To say that the Duster is important for Renault would be an understatement. The French carmaker has had an eminently indifferent time in India so far. Its ancient history consists of duds like the Logan, now Mahindra Verito, and three cars - Fluence, Pulse and Koleos - since it split from Mahindra. None of them has set cash registers ringing.
The Duster is Renault's future in India, the product that it hopes will jumpstart its sales. As the first true blue global compact SUV in the country, it sure looks promising.
The Duster is built around the motif of functionality. It is not an inch longer or wider than required, and looks compact and well-packaged. Not for it the overtly butch stance of the Mahindra Scorpio, nor the somewhat effeminate looks of the Skoda Yeti. Thanks to its raised stance and 205-mm ground clearance, it walks the middle path perfectly.
The grille is somewhat reminiscent of the Tata Sumo, though the chrome garnishing and finish are better. Headlamps are not wraparound like in most of today's cars, but are big enough for a big car; 16" tyres and a smallish vertical tail lamp cluster complete the looks.
In some ways, the interiors are the weak point. Based on the Dacia Duster platform of the Logan vintage, the interiors have a similar dull feel. They have tried to spruce it up a bit for India, and it can stand up to the Scorpio, Safari or even the Innova, but compared to sedans like Verna or Vento, it falls flat.
Space is premium, though there is no third row of seats, and the boot is a monstrous 475 litres. Like we said, functionality over flamboyance.
Ride and handling
The Duster comes in with two engine options, a 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre diesel that has two avatars (see box).
We drove the perkier diesel version. Despite the height, handling is impeccable. The suspension is on the hard side to make it stable. Keep it boiling at 1,700 rpm, and the engine is never out of breath. There are six gears and the torque is evenly distributed. Alas, no four-wheel option! If and when it comes, it would make the car too expensive. In terms of driveability, though, the Duster is miles ahead of its SUV competitors and even holds up well against most sedans.
The company claims 19 kmpl for the 110 PS diesel and 20.5 for the 85 ps variant. In real life conditions it should fetch over 15 kmpl - making it more frugal than the Scorpio, the benchmark in the segment right now. Petrol gives about 13 kmpl. But who cares?
The number of cars that have justified the pre-launch hype can be counted on fingertips. The Duster slides right into this bracket. It ticks most of the boxes and gets the basics right, including the price and a 2+2 warranty. At Rs. 8 lakh for a base diesel version, it costs as much as a sedan while offering more versatility and less creature comforts.
It does have its rough edges, like the lack of dual airbags on the 110PS RXL variant that costs Rs. 10 lakh plus. That is a dampener for a company that lays so much stress on quality and safety. Immensely driveable, finally you have a car with which you can have fun on the countryside without breaking it into two.
The Duster has got 7,000-odd bookings in less than 10 days - numbers that would do a Maruti proud. After 5 dark years, Renault seems to have finally arrived.