Renault Duster has been a runaway success for the French car maker in India, ever since it was first launched in 2012. Over the years it has seen a few updates, and has been consistently ranked amongst the top selling models in the action packed compact SUV segment. Its latest update in 2019 has been one of the most significant so far, and we had a chance to play around with the much loved compact SUV for a couple of weeks. The Duster RXZ 110PS AMT dCi Easy-R variant in Mahagony Brown is what we treated ourselves to, and we must say that this one still hasn’t run out of juice. And can hold its own amongst the slew of new entrants in the category.
In terms of design, the Duster hasn’t changed much over the years, and for its die-hard fans, that’s a good thing. At the time of its launch the Duster presented a unique muscular design, with its butch appearance, wide wheel arches and square stance. The most SUV-like in the compact SUV segment. It has become instantly recognisable over the years, and with this latest update, Renault has made little changes to liven things up, while keeping the characteristic design intact.
Upfront, the 2019 Renault Duster gets a reworked projected headlamp design with integrated LED DRLs, a redesigned dual tone body colour bumper, satin chrome door side sill, and a new tri-winged full chrome grille that looks very distinct. All of which adds a certain gloss to its rugged character. The hood is broader, the design is contemporary and the menacing street presence remains intact. In fact, gets even bolder & better. The rest of the car does not see many changes to its appearance, apart from the chrome exhaust pipe finisher and the redesigned diamond cut 16″ alloy wheels, which look sharp and enhances the profile. While these are subtle changes to the exterior, they do lend an air of freshness to the new Renault Duster.
The cabin is more or less the same as the pre-facelift model, although Renault has made some small tweaks. There is a new steering wheel, an ice blue graphic instrument cluster with multi-information display, chrome accents on door handles and other highlights thrown in for good measure. We particularly liked the glazed fabric seat upholstery, which nicely complements the midnight black and stone grey colour harmony of the interior. The icy blue horizontal streak on the dash and the Duster branding over the glove box adds a stroke of contrast to break the design monotony.
In terms of equipment, the Duster comes with automatic climate control, remote keyless entry (but no engine start/ stop), cruise control, speed limiter, a deep cooled glove box, and a pretty decent 4-speaker audio system. The MediaNav touchscreen offers Bluetooth compatibility for audio and telephone control, voice recognition features, USB & Aux-in, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The placement of the USB port is a minor irritant though. It awkwardly sits above the touchscreen which means the cable invariably dangles in front of the screen, obstructing visibility. Keeping the phone secured remains a struggle, and a dedicated flat surface in the central console would have been useful. Ergonomically, we found the Duster’s dash design a bit dated, and the 17.64 cm touchscreen mounted at a low 90 degree angle certainly doesn’t help visibility or access. The cruise control and speed limiter toggle switch is placed under the touchscreen, while the speed setting controls are in the steering. Intuitively, one would expect them to be together. Even the central locking button is placed in the centre and not on the driver’s side door, where one would expect it to be. The Duster may have updated its feature list, but the interior dash design could do with a bit of an overhaul to improve aesthetics and access.
While the build quality feels solid, even the top specced cabin doesn’t exactly feel top notch. A little improvement in materials and some distinct French design accents would be useful in enhancing the overall sense of well being. Having said that, the Duster remains one of the most spacious and comfortable cars in its segment. The commanding driving position, passenger comfort, a great suspension, all work to its advantage. The wide stance translates into more space for three passengers to be comfortably seated at the rear. The rear bench comes with an armrest and cup holders, and the Duster provides superior comfort over long journeys. Where it falls short, is the lack of practical usable cabin storage. It could do with deeper and wider door pockets, larger bottle holders, a smartphone dock, and some other basics. The rear parcel tray helps. Boot space is ample at 475 litres, but limited in flexibility, when it comes to adding more space for cargo. The rear bench doesn’t have a 60:40 split – you either keep it upright, or the entire bench folds down.
Under the hood, our test car had a 1.5L 4-cylinder engine producing 110 BHP of power and 245 Nm of torque, mated to a 6-speed AMT transmission. While the engine is peppy and well balanced in its power delivery, the otherwise sporty driving dynamics is marred by the slow shifting AMT. The transmission is capable while cruising or navigating stop & go traffic in the city, but slow to respond when you wish to push the vehicle harder. While the steering offers great feedback, there is a bit of turbo lag, and the transmission takes its sweet time to downshift and pick up pace. There is also the characteristic head nod because of the jerkiness in the shifts. To juice this one to the max, one would do well to switch to manual mode, which is what we did most often.
The AMT technology does have its limitations and it isn’t really a Duster problem. The transmission technology itself isn’t the most refined. It is a good step-through for those looking to upgrade from manual without paying top dollars for a fully automatic transmission. And if you are good compromising a bit of performance for the convenience of not changing gears, it is well worth it.
Once it gets going, the Duster remains one of the sportiest drives in its segment. The 1.5L diesel engine puts its power down smoothly, and swiftly reaches the 100 km/l mark without much fuss. In terms of driving dynamics, the Duster has always been a solid and reliable car to drive, and the latest version carries forward the legacy. The car feels planted at high speeds, and the suspension is astonishingly good, navigating rumbles and potholes with ease. The ride quality is comfortable and manoeuvring around sharp corners is controlled, without much body roll. However, there’s a fair amount of wind noise that creeps into the cabin, which isn’t very well insulated. The problem is compounded while talking over the phone using the hands free feature. The person at the other end would invariably complain about the background hum.
The one bright spot about the Renault Duster however, remains its supreme efficiency. It exceeded our expectations by miles. With 1000+ kms on the odometer over two weeks of city and highway driving combined, our test car returned an astonishing 19 km/l. And with a 50L fuel tank, it offers excellent range for those long road trips.
In terms of safety features, the Renault Duster gets driver and passenger airbags, reverse parking camera and sensors, ABS, EBD with brake assist, hill start assist, speed sensitive door lock, impact sensing door unlock, and engine immobiliser.
Overall, the refreshed Duster carries forward the benchmarks set by the previous generation, and makes it more 2020 ready. Prices start at a very attractive INR 7.99 lacs (ex-showroom), and the top of the line RXZ 110 AMT we drove is priced at INR 12.49 lacs (ex-showroom). For those who look for everyday practicality over weekend adventure pursuits, the addition of the AMT variant makes the new Duster even more attractive. It remains a fantastic family car with its spacious cabin, comfortable ride and fuel efficiency, apart from being a sporty drive with an outstanding road presence.
The 2019 update makes the Renault Duster competition ready, to take the flood of new entrants head on. It has been one of the best compact SUVs out there in the market, and only gets better.