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Renault Duster AWD First Drive Review

What is it?

Why I would buy it?

Pliant ride quality, strong diesel motor and capable off-roader (AWD).

Why I would avoid it?

Cumbersome to drive in city, notchy gearbox and average NVH levels.

What is it?

This is the 2019 Renault Duster AWD, and it brings an air of freshness to the SUV with aesthetic changes to its exteriors and interiors. And as before, it is available with the same engine/drive-train option. But unlike the older model (which was available in the top-spec variant), this one is only available in the mid-spec RXS trim. So, let's see what the new Duster AWD facelift brings to the table.

The Duster has changed the perception of how we look at mid-SUVs, what with its macho looks, bulbous styling and immense road presence. It was always an imposing SUV, and the updated styling further elevates its presence. A larger chunk of the design overhaul has happened at the front. The fascia now features a new three-slat chrome radiator grille, a redesigned bumper with updated fog lamp clusters, and a reworked scuff plate. The headlights, although retain the shape, get revised internals with projector units and the much-needed LED DRLs. That said, Renault should have offered LED headlights to keep-up with the competition.

In profile, the new 17-inch machined alloys are the only giveaways of it being a new model. That said, certain bits like the door handles or the plain-looking ORVMs stick out like a sour thumb. At the rear, changes include a slightly tweaked scuff plate with a black finish and a blacked-out Duster badge. The top-spec RXZ trim also gets a black plastic applique on the tailgate. The chrome lining at the bottom of the tailgate of the pre-facelift model has been given a miss with the new Duster.

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How is it on the inside?

Like the exteriors, the interiors, too, are redone on the new Renault Duster. The dashboard has been tweaked a bit and the chunky D-cut steering wheel feels nice to hold. Renault has done away with the top storage slot, which was quite handy to stow loose cash and other items. Instead, you now get a cooled glove box at the top as well, which replaces the recessed dashboard area on the older model. Then there's the redone central console with a piano black surround and square AC vents. The seven-inch touchscreen system finally gets support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That said, the placement of certain features could have been better. For instance, the display and AC controls are placed lower, which requires the driver to look away from the road to operate its functions. Further, the window control enclosure constantly fiddles with your right leg, and the steering-column-mounted audio controls aren't placed at the most ideal location. All of this might take some time to get used to.

It gets hard plastics all around, and the fit and finish leave a lot to be desired, especially at a price point of over Rs 15 lakhs (on the road). There are rough edges at some places, and a refined cabin would have worked well for the new Duster. That said, the SUV is spacious and the large glass area makes it roomier. The front seats are very comfortable with the right amount of padding and side support. You sit high-up and the view out is good too. However, the Duster AWD misses out on seat height adjustment. And although it is offered on the top-spec RXZ trim, it is painstakingly difficult to operate.

The rear seats are comfortable as ever, and the wider dimensions allow three adults to seat abreast with relative ease. There's ample knee, head and legroom for everyone, and the middle-seat passenger also gets a fixed headrest. You also get a central armrest with twin cup holders. It gets a decently large boot-space capacity of 475-litres and the flat loading lip helps in shoving big suitcases with ease.

In terms of safety net, Renault has you covered with dual front airbags, ABS with EBD and Brake Assist, rear parking sensors, speed alert system and seat belt reminder. The Duster AWD benefits from features like ESP, hill hold control, an intelligent AWD drive-train and an independent suspension setup. However, it misses out on comfort and convenience features like automatic climate control, cruise control, driver seat-height adjustment with lumbar support, rear wiper, fog lamps, and GPS navigation, which are available in the top-of-the-line RXZ trim. And for its price, Renault should have offered some of these features on the AWD version.

How does it drive?

The new Renault Duster AWD uses a 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel motor that develops 108bhp and 245Nm. It is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. The oil burner has some diesel clatter at start-up but settles to a relatively quiet idle. However, you do hear a slight thrum at all times. Off the mark, the motor offers punchy performance. It pulls cleanly and the meat of the power is available in the mid-range. There's enough torque lower down the rev range, which helps in overtaking vehicles in city limits. This is also aided, in no small feat, by the short-geared transmission, although, the first gear feels pointless in the city. And the engine has good highway manners as well. A slight dab on the accelerator is enough to dart the SUV ahead.

However, the driving fun is taken away by the notchy gearbox, which although has short throws, requires a little effort to slot into the gears, and the transitions too, aren’t seamless. Then there's the clutch. It has a long pedal action, is slightly heavy to operate and also feels a bit spongy in feel. The steering is a mixed bag. It is precise and offers good feel and feedback. However, it is cumbersome to use in slow-speed city-driving scenarios, and out on the highway, it sends a sudden kickback if the SUV goes over mid-corners bumps or section joints. NVH levels, too, could have been better as a lot of noise filters into the cabin, and you can hear the engine, suspension and tyres working.

The ride and handling, though, is top-class in the segment. The slightly firmer suspension setup feels a bit stiff at low-speeds but absorbs road undulations brilliantly. And the way it just smothers bigger potholes and broken roads is commendable. The Duster remains unfazed by the worst of the roads. A special mention here goes to the independent suspension setup on the Duster AWD.

While the Duster AWD has good on-road manners, it is seriously capable off-road too. And testimony to this is the recent 2019 CarWale Off-Road Day, where the Duster shined in most of the tests. The intelligent AWD system and the well-judged suspension helps in navigating through the slushy terrains and off-road trails without breaking into a sweat. Also, the low weight and quick steering aids manoeuvring past obstacles with ease. If only it had a more powerful engine, climbing steep gradients and crests wouldn’t have been a task for this French SUV.

Should I buy one?

So, there you have it. The Renault Duster AWD was always a formidable package that offered a robust build, macho looks and a mature ride. The 2019 update brings cosmetic upgrades to the SUV to keep it relevant against the rising competition. And although it isn’t tech-loaded or polished as the competition, it makes an excellent case for itself as a capable off-roader mid-SUV in a sea of crossovers.

Where does it fit in?

The Renault Duster AWD retails at Rs 12.55 lakhs (ex-showroom India), and it is the only offering in its segment to get an AWD option. The other option you have is the Mahindra Scorpio 4WD, which isn’t a direct rival and is priced Rs 4.5 lakhs over the Duster AWD.

Pictures by Kapil Angane

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Renault Duster Price in India

CityOn-Road Prices
Mumbai₹ 9.37 Lakhs onwards
Bangalore₹ 9.66 Lakhs onwards
New Delhi₹ 9.27 Lakhs onwards
Pune₹ 9.37 Lakhs onwards
Hyderabad₹ 9.44 Lakhs onwards
Ahmedabad₹ 8.97 Lakhs onwards
Chennai₹ 9.43 Lakhs onwards
Kolkata₹ 9.1 Lakhs onwards
Chandigarh₹ 9.01 Lakhs onwards
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