Renault Duster – Test Drive Review.

It has been quite a while since Renault India promised its Indian customers a whole new ‘Urban compact SUV’ experience by bringing its Dacia Duster to our shores. We all have been eagerly awaiting its launch with so much of hype and speculative comments & remarks all over the net . Opening up a whole new segment of 5-seater premium urban SUV, this surely has got some serious competition lying ahead. Finally, keeping up the promise, Duster was launched on 4th July 2012 and we got it on our hands to test it fully only a week later !  As Renault says, it has been thoroughly reworked for Indian tastes and conditions, which delayed its entry a bit, but do you think the wait was worth it?





Well, to begin with, Duster comes only in 4X2 and no 4X4! It boasts the 1.5L diesel mill that does its duty pretty well in all its siblings, Pulse, Fluence, Nissan’s micra, Sunny and good old Logan!



It is just re-tuned to a decent power figure of 110 Bhp and 250Nm of torque for the power crazy ones and a more subtle figure of 85Bhp and 200Nm for the mileage conscious Indian Junta. Arai has tested and claims a mileage figure of 19kmpl for the 110hp and 20.5kmpl for the 85hp duster.  Wait…. Don’t get surprised looking at those meager hatch-like torque figures, after all it’s meant to be a compact urban SUV and not a hardcore SUV!!  And it has also got a petrol sibling too, churning out a good 105 ps and 145Nm from the 1.6L mill which gives an ARAI tested 13.25kmpl efficiency.


The imposing looks from the front is sure to attract eye-balls from everywhere on the road, the meaty grille adorned with Chrome all over and an extra large sized double barrel headlamps give it the macho muscular appeal which any full size SUV has. It has a good 30 degree approach angle which makes entitles it for some mild offroading for the sake of it!  Renault has made good lavish usage of chrome all over, to impress the Indians, a perfect trick which many other companies have successfully tried and tested. The rear end also has a huge chrome strip above the number plate with ‘DUSTER’ embossed on it.



The real size showed only when it was parked besides a pulse, it is surprisingly small compared to other SUV’s around, though it has a good 205 mm of ground clearance, they have kept the height to minimum possible for better handling characteristics and minimal body roll. It is shoed with a 16” boring looking alloy wheels and MRF wanderer tires in the top end rxz variant. It’s sad to notice that they are not provided with rear disc brakes even for the 110 hp top end variant!!  The meaty wheel arches and protruding sill again provide a distinctive SUV aesthetics to it. The door handles look way too big and outdated in style, to add to it, ORVM and door handles are painted in dull silver which ruins the overall good looks ,IMHO (except in white, where it looks good coz it won’t be easily noticed). In a day, where even all hatchbacks comes with integrated ORVM blinkers, it is quite surprising to note that Renault is not providing that even for top variants( talk about cost cutting here)!!  Another feature which they market well is vacuum operated hood opener, no longer playing around with latch mechanism, good.  Going behind, the rear design elements can’t be digested easily by one and all.


As you already know, It is a Five-seater, with an unusually humongous boot space to pack up a full house’s things for a long vacation. The front row of seats looked with decent amount of leg-room, but to be true, the rear leg-room could have been better, pushing it a bit backwards, slightly compromising on the boot space. The Rear AC vents make it even worse for person sitting at the centre.  The front seats was sitting low unlike a Safari/Scorpio and didn’t feel so comfortable to do long drives.



Also, the rear seat comes with a Foldable Arm-Rest cum Cup-Holder unlike other SUV’s.


