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Renault Duster AMT First Drive Review: Enter Sandman! Again

  • Mar 15, 2016
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[caption id="attachment_19891" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster AMT Exterior Angle The Face-lifted Renault Duster carries the same design cues over its outgoing version[/caption]

Flying is a serious business! The idea of the cruising over 35,000 feet above sea level is intimidating to the ones who like to keep their feet on the ground. Aviophobia is very rare, but I may be suffering from it. So, we received an invite from Renault India to test out the face-lifted version of the Duster's flagship model, the AWD, and their newly introduced Easy-R automated manual transmission to Pune (which meant I was taking a flight). The drive was from the said location to the hustle bustle of Vashi via the famous Pune-Mumbai expressway.

So, has the Duster really changed? Is the new AMT version going to be very convenient to use? Will it have similar jerks while changing gears? Is it a worry for its rivals? These were the few questions I had in my mind while going for the drive, did I get all the answers? Let’s find out.

Exteriors

[caption id="attachment_19892" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster AMT Headlight Headlights of the updated Duster gets 'Hawk-eye' design that looks modern and striking[/caption]

The Duster retains its simplistic yet brawny design cues from the outgoing model. The broad shoulder lines, aggressive front fascia and a no-nonsense rear has been untouched. That said, the earlier version did look dated. So, new headlamp and taillamp clusters with decent chrome elements thrown in on the radiator grille and the rear, contrasting skid plates, blackened-out fog lamps and rear reflector housings really compliment the SUV and add more colour on the rather dull paint job in the previous version.

Speaking about paint schemes, the French car maker has introduced some very interesting colours to the Duster's list. Our best picks were the 'Cayenne Orange' and a rather wacky 'Amazon Green' paint job. This will come with silver skid plates and black schemes for the lower section of the compact SUV and make it an enticing buy. Adding to the entire design cue are the new gun metal alloys that look very sporty and further induce off-roading credentials, in terms of design, to the Duster buyers. We must add that the ‘Kayak Roof Rails’ on the facelifted version do add more SUV-ish character to the vehicle.

All said and done, the Duster exudes simplicity yet being contemporary in its design and looks rather good.
Interiors

[caption id="attachment_19893" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster AMT Interior Shot The Renault Duster's interior is refreshed over the earlier version's dull colour scheme[/caption]

This is where the earlier version did not quite cut it with buyers of this segment and was very dull. The facelift, however, is better with a combination of beige, dark brown and piano black on the dashboard with silver accents for the centre console and a little bit of chrome thrown in to add a more premium feel. Plastic quality is better and the steering is even more chunkier to hold, thanks to leather wrapping that complements the characteristics of the SUV.

While the dashboard has a lot of action going on with the immense combination of colours and metal, the seats on the other hand are rather simple, well bolstered and can seat four adults comfortably. Riding in the second row for a while, I realised how comfortable this SUV is and can be termed as a great vehicle to be chauffeured around in. I could not feel the gear changes with a light input from the driver. Good under-thigh and back support make long hauls a breeze. That in no way means seating comfort for the driver and co-driver have been compromised. Both rows carry you in extreme comfort and driving position is well placed with good all-round visibility. The rear glass, though, is relatively small and reversing into a tight spot without parking aids offered by the company would be a slight task.

[caption id="attachment_19894" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster AMT Infotainment Unit The Touchscreen Infotainment Unit is available only on the RxZ trim in AMT and AWD guise[/caption]

Infotainment system on the new Duster has a refreshed 'MediaNav' unit that is very intuitive and extremely easy to use. Icons are rather big and fairly visible even while sitting at the rear bench. The top-spec version (AWD) and AMT, which is available only with 2WD drivetrain, comes equipped with steering mounted audio controls for the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment unit. It does take some time for getting used to as the phone controls are placed in a separate switchgear behind the steering wheel, while the cruise and volume control units are neatly placed on each side spoke of the wheel. Indicator/headlamp and wiper controls are reversed because the system stays the same for right hand driven cars, but it is just a matter of being behind the wheel of the car for the driver to get used to them.

The infotainment is coupled with a rear view camera with parking sensors to aid stationing of the rather wide SUV with ease. Coming over to the rear end, the boot space of the Duster is very generous. With a couple of tripods and eight strolleys, there was no struggle as the ginormous boot swallowed up everything without any luggage being accommodated in the cabin and the four passengers journeyed on comfortably.

[caption id="attachment_19895" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster AMT Front Seats The Renault Duster has unchanged dimensions and has enough room for four adults[/caption]

While it is comfortable for four adults, seating three in the rear bench would be slight squeeze due to the protruding transmission tunnel. So, the Duster is a fit companion for a small nuclear family of four. Talking more about the space, you get a lot of cubbyholes to store your knick-knacks with bottle holders in front doors, space to keep your phone, wallet, etc. behind the gear lever, above the AC vent and glovebox. Front and rear rows get their individual charging points, but charging of your device in the second row is done through the port provided on the left edge of the parcel tray (we just made looking for this port easier for you).

