Introduced in mid-2012, the Renault Duster proved to be a strong product for the French carmaker in India. It gave customers the option to move away from the traditional SUVs without having to compromise on the ability to scale bad roads. Amidst well-settled competition now, the Renault Duster Facelift is the company’s second chance at making the vehicle more relevant. Given that the Duster was a good product to start with, we look at how much better the facelift is. Mind you, it’s not just a redesign exercise!
Renault’s marketing material might make you believe there are over 32 changes, but what’s the most apparent is the revised styling. Up front, the vehicle now wears a Dacia-like grille, comes with new bumpers and lights, and as a result looks better than the outgoing one.
The silhouette remains unchanged. Since Renault didn’t go the sub-four-meter way, the proportions aren’t all over the place like on most sub-compact SUVs. It’s 4.3 meters long, 1.8 meters wide, and 1.695 meters tall (with the new roof rails on).
The new tail lamps do make the rear end a tad more appealing, but that’s nothing a set of aftermarket units couldn’t have done. It must be kept in mind that Renault did the right thing of not messing around with the design.
Keep in mind that there will be an all new product in about a year and a half from now — reported, not yet confirmed.
The new alloy wheels look great while on the move. The Duster continues with 215-section, 16-inch tyres.
Unlike in markets like the UK — where it’s available as a budget offering — the basic styling and almost bare-bones interior weren’t going to last long for the compact SUV.
The doors are light and easy to open/close. They don’t feel sturdy and the plastic insert inside isn’t worth any praise.
The roomy cabin is a plus point for the Duster — as it has always been. The new dashboard does little to uplift the perceived image of the quality, though. The newish Media NAV system works well but neither is the sound quality supreme nor is it feature-laden — lack of Android Auto/Apple CarPlay etc. Reverse parking camera ensures that you don’t have a problem parking the compact SUV in compact parking spaces.
The seats are basic but comfortable. Adjustments are minimal and the driver’s seat height adjuster is a joke. Having said that, the view from the driver’s seat is good, irrespective of the seat height.
The 475 liters of boot space adds to the practicality of the vehicle. The AWD version loses about 65 liters of boot space, measuring (according to Renault) 410 liters.
The auto-AC works well, but the lights might be tacky for some.
Where the Duster thoroughly shines is the ride and handling — the latter on the AWD version with independent suspension.
It soaks up bumps well and remains fairly stable at highway speeds. In terms of handling, it’s still direct and not devoid of feel. Thankfully!
Take the Duster AWD off the tarmac and you’ll be greeted by its immense ability to pull you out of difficult situations without trying too hard — much like the pre-facelift AWD. 210 mm of ground clearance in the AMT (205 mm in case of the regular version) helps that. The angles of approach and departure (30 and 35 degrees respectively) aren’t bad, either.
Turn the AWD selector to 4WD Lock when you’re in for some real action. Having said that, it’s a FWD platform, so don’t expect the rear to step out as often as it would in a RWD vehicle.
The 1.5-liter diesel engine (both on the AWD and the AMT version) makes 110 PS and 245 Nm of torque. In the former it comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, which slots in fine and does the job well. Although it lacks finesse, the widespread torque enables fewer gear changes.
Talking of gear change, the biggest inclusion on the Duster Facelift is the AMT gearbox. Called Easy-R in Renault speak, the gearbox is a six-speed unit and is available only on the top-spec diesel engine.
Like most AMTs, it takes some getting used to, but once acquainted with the gearbox, it becomes easy to make it work. Apart from the ability to change gears manually, the gearbox also offers features like hill hold etc.
Under full throttle, the kick down can be a tad irritating, but like all AMTs, this one requires you to work with the gearbox rather than make it work for you. Don’t get me wrong. The shift quality is good — shifts are almost non-perceivable — and if you lift off while shifting manually, it works really well.
There’s no ‘P’ mode in the gearbox, but if you accidentally put in ‘D’ without depressing the brake pedal, it keeps the vehicle in neutral.
What we like:
The ride and handling balance is yet to bettered by the competition.
The engine is punchy and remains to be one of the strongest, albeit noisy performers. The fact that you don’t have to lift the bonnet by yourself is a plus point, too.
The AWD is very potent, thus making the Duster a very versatile vehicle. The AMT, on the other hand, is easily one of the best units in India.
The styling and interior updates are relevant and make the Duster a stronger offering than before.
What we dislike:
The Duster has a long way to go before it can compete with rivals in terms of fit, finish, and features. AMT on a Duster with independent suspension (from the AWD version) is very close to the dream combination. Sadly the regular version feels a bit loose.
The Easy-R AMT is priced at Rs 11.67 lakh onwards, and the Duster AWD now comes for Rs 13.57 lakh onwards. The Duster range starts with a 1.6-liter petrol version priced at Rs 8.47 lakh. A 1.5-liter diesel engined variant (albeit in a lower 85 PS tune) is next up in the line-up and is priced at Rs onwards.
Hyundai Creta — Duster’s main rival — is priced at Rs 8.87 lakh onwards. The diesel automatic on the Creta is available for Rs 13.96 lakh, which in comparison to the Duster Easy R is dearer by two and a half lakhs. Needless to mention it does bring a lot of useful features, too, but if you’re on a budget, the Easy R is the easier to choose here.
As for the AWD, it’s the most competent compact SUV out there. It offers an almost-car-like handling but can be pretty handy off road, too. While full-size SUVs struggle with corners, the Duster AWD eats them up. And the best bit? It’s driveable in the city too, making it our pick of the lot.