The pioneer of the mid-size SUV in India, an SUV that could tackle broken asphalt with so much ease, and one of the select few that even offered an all-wheel drive option. Yes, that’s how intrinsic the Renault Duster has been in the Indian automotive scenes and for 2020, in the BS6 era which could also be termed as the COVID times, the Duster gets an all-new heart – a 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged mill. Does it pack enough grunt to match the bulbous macho appeal?
Before we get to the driving bits, let’s first address Renault’s attempt to make the Duster look relevant in today’s day and time. You now get red-accents on the front grille, fog lamp housings and the centre cap of the alloys which are now 17-inch diamond-cut wheels. There’s a chunkier exhaust tip, the roof rails get the Duster insignia splashed across in red along with the tailgate and to top it up is the turbo badging on the rear. Inside, you get a sturdy cabin that’s unquestionably starting to show its age, especially when compared to the current hot sellers. Addition of the start/stop function is made evident with the operational switch on the dashboard, a feature that aims at making things economical for the 1.3-litre mill.
Now, this engine is a developmental result of collaborations between the East and the West, and even does duty in some Mercedes-Benz models internationally. As a result, you get a globally acclaimed engine that is clever, smooth and refined and that’s made evident in the Duster the minute you thumb the start…err…twist the key for ignition. This is the moment when you realise the K9K doesn’t live under the hood anymore; it’s this energetic rev-happy engine that fires up to make things very interesting.
I say interesting because the motor is a cracker – 152bhp with torque available from the word go. Since when did grocery runs demand adrenaline-pumping performance? You can ring it all the way upto the 6,000 mark and the engine has so much thrust throughout the rev band. It’s properly, properly quick, and combined with the six-speed manual you can zip past traffic in absolute control. Addictive. If you want to extract the most from this engine and chassis, pick the manual transmission. It’s a fusion that isn’t being offered on the Korean siblings and that would beckon many petroheads. What an inexpensive orchestration to feel like Tommi Makinen while hammering down an off road trail.
Then there’s that commanding seating position that offers a towering view of the road ahead. You sit nice and high and from behind the wheel it feels like a manly SUV. It handles well around bends and the hydraulic steering provides adequate feedback. The Duster feels surefooted on any terrain and this has always been its prime highlight. That, combined with the eager new engine make it a very compelling package for anyone on the prowl to seek purist driving thrills. Okay, the shifts aren’t the smoothest and the gear lever doesn’t wear a fancy knob but look around and you’ll realise just how dated the cabin on the Duster feels. It’s here to wow you by a go-anywhere attitude and that’s what appeals to many.
Now things are very enjoyable till the time you push real hard – the steering, although gives good feedback, is too direct and heavy and passes on vibrations and judders from what’s going underneath. And then there’s the brakes – the Duster begs for discs on the rear. The bite from the existing set up just didn’t feel adequate for a vehicle this powerful or heavy. I’m so used to screens sitting in my line of sight that it feels a bit of a task to operate the infotainment system, which itself is very basic in terms of its offerings and experience. The driver gets an armrest and the passenger – well, their arms can be left dangling around. Rear occupants will definitely express their disappointment on how they expected generous legroom owing to its massive external dimensions. Also missing are rear door pockets and dedicated slots for front passengers to store their phone. Renault should bundle the Duster with a few phone cases I reckon.
But a long feature list and overly flashy exteriors were never the Duster’s attitude. It always wore a serious SUV look and came with the right orientation to tackle our Indian roads. In the real world nothing comes close to keeping up with the Duster’s pace and the new turbo engine makes things even better. It’s lively, it’s punchy, its rev-happy and it’s quite thirsty as well. Traits of a good motor, no? The Duster is a very capable multi-terrain touring vehicle and certainly the one if well-paved roads are hard to come your way.
Engine: 1.3-litre four-cylinder DOHC turbocharged petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission
Fuel tank: 50 litres
Boot space: 475 litres
Tyres: 215/60 R17
Prices: Rs 10.49 lakh onwards (1.3-litre, ex-showroom)