Engine & Transmission

[caption id="attachment_19896" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster Diesel Engine Diesel unit of the Renault Duster comes in two states of tune namely a 110PS and a downtuned 85PS power[/caption]

'If it ain't broken, don't fix', that’s what Renault India followed with the new Duster facelift. The workhorse units in both fuel options remains unchanged with the oil-burner being the major player in this segment. The AMT unit has been offered by Renault in the diesel guise only with a 110PS configuration that we tested. There are two states of tune in the aforementioned engine namely an 85PS power version and a more powerful one pointed earlier. Both the engines get options of a 5- and a 6-speed manual transmission. The AMT is the country's first to have six-gears to the diesel engine and both compliment each other very well. However, one must consider the fact that this is not an automatic transmission but a manual converted to one. So, the refinement levels will not be as good. Nonetheless, the gearbox is reasonably smooth as we found out during a claustrophobic Pune evening traffic. Gear changes with a light foot were seamless, but jerkiness is more pronounced with even a slight-heavy input.

The 1.5-litre dCi THP diesel unit is capable of reaching a top speed of slightly over 160 kilometres to an hour (limited). A very reasonable speed considering the Duster in its AMT guise is rather heavy (1,806 kilograms). The six-speed unit has a very good low and mid-range, but there is no point of revving this compact SUV hard. Shifting to the manual mode on the move in this unit is also seamless in case you want the feel of changing gears yourself. Pull back to shift up a gear and push to downshift.

[caption id="attachment_19897" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster AMT Front Action Shot The Renault Duster AMT has good highway mannerisms and descent slow speed capabilities with[/caption]

Out on the highway, the vehicle did three digit speeds while cruising on the Mumbai-Pune expressway with excellent high speed mannerisms. One grouse here was the high wind noise, but overall NVH levels are well controlled in this segment.

Another nice addition is an ECO mode - a switch placed under the HVAC unit that reduces engine responsiveness and according to the company, improves fuel economy by almost 10%. The rated fuel efficiency for the AMT version is 19.6 kilometres per litre which is impressive considering the Duster being a little shy of the two-tonne weight mark.

Ride & Handling

[caption id="attachment_19898" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster AMT Rear Angle Action Shot The updated Renault Duster looks contemporary from the rear as well[/caption]

This department has been the strongest suites of the Duster. And the setup remains unchanged for the face-lift. The compact SUV feels rock solid at high straightline speeds and when thrown into a corner. However, there is considerable intrusion of the stability program function that would want you to either slow down, even at 65 kilometres an hour on the highway while taking hard turns. The interference from the system is not much but there is a pronounced feel in the steering feedback and driver's confidence to negotiate turns at considerable speeds are hampered.

In the all-wheel format, there is a switch to turn the traction control and electronic stability off (which automatically turns back on if it realises the car is slipping), but for the AMT, this system is always on. Coming to the ride quality, it is extremely comfortable on all four seats with a commanding position and great visibility to the driver and passengers. Add the immense ground clearance offered by the Duster to it, what you get is a package that can gobble up pot-holes the size of craters with no effort. There is negligible feel in the cabin of any undulations on the road.

[caption id="attachment_19899" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster AMT The Renault Duster, especially in its all-wheel drive makes driving over such terrains a ridicule[/caption]

This is courtesy Independent MacPherson strut with coil spring up front and Trailing arm with coil springs and double acting shock absorber at the rear. The top-trim all-wheel drive is more planted since a separate setup of Independent Pseudo MacPherson is used at the front and a Multilink at the rear.

Safety

[caption id="attachment_19900" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster Steering Wheel The Renault Duster gets Driver Airbag as standard from the base diesel variant[/caption]

Renault has taken this aspect very seriously and Anti-locking Braking System (ABS) with EBD & Brake Assist is standard across its range except the base (standard) petrol powered variant. Driver airbag starts from the RxL trim and the top-spec gets dual front ones. Electronic Stability Program is also present in the AMT version of the RxL variant and the top end RxZ trim.

On the whole, with gaining consciousness amongst car makers to employ more safety features as standard, this is a very good move and the RxL trim in an automated manual transmission option makes perfect sense. Although, you do miss out on a co-driver airbag and some other convenience bits like the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system and reverse parking camera with sensors and line guides.

 

[caption id="attachment_19901" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster AMT Steering Mounted Phone Controls Steering mounted controls and switchgears take some time getting used to due to unusual placements[/caption]

One feature that we feel is unsafe are the doors unlocking at any speed in a single pull of the door knob. In case there is a toddler travelling, it is quite dangerous, so the child lock has to be engaged at all costs. However, this is a personal outtake and may differ for various prospects and users of the Duster.

Verdict

[caption id="attachment_19902" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Renault Duster AMT Rear Angle Shot The Renault Duster AMT looks modern yet brawny from every angle[/caption]

The crucial question is, undoubtedly, with the entry of the country’s first six-speed AMT, is it good enough to upset other rivals in its segment or cripple sales of other categories as well? The Duster AMT is a well packaged product with modern styling and a much brighter interior seems like a good buy. But, do take note that this is not a fully blown autobox with a dual clutch or CVT or torque convertor, but a manual transmission converted to an automated version. It will have the jerkiness like any other AMT offered in the automotive market, but is a blessing in disguise for stop and go traffic and decent high speed mannerisms.

With a starting price of the Renault Duster AMT at Rs 11.67 lakhs, ex-showroom, Delhi, for the RxL trim is a significant difference from the only other option with an automatic transmission in this segment - The Hyundai Creta that is priced at Rs 14.39 lakhs, ex-showroom and available only in a top trim. Although the Creta has a proper automatic transmission that is more engaging to drive, the Renault Duster AMT has the advantage of a mouth-watering price tag (for an automatic SUV). If you are the one who considers convenience over outright performance, the Renault Duster does tick all the right boxes.

Although the market for petrol powered Duster Standard variant is limited, but the starting price for this compact SUV is at a competitive Rs 8.47 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi.

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