Renault may not be the first name you think of when it comes to SUVs, but its new Duster is reason enough to get you interested. The Duster is available with a 102.5bhp petrol, a 84bhp diesel engine and a more powerful 108.5bhp diesel model.
For the Rs 9.99-11.29 lakh Renault is asking, you could also have yourself a Mahindra Scorpio. It may be a decade old, but it remains a proven and popular choice among SUV buyers. So which one is better?
Displacing 1461cc, the 108.5bhp Duster engine is a whole size down on the Scorpio’s 2179cc 120bhp powerplant. But despite the displacement and power deficits, the front-wheel-drive Duster is significantly faster than the Scorpio from 0-100kph. It is also faster in the 20-80kph in third gear and 40-100kph in fourth gear slogs that are good indicators of driveability. At 1850kg, the extra half tonne weighs the Scorpio down.
But performance numbers aside, the rear-wheel-drive Scorpio actually feels a bit better to drive. Power delivery is very linear, but what makes the difference in city traffic is the ample pulling power that is available from as low as 1200rpm. This, along with the broad spread of power and well-chosen gear ratios, makes the engine very flexible. As a corollary, you also have to make fewer gear changes, which is a good thing, because the Scorpio’s gearbox is quite notchy to use.
The Duster uses a six-speed gearbox to the Scorpio’s five. The additional ratio makes the Renault a more relaxed cruiser and enables it to deliver better fuel economy out on the highway. While gearshift quality is better than the Scorpio’s, gear changes are still not very precise. Also, the Duster’s clutch is heavier than the Mahindra’s and does get tiring to operate in stop-go traffic.
Unlike the Scorpio, the Duster feels a bit weak at lower revs but still has sufficient power for everyday driving conditions. The engine tends to get bogged down on uphill roads so you will need to keep shuffling between third and second gears to maintain momentum. And it is for this you need to keep the revs between 2000-4000rpm to get the most out of this engine.
An area where the Duster trails the Scorpio is engine refinement. The Scorpio remains reasonably quiet at all speeds, while the Duster’s motor gets progressively louder as revs rise.
Ride and Handling
The Duster's ride comfort is simply exceptional. The way it simply glides over the worst of potholes is remarkable, even by typical mid-size saloon car standards. High-speed manners are good too, with no undue vertical movements and fine straight-line stability. The Scorpio feels nowhere near as absorbent as the Duster at low speeds, with a pronounced thud felt over sharper bumps. The choppy ride also means middle and third-row passengers get tossed about quite a bit. At highway speeds, there is always a good amount of bobbing and pitching on all but the smoothest of surfaces.
Sudden changes in direction unsettle the high centre-of-gravity Scorpio. The steering is not very precise either and is a touch too light for high-speed driving. The Duster may not be very exciting to drive either, but its lower stance and car-like chassis give it far better dynamics than the Scorpio.
Both SUVs come with steerings that are light enough at low speeds, which helps when making your way through crowded city roads. But the Duster’s smaller dimensions and tighter turning circle make it more manoeuvrable, especially in tight parking spots.
Also read: Renault Duster review, test drive
What are they like inside?
The decade-old Scorpio’s dashboard design looks a tad basic, many buttons look downmarket and the overall levels of fit and finish are a notch below modern standards too. In comparison, the Duster’s cabin looks more contemporary. The dashboard may not win you over with its styling, but it is functional with two useable recesses and a deep glovebox. However, all plastics are hard to the touch and even the grain is something you’d expect in a budget hatchback and not an SUV that costs upwards of Rs 10 lakh. Quirks like the positioning of the electric mirror adjust under the handbrake and audio controls on the steering column (and hence out of sight) that take time getting used to.
That’s not to say the Scorpio cabin is free from its own ergonomic flaws. The oddly shaped central vents have very limited movement so you can’t direct air flow beyond a point and the air-con control knobs also feel quite flimsy.
The Duster offers sufficient head and legroom for all passengers and the cabin is also wide enough to seat three medium-sized adults abreast on the rear seat. However, the tall, tower-like rear air-con unit does eat into middle-passenger legroom. Thanks to its larger glass area, the Scorpio’s cabin feels a bit airier than the Duster’s, though in real terms, the two are comparable for space. There is ample room for the Scorpio’s front passengers while the second-row occupants have the option to increase legroom by sliding the seat back. But for seat comfort, the Duster is the better SUV. Its seats may be flat but they offer great shoulder, back and thigh support. Lumbar-support adjustment allows the driver to alter bolstering for the lower back, though we did find the seat-height adjuster cumbersome to use while seated.
The Scorpio’s comfy driver’s seat does without height or lumbar adjustment, but does get armrests for an added touch of comfort, especially on long drives. On the bench seat version, middle-row occupants have to make do with limited under-thigh support, so if the number of seats is not important, you’d be better off with the optional individual chairs as on our test car. If it is, however, you’ll be happy to know that, while the Duster is designed to seat five, the Scorpio can seat seven or even eight passengers thanks to the inclusion of a third row of seats. The third row may not be particularly comfortable or convenient to access. There’s limited legroom and you’re forced into a ‘knees-up’ seating posture, but it does lend the Scorpio great flexibility, at least for short urban commutes.
Passengers seated in the first two rows will find the lower Duster easier to get in and out of. On the flip side, the Scorpio’s higher-set seats do give a more commanding view of the road ahead, though the last row hampers rear visibility. With all seats in place, there is little room for luggage in the Scorpio. You have the option to fold down and flip forward the last row to make the best use of the Scorpio’s boot, though. Similarly, you can fold down the Duster’s single-piece rear seat backrest to increase the boot space from 475 litres to a cargo van-rivalling 1064 litres.
Will they break the bank?
The Duster dci 110’s prices start at Rs 9.99 lakh for the base RxL model going up to Rs 11.29 lakh for the RxZ model. The Scorpio prices range from Rs 7.79 lakh for the base EX trim to Rs 10.8 lakh for the top-spec VLX version. The Duster returned 11.8 kpl in the city to the Scorpio’s 10.6kpl, and it extends this margin on the highway with an impressive 17kpl to the Scorpio’s 13.6kpl.
Yes, it may be ten years old now, but the Scorpio still packs a few punches, not least of which is its engine, which is really responsive and great for both the city and the highway. There’s also the no-nonsense, rugged appearance, which is always a big selling point in the Indian SUV market. However, as tough as it may be, there’s no escaping the fact that the Scorpio is starting to show its age. A lot of the details, inside and out, look quite dated and not very special, the driving dynamics aren’t great and the ride is too bouncy.
And it’s the ride where the Duster makes its biggest case – it simply outclasses the Scorpio. Sure, it’s cabin also doesn’t feel premium enough for the price and its engine is not as refined as the Scorpio’s, but then it is more fuel efficient and better built than the Mahindra. Its compact dimensions also make it better suited to urban use without compromising too much on rugged appeal. The only significant edge the Scorpio has is its extra row of seats, and if that’s not a priority for you, it’s the Duster that you want.