The 2016 Renault 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 outgoing version. Combined with new colour options, the Renault Duster will come the silver skid plates and black schemes for the lower section of the compact SUV and new gun metal alloys that look very sporty. The ‘Kayak Roof Rails’ on the face-lifted version do add more SUV-ish character to the vehicle.
The interior of the outgoing version didn't quite cut-the-slack' and was very dull. The face-lift, however, is better with a combination of beige and dark brown 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 complementing the characteristics of the car.
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 is very comfortable and can be termed as a great vehicle to be chauffeured around in. Good under-thigh and back support make long hauls really comfortable. That in no way means seating comfort for the driver and co-driver have been compromised. Both rows carry you in extreme ease 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 aids offered by the company would be a slight task.
The infotainment on the new Duster has a refreshed 'MediaNav' navigation system 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 the AMT which is available only with 2WD drivetrain, comes equipped with steering mounted cruise controls for the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment unit. The phone controls,however, are placed in a separate switchgear and are mounted on the column behind the steering 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 being behind the wheel of the car, that the driver would get used to them.
Coupled with a rear view camera with parking sensors, the infotainment unit aids to stationing of the rather wide SUV with ease. Coming over to the rear end, the boot space of the Duster is very generous and can swallow up a good amount of luggage over long hauls. While it is comfortable for four adults, seating three in the rear bench may have a little intrusion for the centre passenger due to the high placement of the transmission tunnel. 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.
The workhorse units in both fuel options remains unchanged and 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 respectively (The 85PS version on petrol and diesel gets a five-speed and 110 PS version gets a six-speed). 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 pure automatic transmission (reference here is to a torque convertor or a dual-transmission) but a manual converted to one. So, the refinement levels will not be as good. That said, the gearbox is reasonably smooth as we found out during a claustrophobic evening traffic. Gear changes with a light foot were seamless, but jerkiness is more pronounced with a heavy input.
The 1.5-litre dCi THP unit has a rated 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. The six-speed unit has a very good low and mid-range, but that said, 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.
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 that said, NVH is well under control for its segment. Another nice addition is an ECO mode - a switch placed under the HVAC unit that reduces engine responsiveness and 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 shy of the two-tonne gross weight mark.
The compact SUV feels rock solid at high straightline speeds and when thrown into a corner. That said, there will be considerable intrusion of the stability program function that would want you to either slow down while negotiating hard turns which we would not recommend. The interference from the system is not much but there is a pronounced feel in the steering feedback and there will be reduced confidence to negotiate turns at those speeds. In the all-wheel format, there is a switch to turn the traction control and electronic stability off, 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 of the size of craters with no effort. There is negligible feel in the cabin about any undulations on the road.
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 McPherson is used at the front and Multilink at the rear.
Barring the base diesel version, rest of the trims of the Renault Duster come with Anti-locking Braking System (ABS) with EBD & Brake Assist and 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.
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 others 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.
Renault Duster AMT First Drive Review