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Duster now good for off-roading too

Renault’s SUV has little competition as an all-rounder for the city as well as the occasional foray into the wilds

autos Updated: Dec 05, 2014 10:33 IST
Sumant Banerji
Sumant Banerji
Hindustan Times

When Renault launched the Duster in mid 2012, it virtually changed the dynamics of the domestic automobile industry by opening up the compact sports utility vehicle segment and reviving the French carmaker’s fortunes. Yet the term is a misnomer. Neither is the Duster — at 4.3 metres — very compact and sans the all-wheel drive (AWD), nor is it really an SUV. It did pretend to be one and consumers bought the pretence. With the launch of the all wheel drive version, though, the age of pretence is over. It also comes at a time when sales of the Duster are flagging. Can this spur a rebound?

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The vehicle’s monocoque architecture makes the Duster lighter, giving it with a car-like feel that is not very domineering. At the same time, it has the ground presence that a certain type of people crave for. Unlike the Scorpio or the Safari Storme, it has space for 5 only but the two additional seats in those vehicles are nothing to write home about.

Very little has changed with the AWD version as far as design or styling is concerned. Some of the very minor changes include smoked finish on the headlamps, darker shade of alloys, blackened B-pillars and sundry AWD badging here and there. Even with these, the Nissan Terrano — Duster’s cross-badged sibling — is a better looking vehicle.

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Renault has also passed up the opportunity to improve the cabin of the Duster. Besides a change in colour combination from beige -silver in the twowheel drive (2WD) version to black-grey in AWD and some tweaking with the instrument console and steering wheel, there isn’t much difference. Sadly, the quality of plastic remains bad and the cabin continues to have a dull dated feel to it that does not befit a car that costs over a million bucks.
The more significant changes of course are in the chassis beneath the floor. Alongwith the all-wheel drive system that enhances the car’s performance on less than perfect roads, it also car gets multi-link rear suspension that greatly enhances ride quality. The new set-up has resulted in an increase in ground clearance by 5mm while the spare wheel is now tucked within the boot and not strapped on to the undercarriage like in the 2WD variant.

Offered only in the peppier 110 PS version with the 1.5 litre diesel engine, this is a proper soft-roader perfectly at ease in city and highway and can hold its own when the nature calls. The engine has been re-calibrated in line with the changed demeanor of the vehicle resulting in reduced turbo-lag and making the ride peppier. Without being a very fast car the AWD can definitely outlap the Scorpios and Safaris of the world.

It will not appeal to the serious off-road junkies but they too will only be satiated by a Jeep or a Gypsy. Priced on the higher side, Duster AWD lacks the aesthetic appeal to match the price but without much competition and with the backing of so much technology, it is the only car for those who want a vehicle that is a beast in the off-beaten track but a domesticated pet in the confines of the city.

First Published: Dec 05, 2014 10:20 IST