Chennai is a very hot place, ordinarily. But it's an SUV that could turn up the temperature of the auto scene at a time when the auto mart has slowed down considerably. Think of it as an igniter, one that that could help the industry get out of the rut it currently is in. And the one that has just such a task at hand is the Renault Duster.
The smart, yet quirky SUV is heading to a Renault showroom near you, this July and it seems this front-wheel drive only SUV is bound to ruffle more than a few feathers. At 4.3 metres long, it's got the measure of its competition, which for now consists of just the Mahindra Scorpio and the Tata Safari (including the upcoming Safari Storme). Not too small and not too big, the Duster won't be a parking nightmare for sure.
On the outside the Duster grabs your attention. It isn't pretty, but it's go the right elements. Lots of chrome, good presence and chunky alloy wheels, you also get the option of steel pressed wheels on the lower versions.
To know more about the variants, read our story here:
On the inside, there are a raft of changes, including an HVAC unit for the second row on the top variant of the 108 bhp diesel as well as shifting the window controls from the centre console to the door pads. There are splashes of chrome even here. While the colours are sombre, they aren't dull. For instance, you don't have to deal with beige, instead you get a creme coloured trim that doesn't look all that easy to soil. Overall trim material is excellent. The dash is a combination of the creme and black as the trim on the high-end RxZ trim, while it boasts of an audio unit that has USB and aux-in capability. Overall controls are of good quality, though some trim on top of the dash and the door pads itself isn't the best of quality. The dials do look quite neat, though you can't help but notice the similarity with its cousin, the Logan, the car on which it is based.
The five-seat Duster is comfortable with good head room, knee room and leg room; the rear seat passengers only probably complaining of a little less under-thigh support.
Renault will offer three engines – a 1.6-litre, 103 bhp petrol and two power ratings for the 1.5-litre dCI – 84 bhp and 108 bhp. We managed to drive the 1.5 dCi, 108 bhp extensively while getting a brief impression of the 84 bhp. The former is available with a 6-speed manual and the first thing that strikes you is its refinement. Renault India have done some serious work on the NVH, not just with the motor which was first released on the Fluence just two months ago, but also with the car itself. Accelerate hard and there's not much by way of engine drone. Clatter too is well contained. But it's the performance that will put a big smile on your face. The Duster is quick off the blocks, quicker than even the more powerful Mahindra XUV5OO.
Drive peacefully and the clever selection of gear ratios masks the turbo lag rather well. You can slot it into 6th at 55 kph, with the engine just ticking over 1300 rpm and it will pull away neatly with little fuss. A good overall combination between city and highway use. The less powerful 84 bhp is quite nimble too and while it's just a tad slower it's less refined too with more engine clatter emanating on the inside. But trust this engine variant to form the bulk of the sales.
Ride and handling is particularly good. There is little body roll but lots of grip from the 16-inch tyres. Steering is decently weighted and while it doesn't have too much by way of feel, it's positive enough. It's the ride quality that will help it make more friends with a supple yet confident ride, thanks to its McPherson struts up front and torsion beam at the rear. It rides flat and makes some larger SUVs feel wanting.
Renault will have to keep the pricing keen if it intends to make life difficult for the Scorpio and competition like the upcoming Ford EcoSport. The first impressions seem to be that they not only have the product correct but the positioning and strategy in place as well. All told, Renault could have a big winner on its hands.