Even though the clutch travel is not much, it was damn hard to my feet!  To add to the woes, it doesn’t have a dead pedal, which is a real pain during long drives, leave that aside, my left ankles pained after just a 5 km test drive. After getting used to my hydraulic power steering, the super light electronic power steering in duster was a breeze in city traffic but highly doubt its feel good factor in the ghats. The steering had tilt adjustments but no reach adjustments. The placement of steering mounted audio control is what really impressed me, similar to the positioning of paddle shifters, which also felt too god to use. The wiper stalk was placed on right side and light/ indicator stalk was placed to the left of the steering wheel, just like any other European car. The slick 6 speed gearbox is splendid to use and the reverse gear operation is similar to that in old Palio-Pull the knob and slot it. The not so contemporary, subtle looking central console and dash was not what we expected for this mini SUV, especially after we saw how contemporary and beautiful the Fluence’s meter console was. Ok, we understand this is a low cost SUV, as simple as that!! Again, Renault did the home work right, by making everything beige out there, especially for Indian junta, who are excessively fond of beige interiors which imparts a luxury feel into their minds! Coming to the details, a CD player with AM/FM was neatly integrated to the dash, below which lies the controls to the AC…wait, an SUV which costs 13L+ doesn’t have an automatic climate control? The answer again is NO! but they have provided rear AC vents to compensate that.  Moving on, I notice central lock button was awkwardly placed at the centre of the dash and it doesn’t have auto lock feature which almost all hatches now boasts of! Coming down, I see another joystick below the gear knob, no it’s not an i-drive joy stick, it was just the ORVM controls!





Again I noticed another knob down there on the right and upon enquiry, I found it as the knob for “High beam-Low beam shift”, heck, how more inconvenient can one position a knob like that near the bonnet opening knob. Thinking out of the box, it’s a different way to tell us to always drive in low beam, as a responsible road user. Anyways, it is one of the major drawback in designing, i think.


Another nice feature is that the stepney which is kept underneath rear overhang can be pulled out in a jiffy by loosening a single nut at the edge of the boot.



For the TD, I got the key of an 110hp rxz in my hand which was itching to crank and unleash the beast on the roads. As expected, the engine was noisy as in its counterparts and felt unrefined when it was revved to glory. It needs a better audio system to keep that engine noise out of the cabin. Rolled out in the highway, slotted into second, third, here comes the villain. It’s impossible to overtake without downshifting, turbo lag is killing. The turbo kicks in lately above 2k mark and the sweet spot is exhilarating. It revs its way to 120kmph in no time and I m sure it can cruise in 140+ in highway in sixth gear. But I highly doubt this cruising capability in its 85hp avatar which is very under powered, atleast in paper. The monocoque body shell with anti roll bars in front and rear, helps in a big way to minimize body roll, also the low roof height.



With a turning radius of just 5.2m, it is easy to go around the U turns inside city. As I stated above, the absence of dead pedal bothered me as I m spoilt by that. The spongy brakes didn’t inspire so much confidence, though it was adequate for our roads. But the suspension was well tuned for our roads, as it nicely gobbles up the potholes and stops without much pitching and drama, upon hard braking unlike the other SUVs. The ORVMs provide a decent view of the road all around and it doesn’t feel so big to drive around in the city at all (it’s not that big).





In a nutshell, Duster has created a niche segment of customer base who wish to be a little different on the road. It suits a buyer who is in the market for a sedan but finds this SUV for the price of a sedan! It makes sense to get the 85hp one starting from 7.99L but the top of the line 110hp crosses the 13L barrier for which it is just not just worth. There is a plethora of choices out there at this range, but what makes the difference is the proven international brand name. It definitely can’t address the needs of a real SUV person with this puny 1.5L engine but will surely make a dent in the lion’s den, which is clear from the number of pre bookings which runs into thousands, that Duster is a runaway success like XUV5oo in our country. Renault is positive about bringing a 4X4 variant in near future seeing the success one week after launch.


Anyhow, this segment is in for a complete transformation with an array of mini SUVs lined up, undergoing testings in different parts of the world and can be here soon, hoping for the best.

We’ll soon come up with better reviews and auto news, signing off is AutoPundit Team.
Drive Safe !!! …


TD Vehicle : Renault Trivandrum.
TD & Text : Varun Hariharan.
Photos : Arun Kannan.

Author : Rupesh Jayanarayanan

Rupesh Jayanarayanan (23), An amateur photographer, young entrepreneur and moreover an auto enthusiast. Cars and Bikes became my passion around 13 years ago.But now, more passionate towards super bikes and super cars. A Traveller by passion and an active member of a Pan Indian Biking Community, . This is what i do to keep myself engaged when ever i feel am free. I am an upcoming Blogger too. Catch my tweets - @RJayanarayanan

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Article by Rupesh Jayanarayanan on Thursday, Jul 12th, 2012 at 1:16 pm under categories : Articles,Renault
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