New Renault Duster review: Armed with auto gearbox to fight Creta

  • Nikhil Bhatia, Autocar
  • Updated: Mar 27, 2016 12:10 IST
The basic design of the Duster has not changed, but an array of tweaks give it a fresh lease of life (Autocar)

The Hyundai Creta took a big bite of the mid-size SUV pie, a pie that was originally baked by the Renault Duster. To bring the attention back to its small SUV, Renault has brought along the facelifted Duster, replete with revised styling, a revamped cabin, a longer equipment list and, for the first time, an automatic gearbox.

The basic design of the Duster has not been changed, but an array of tweaks made here and there give it a fresh look. The grille now features a twin-slat design and the square headlights get more intricate detailing, though you do not get any DRLs (day-time running lights). The front and the rear also get chunky scuff plates, while the sides are adorned with brushed silver cladding. You also get fatter foot-rails with the Duster name embossed on them and new side-view mirrors with integrated turn indicators. It now sits on black alloys. The taillights are re-profiled too and come with distinctive break and S-shaped signature LED lights.

On the inside, the revamped cabin still feels utilitarian, though lesser so as compared to the pre-facelift model. There are now a greater number of silver highlights and chrome bits, coupled with lots of glossy black finish in the centre console. The black and chocolate-brown dual tone scheme is aesthetically better than the erstwhile lighter tones. Quality, on the whole, has taken a step up, but it still lags behind the Creta’s.

Quality, on the whole, has taken a step up, but it still lags behind the Creta’s (Autocar)

The cabin also features other smaller, more subtle changes. The hazard-lights and door-lock buttons now sit higher on the dashboard and the side-view mirror controls have now been moved from under the handbrake to the more conventional position near window switches. However, the cruise control switches and steering column-mounted audio controls are still not very intuitive to find. The new seat fabric feels richer, and the front seats get armrests for better comfort.

In terms of equipment, additions only come in the top-spec Duster RxZ. These include automatic climate control, voice recognition for paired iPhones, a reverse camera and auto up-down for the driver side window. We would have liked a dead pedal, though to rest your left foot.

Engine options remain unchanged. You can get the facelifted Duster with the 104PS 1.6-litre petrol engine, 85PS 1.5-litre diesel engine or 110PS 1.5-litre diesel engine. All engine options come with front-wheel-drive as standard, with the exception of the 110PS diesel engine, which comes with the option of all-wheel-drive.

Engine options remain unchanged (Autocar)

The 110PS front-wheel-drive Duster can be purchased with the optional automated manual transmission (AMT). The system, christened Easy-R by Renault, comes in handy, especially while driving in heavy traffic conditions. In average everyday driving conditions, the gearshifts from the AMT box are predictable but they aren’t seamless, especially when you give the accelerator a quick jab to overtake.

There’s a perceptible pause between gearshifts and this gearbox doesn’t have the smoothness of the Creta’s more sophisticated automatic transmission. However, once you get used to the way the AMT functions, you will love the convenience it offers, especially in bumper-to-bumper driving. Also, this is first AMT to come with hill-assist which allows for easy getaways on inclines.

The ride and handling of the Duster is one of its strengths and continues to be so in the new version. Apart from the a bit steering judder while cornering on bad roads, the well-judged suspension is one of the highlights of the car. At low speeds, the Duster feels nicely firm and takes everything in its stride at high speeds. In fact for stability, especially on rough roads, nothing comes close to the Duster.

The all-wheel-drive variant with its independent rear suspension continues to feel surefooted, though it does not come with an AMT option.

The powertrain received mild tweaks when the AWD drive Duster was launched in 2014 and these have been carried forward into the new car too. The 110PS engine continues to display good pulling power, exhibits lesser turbo lag and feels quieter now. The AMT gearbox dulls the Duster’s performance a little bit, but there is no denying the torquey nature of this engine. You can negate the dulling effect of the AMT gearbox by flicking the gear lever into manual mode. The AMT impresses on the highway too, with the six-gear-configuration allowing easy cruising.

With this update, Renault has addressed many of the Duster’s weaknesses. The cabin now looks plusher than before, and the top-spec variant is more equipment-laden. The design tweaks that come with this facelift have freshened up the exteriors too. Fortunately though, these changes have not tinkered with the Duster’s tough and honest air. Coming to the AMT gearbox – it does not offer the smoothness other types of automatic gearboxes do, but it does provide two-pedal convenience quite well. Moreover, AMT’s do not have any real impact on fuel efficiency. It also brings benefits in terms of cost – the Duster AMT RxL is priced at Rs 11.66 lakh, while the top-spec RxZ costs Rs 12.86 lakh. By contrast, the Creta automatic retails for Rs 13.96 lakh (all prices ex-showroom Delhi). The Duster may not be as sophisticated as the Creta, but its new and broadened appeal equips it to give a good fight.

In partnership with Autocar India

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