Regardless of their eventual fate in the market, Renault’s choices of cars in India have all been interesting. The Logan, Fluence and the Koleos have all catered to a completely different section of customers to the other and each launched to build brand image for the manufacturer. Whether the choice of vehicles and strategy is right, we are not judging just yet. At the Auto Expo Renault is launching the Duster, another interesting choice for a launch. Like the Logan, the Duster too is a rebadged Dacia based on the Logan platform and is Renault’s attempt to bring an affordable SUV in the market. The Duster is designed to be an off road vehicle that offers the space of a utility vehicle but will cost as much as a mid size sedan. If Renault can price it between Rs 7 to 9lakh then the Duster can well take the fight to the likes of the Tata Safari and the Mahindra Scorpio.
Even though the SUV it’s based on the Logan platform the two models look completely different. The Duster is instantly recognized as a genuine 4x4 thanks to the imposing chrome grille and sump guard. Enhancing the rough look are the oversized wheel arches and the large 215/65-R16 tyres. The 210mm ground clearance, short overhangs and protective mouldings are proof of the Duster’s off road capabilities. At the rear Renault has done very little to disguise the fact that the Duster is an affordable SUV and we find black bumpers, big rectangular taillights and an aluminum skid plate.
Built on the Logan platform, the Duster shares many interior details with its sibling. The dash looks similar to the Logan’s and the hard plastics can also be found in the SUV. The instrument cluster is similar to the sedan but the Duster gets a new 3 spoke steering wheel. Though the cabin is plusher than the Logan to look at, the quality indicates at serious cost cutting. The audio system is equipped with Bluetooth and aux input functions, and also available is a leather pack. The overall ergonomics are satisfactory but the controls of the air con are located too low on the central dash and the position makes them hard to reach.
The driving position is high providing a good view of the road but the rear view is limited by the small windshield. The Duster is more spacious than the Logan and this says a lot about the comfort. The rear seats get individual air con vents and the seats offer good back and tight support. The boot has 475-litres of space in the 4x2 version and 408-litres in the 4x4 version. With the rear seats folded forward the available space goes up to 1636-litres.
The Indian variant of the Renault Duster will be powered by the same 1.5-litre diesel engine on the Logan. However, with a few tweaks power on the Duster goes up to 107PS. In other international markets the Duster is available with a six speed manual gearbox and 100kmph is reached in 12.5seconds when in 4WD which is faster than the Safari and the Scorpio. With 240Nm of torque the Duster pulls cleanly and you get good throttle response. The power delivery is also linear but the gearbox feels rubbery. Because of the low end torque and ratio spread, first gear in the 4x4 transmission works without you needing to put your foot on the clutch.
The Duster’s ride could well be the best in the segment. The SUV rides over bumpy road conditions without affecting passengers comfort. The 4x2 version uses the same rear axle as the Logan but the difference between the two vehicles is felt because the Duster’s chassis is strengthened making the SUV more stable than the sedan. A deterrent to the off road capabilities is the limited rear view and the steering doesn’t provide much feedback and body roll is present in the tight corners.
The Tata Safari offers good comfort, has good ride quality and a refined and reasonably performing engine. The vehicle overall refinement isn’t as good and Tata is bringing out the Safari Merlin in 2012. The Mahindra Scorpio has improved considerably over the years but the handling still isn’t its strength. Interior space is limited but the mEagle engine is refined and torquey.
The Dacia Duster is an affordable SUV designed to be both practical and cheap to maintain. The vehicle has surprisingly good off road abilities and the ride quality is excellent. Interior space is good and so is the build quality. The dashboard has generous use of plastic but from the outside the Duster looks like a proper SUV which is sure to go down well with the customers. The engine has good torque and performance is good. It Renault can get the pricing right then the Duster can be a worthy alternative to the Safari and the Scorpio.
Quotes from other reviews
“The Duster shares the proven K9K 1.5-litre diesel motor with the Logan too however power is up to a useful 107bhp and comes mated to a six-speed gearbox. Once past the 2000rpm mark, the turbocharged motor develops power cleanly, running till the redline without faltering. The rubbery gearshift quality meant that slotting gears in a hurry required some effort and the clutch too was quite heavy on the car we drove, which made negotiating rush-hour traffic hard work. Out on the highway, the Duster’s tall proportions and large frontal area don’t suit high-speed driving."