It is the revised and improved version of the SUV that started the avalanche of compact SUVs in the country; a segment that the Hyundai Creta is currently milking. The Creta had delivered a knockout punch to the Duster not just by winning every comparison test it entered, but by outselling the Renault Duster by a huge margin.The latter isn’t taking this thrashing lying down, and now with its refreshed exterior, improved interior quality, more equipment and crucially, an affordable and efficient automatic gearbox, the Renault Duster is back with a vengeance.
Those anticipating a sea change to the exterior would be disappointed to know that Renault hasn’t fiddled much with the Duster’s design. Yes, the purposeful-looking stance is still there though what’s new for this 2016 model is some garnishing to the bits that matter. The square-ish headlights, for instance, are a lot busier now and feature multiple sharp creases and the front bumper, too, is equally refreshed with dollops of brushed silver cladding.
Never is a major facelift complete without a newer set of alloy wheels and for the Duster, Renault has opted for a 5-spoke blacked-out design that seems to have been inspired from those good old die-cast models from Hot Wheels.
The new Duster also gets chunky-looking roof rails, different wing mirrors and a revised taillight cluster with funky detailing. While these new taillights retain the basic shape of the old units, they do look rather nice when lit up. Rounding off the changes, there’s a new colour option as seen on the car here. Called Cayenne orange, this shade really brings out the taut and beefy lines of the Duster.
The interior too is familiar but the upgrades and changes made do go a long way in making it a lot more user friendly. For starters the ridiculous ORVM adjustment switch is no longer below the handbrake and has now found a new position on the driver’s side. There are also a set of new AC vents which get a lovely contrast surround option on a few select variants. The new centre console is smart and not overdone in any way.
The Duster also gets climate control now but the touchscreen infotainment system is pretty much similar to what we got earlier. That said, the screen position has been moved slightly lower than before making it difficult to read the map at a quick glance or do simple acts like playing a new song or choosing another radio station. The quality of the plastics too have improved over the early cars but there are still niggles on certain panels that continue to persist. Other features include cruise control, a reversing camera with parking sensors and GPS navigation which comes as standard on the top of the line variant.
Although Renault has skipped on the leather seat option, the fabric seats do offer a sense of richness with its dual textured. Again, as with the accents on the dashboard, certain variants like the AWD get unique fabrics and colors that do look a lot better. That said, the issue with the driver’s side seat, which tends to rock back and forth when put on its lowest setting still exists as it did on the original Duster and that, in our opinion is frankly unacceptable.
Rear seats are comfortable but do not have a 60/40 folding split. Legspace seems to have improved over the earlier car due to a scooped out front seat and the omission of the rear AC vents. That said, in a market like India, we would have much rather preferred a rear AC system instead of extra few centimeters of legspace.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION ;
As before, the Duster is available with a 104PS, 1.6-litre petrol engine, an 85PS, 1.5-litre diesel and a 110PS, 1.5-litre diesel. Again, front-wheel drive is standard though the 110PS diesel can also be opted with all-wheel drive. What is new is the option of an automated manual transmission or AMT for the 110PS front-wheel drive Duster. Renault calls the system Easy-R (to be read as ‘easier’) and, well, it does make driving in heavy traffic less of a chore.
At mild throttle inputs in average scenarios, automatic gearshifts on the six-speed ’box are timely and largely predictable. Gearshifts aren’t exactly seamless, but unlike the characteristically abrupt shifts of other AMTs, the Duster’s gearbox swaps ratios more progressively. We suspect the K9K 1.5 diesel engine’s relatively heavier flywheel has a smoothening effect. The Duster Automatic is the first AMT to come with hill-start assist too, which allows for safe getaways on an incline.
Where the Duster’s AMT unit does get caught out is when you press down hard on the accelerator, say to overtake. There’s a bit of a delay before the gearbox downshifts to the right gear and in general, there’s no escaping the characteristic AMT ‘head-nod’ or pause in power between gearshifts. Gearshifts are expectantly not as fluid as on the Creta’s more sophisticated torque converter unit, but its safe to say this is the best AMT in the market today.
The Easy-R gearbox does give drivers the option to shift manually too. In manual mode, gearshifts are nicer and what’s good is that the electronics don’t intervene with an upshift right till 5000rpm. This is an important point because it gives you better control especially through corners and on hilly roads.
Earlier Dusters were known for transmitting road shock through the steering wheel and while this has been minimised, there’s still a fair bit of judder that filters through the steering whilst cornering on rough roads. Handling on the whole though is surefooted and predictable and the Duster’s legendary ability to flatten bad roads is just as good. The suspension is one of the highlights on the Duster. While it can come across as a tad stiff at low speeds, it absorbs just about everything at higher speeds. The AWD version gets independent rear suspension that is a touch more supple and sure-footed but, as mentioned, it doesn’t come with an AMT option, which is only reserved for the front-wheel-drive version.
Ride quality of the Duster is also a big plus. The monocoque construction, the rigid chassis and a good match in the 215/65 R16 tyres give the Duster confident handling characteristics on the highway and winding hill roads. The suspension set up includes anti-roll bars at the front and the rear. Though very bad roads momentarily seem to leave the Duster a bit unsettled, the suspension does an excellent job of soaking up most of the challenges that regular roads throw at it. Some amount of road and wind noise seeped into the cabin in the RxL variant I was driving, but that could be a one-off. The noise was absent in the RxZ variant I drove later and I am also told by Renault engineers that considerable work has been done on insulating the cabin.
SAFETY FEATURES ;
The New Renault Duster AMT gets safety features like ABS & EBD, along with brake assist function. There is ESP and hill-start assist too, as well as dual air-bags at the front. It also has central locking, speed sensitive door locking and driver seat belt warning. The New Renault Duster AMT is fairly feature loaded.
The Renault Duster has now got a new lease of life with so many significant updates. It looks younger, gets more appeal and also comes with the convenience of an AMT gearbox. Sure, it lacks the finesse of its direct rival, the Hyundai Creta, but otherwise it is very fun to drive and power is in abundance too. The Renault Duster has positioned itself as a very strong product in the affordable SUV space and with all these enhancements, the vehicle has just improved its own standing in the market.