had a simple yet steep gradient to climb with a jagged and rutted surface and little-to-none runoff area on either side. Off the line, the Duster’s peak torque of 245Nm felt abundant, but as the going got tougher we wished there was more of that twisting force. Nevertheless, the Duster managed to surpass this hurdle without much difficulty.
Also, the Duster comes fitted with hill-start assist that prevents it from rolling back on a slope which proved to be helpful too. Then the Duster’s excellent approach and departure angles were sufficient enough to take on those steep slopes without brushing the bumpers. What impressed us the most was the great low-end torque as it helped maintain a constant speed while climbing as the Duster climbed up the hillock just like a mountain goat.
After revisiting the 2016 CarWale Off-Road Day, we can see that our tests have gotten tougher and more scientific this year. And just like the older Duster on the older course, the new Duster managed to pass with flying colours. Although it is the smallest 4x4 we had, it felt solid, capable, and on many occasions – unstoppable. The much-admired suspension of the Duster is comfortable both on road and off it, and is well-calibrated to take some serious beating as well. Sure it could do with better and sophisticated hardware and some focused tyres as well, but unless you are planning on venturing into a hardcore off-road course, the Duster could just trudge over pretty much everything.
The Duster boasts of good attributes for off-roading like high ground clearance, robust AWD system, independent suspension and comparatively low weight, which makes it a nimble off-roader. Except for really extreme off-road conditions, the Duster can do some well-calculated mud-plugging without breaking a sweat. Although the Duster AWD won’t conquer mountains or wade rivers or make its way into dense woods, it could venture into places where other soft-roaders dare not tread.
Pictures by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi.
Click on the links below to find out how these SUVs fared in our tests.