Ever since the Fiery Red Duster dCi 110 entered our fleet last month, it’s been pressed into long-distance duty. Two round trips to Mahabaleshwar from Mumbai and a couple of trips to Pune have put over 2000km on the odo in the space of a few weeks. There’s nothing like a long drive to intimately get to know a car and we’ve already warmed to the honest, no-nonsense character of Renault’s hot-selling SUV. In fact, it’s not hard to see why the Duster is so incredibly popular. It’s not just the price (which is creeping up, by the way), but its sheer practicality that makes it such a good all-purpose tool. And driving this point home is not just the fantastic fuel economy, which makes the Duster the most fuel-efficient SUV in the country, but the terrific range, thanks to its 50-litre tank.
A trip to and from Mahabaleshwar extinguished just three bars on the digital fuel gauge, which suggests a good 720km between refills is possible. Regular Mahabaleshwar visitors will find this a boon, because attempting to tank up at the hill station is a good way to spoil your holiday. The only two pumps in the vicinity are usually dry, and if they aren’t, there’s a queue long enough to make you miss your evening walk. You would expect the compact 1.5 K9K to sip diesel efficiently, but you wouldn’t expect it to cruise with the ease of a 2.0-litre motor. That’s exactly what the Duster does.
Once it gets into the meat of its powerband (between 2000 and 4000rpm) the Duster is a fantastic sprinter, and it gobbled up the 94km Mumbai-Pune expressway without a fuss. On the highway, there’s adequate overtaking poke and you don’t need to use the six-speed gearbox too frequently. It’s when you take a right turn to Wai off the Pune-Bangalore highway and start the climb up to Panchgani that you feel the lack of low-end grunt typical of a small-displacement engine. On the ghat roads, you need to use the gearbox a fair bit to ensure that the engine doesn’t go off boost. Even so, you can’t power out of bends with ease, and whilst overtaking on these twisty roads with blind corners, the Duster doesn’t feel as effortless to drive as on the highway.
The good thing is that the gearshift, though not very precise, has a light and unobtrusive action. But what gives you huge confidence on any road and any surface is the Duster’s phenomenal and unflappable poise. It feels so planted at serious highway speeds and particularly around corners, and this makes it absolutely undemanding. The steering isn’t particularly precise or bristling with feel, but it’s accurate enough to allow you to point the Duster wherever you want it to go. The ride is flat and consistent, and the suspension has very little movement, which simply hides away bad roads. Passengers are not tossed around and, as a result, even after a 4-5 hour drive, they emerge neither shaken nor stirred. But they would’ve liked to have stretched their legs; the Duster is a compact SUV and so not as spacious as, say, the similarly priced XUV500 or Safari Storme. Though the seats are really comfy and offer a nice, upright seating position with good support all round, space in the rear is at a premium.
Hence, on a long trip, what eventually determines comfort for the rear passengers are the two up front, and how far they push their seats back. Fortunately for the tall passenger right behind me, my 5ft,6in frame didn’t make his knees dig into the seatback. The cleverly designed boot, which has no intrusions and a high parcel shelf, is more spacious than its dimensions suggest, which again drives home the amazingly practical nature of the Duster. And that practicality doesn’t end once you hit city limits.
The Duster beats any other SUV in town thanks to its easy handling and the brilliant visibility you get all around. However, we have yet to put the Duster through the urban grind to see how it copes in everyday traffic. Niggles? The handbrake warning light keeps flickering and this is possibly due to some loose contact under the handbrake lever, which we hope to get fixed at the first service. A more serious flaw, and one that can’t be rectified, is the position of the rear power window switch. It’s located rather badly on the armrest, so you often tend to activate it inadvertently when you rest your arm. However, we must remember that the power window switches were retro-engineered onto the Duster, because the original (Dacia) Duster sold in Europe still comes with wind-up windows!
Price: Rs 14.25 lakh (on-road, Mumbai)
Test economy: 14.4kpl (overall)
Maintenance costs: None
Previous reports: None