What is it?
Why I would buy it?
Peppy turbo petrol engine, Rides like a charm
Why I would avoid it?
Dated interiors and feature list
The Renault Duster has been a familiar face in the Indian SUV market for nearly a decade now. In that time, there’s been a facelift, an AWD version and for some time even a diesel AMT. But now the Duster has got its most significant mechanical upgrade in the form of a turbo-petrol engine. It was showcased at the 2020 Indian Auto Expo and comes at a crucial time for the Duster in terms of maintaining its identity in the D-segment compact SUV group.
As it did nearly a decade ago, the Duster stands out for its exterior design. The silhouette of the Duster is still contemporary and is unmistakeable anyway you see it thanks to its heavily flared wheel arches, large chrome grille and funky headlamps. There are some nice looking silver faux bash plate elements in the front and rear while the vertically stacked tail lamps are beautifully split thanks to the design of the indicator lamps.
Because this is the turbo petrol model, the diamond cut wheels get a unique red Renault logo, there are red inserts in the grille and fog lamp housing. Lastly, to let everyone knows your choice of motivation, there’s a turbo logo on the rear hatch door.
How is it on the inside?
The car that we have driven is a top-of-the-line RXZ variant. It gets climate control, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatible infotainment system with a 6.9-inch display, reverse camera, height adjustment for the driver’s seat, start-stop technology, cruise control, audio switches on the steering column and two 12V sockets at both ends of the cabin. Now on paper, this is the minimum standard expected from a car in this part of the market, which the Duster meets….somewhat.
Where the Duster’s exterior design has stood the test of time and looks good even today, the same cannot be said for the cabin. The feature list, as we said earlier, is minimum standard but how it has been packaged shows the age of the car. The quality of plastics used all around is tough and hard-wearing and feels well behind in terms of what the competition offers.
Equally a notch down is the touchscreen system which is the same one used on the Kwid and Triber. This is fine in their segments but here with the competition offering connected car technology and more connectivity options, it is in desperate need of an upgrade. The ergonomics and practicality too are dated with odd things like only a single step for the driver’s seat height adjustment, driver armrest blocking access when lowered, no pockets on the rear doors and an odd placement for both front occupant window controls.
The Duster claws back an advantage in terms of a large glass area, wide second-row seats as well as ample headroom all around. The front seats are equally impressive with good side bolstering and under-thigh support. The 475-litre boot is easy to access and can be expanded significantly with the rear seats folded down.
How does it drive?
Putting the punch in the Renault Duster RXZ 1.3 turbo petrol is a new four-cylinder engine (turbocharged) producing 154bhp/254Nm and can be had with either a six-speed manual or a CVT which in the case of our car is the former. It’s an engine developed among the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance in partnership with Daimler and also does duty in few of the entry-level Mercedes-Benz models. Unveiled in 2018, the engine also does duty in the Nissan Kicks and for both Renault and Nissan replaces the diesel-powered models in the line-up.
Climb in, twist the key and the engine comes to life with a mild but throaty sound. Slip the gearbox into first, get off the clutch and onto the throttle. The car starts to roll forward and just as you go past the 1500rpm mark, you are greeted by a surprising surge of torque as the turbo spools and thrusts you forward. It’s a linear-pull to the 5500rpm redline. You can get to three digits speeds quick and be doing 100kmph in the sixth gear just under the 2000rpm mark. This engine also makes city driving a breeze with quick overtakes completed effortlessly courtesy of some right foot flexing on the throttle. The six-speed gearbox, while notchy in its throws, does complement the engine quite well thanks to the short ratios which make optimum use of the 254Nm of torque and allow you to shift into high gear quickly.
Another place where the Duster has built its reputation is ride quality. Every version of the Duster that we have driven rides flat and this one is no different. The suspension absorbs everything in its path with aplomb sending very little back into the cabin. You would have to go through a really big pothole at a considerable speed to unsettle the occupants in the cabin. That said there is an underlying stiffness to the ride quality which is noticeable due to the vibrations from the steering wheel when you go over a bump.
The power steering is hydraulic assisted which is an experience in its own in this day and age of electric power steering becoming the norm. You can feel a considerable heft as you operate the wheel and it weighs up well when you go fast. However, two things that have not changed is that you still get hard a kickback if you hit a bump mid-corner and you still need to perform 3 and ¾ turns to go from lock to lock, something that becomes evident if you have to make a U-turn in a tight space.
You do get body roll due to the high centre of gravity but as such the Duster is confidence-inspiring enough to keep the driving enthusiast in you alive, more so now thanks to the potent 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine.
Should I buy one?
The new engine has injected life into the Duster and perhaps at a crucial time in the life of India’s first compact SUV. Sure the interiors, ergonomics and refinement feel dated but it looks great, rides really well and more importantly will appeal to the driving enthusiast in you if you want an SUV but also want something fun behind the wheel. What’s more it is priced significantly lower than other equally sized compact SUVs in the D-segment.
Where does it fit in?
The Renault Duster turbo petrol range is priced between Rs 12.27 lakh to Rs 15.82 lakh (on-road Delhi) and is available in five variants. It takes on the likes of the Hyundai Creta, Nissan Kicks, Maruti Suzuki S-Cross and the Kia Seltos.
Photos: Kapil Angane