Workhorse. That nicely sums up what Autocar India’s Renault Duster has evolved into after its extensive time with us. Don’t get me wrong, we always knew it was up to the task; it’s just that, during its early months with us, it was more of a comfy city commuter that occasionally ventured onto the highway for the odd shoot. Over the 33,000km that we’ve had it though, we’ve found more and more reasons to exploit the U in SUV, like that time Ouseph took it to Kerala and ended up carting 100kg of coffee beans to the market (Autocar India, March 2013).
February was Auto Expo month, and as always, there would be no half-measures for Autocar India. We sent a small army to Greater Noida, and filing those ranks would be reporters, editors, photographers, the video team and even sales and marketing. And with an army must go its armoury – since flying all the equipment up from Mumbai would be tedious and expensive, it was time to send in the workhorse. Video cameras, DSLRs, laptops, microphones, hard drives, wireless routers, bits of the Autocar India stall – all of it stacked neatly into the wide, low-lipped 475-litre boot and driven up to Delhi via Udaipur.
I’d forgotten just how good a highway cruiser the Duster was, and it took but a few kilometres to jog my memory. Remember, there were four people on board, along with their luggage for a week and, on top of all that, a mountain of equipment that would be nothing but dead weight until we delivered it to our stall at the Expo. So if anyone ever tells you that a 1.5-litre diesel engine isn’t enough to haul a seriously fully loaded SUV along the highway, don’t believe them. The 108.5bhp Renault K9K engine and its healthy 25.3kgm of torque made sweet nothing of all our kit, and on Rajasthan’s beautiful highway network we just left it in sixth gear the whole time, dropping down to fifth only to overtake.
Granted, most of the roads on this route are marble-smooth, but the Duster deserves some sort of prize for its chassis and suspension. Neither high-speed lane changes nor medium-speed mountain road meanders could shake its composure even slightly, and it tracked true with at least one passenger in deep slumber at any given time. And even when a surprise pothole did raise its head, the pliant suspension shrugged it off like it was nothing. In fact, our head of video production, Sandeep, whose doctor has all but forbidden long-distance driving thanks to his three slipped discs, says he probably wouldn’t have survived the drive up in any of our other long-termers.
But for all its brilliance on the highway, the Duster’s shortcomings in city conditions reared their ugly heads when we hit Delhi. This is a wide car, particularly in the haunches, and you have to constantly keep an eye on your rearview mirrors when negotiating traffic. And then there’s the clutch on our car – it was quite stiff when we first got the Duster, and it’s only become worse in its time with us. After spending over an hour in one of Delhi’s infamous traffic jams, I found myself hobbling out of the car when we reached our destination.
Finally, just outside Delhi, we noticed that the brakes had started to squeal, and a quick trip to a mechanic revealed that the pads were worn almost to the metal. Now you might recall that we had the brake pads changed in June last year (Autocar India, July 2013), and while we have put the Duster through quite a lot in the 13,000km since then, we still think it’s a bit too soon for a brake pad replacement. For now though, I’m planning our next pan-India trip;
no flights of course.
Price Rs 14.25 lakh (on-road, Mumbai)
Test economy 14.4kpl (overall)
Maintenance costs Brake pads replacement (Rs 3,163)