In my opinion, there’s no higher authority on a car’s ride and stability than my mother. She usually gets car-sick at the mention of the words ‘road’ and ‘trip’ and worse if they are mentioned in sequence. It is testament then to Renault’s chassis engineers’ expertise that not once on the 1,600km road trip from Mumbai to Kerala for Christmas did she even remotely feel green.
As for me, I wasn’t too sure about the Duster. To me, 108bhp sounded a tad inadequate to comfortably lug four adults and a boot full of luggage halfway across the country.
How wrong I was. The 1,000km that lie between Mumbai and Bangalore were comfortably dispatched because the engine has this really nice mid-range that you can surf on all day. That and the flexibility that six gears offer means it made light work of overtaking and, when the road permitted, cruising at triple-digit speeds. I did occasionally wish it had an extra 30bhp (that would have been perfect) but as is, the engine is totally up to the job.
That’s not all that makes the Duster a great travelling car. The boot swallowed no less than five suitcases, the USB port played no less than 1,750 songs, and the air-con didn’t allow us to sweat, not even in Karnataka’s intense mid-day heat.
And of course the engine’s fantastic fuel economy was a huge plus. A full tank (brimmed) is around 62 litres, and the worst range I managed on a full tank was 750km and 11.9kpl. Not bad at all for a fully loaded SUV being given the stick most of the time. In fact, on the return journey to Mumbai, I was alone and 800km to a tank was easy. And it was pedal to the metal since I was alone with no passengers to alarm.
Accompanied by my old friends Mick, Robert and Bruce on the stereo, I made a long, solo journey with little of the fatigue that sets in on road trips in lesser cars.
I do have a few big, nasty complaints about the car though. First, why is the clutch so heavy? In Bangalore’s crawling traffic, my left leg was constantly hurting with the effort. Second, also with the clutch, is that it doesn’t engage progressively. So it’s hard to drive the car smoothly off the line, it’s easy to stall and starting off on a slope requires torturing the clutch as you slip it to get moving.
Third, and most serious, is that the ABS needs a bit more calibration. It cuts in too early on lumpy surfaces and on more than a few occasions, I had my heart in my mouth. Because it cuts in early, you think the car’s not going to stop in time and this is something that needs looking into.
These bad bits aside, I’m totally bowled over by the Duster. Forget the few cheap plastics inside, and forget the ridiculous seat height adjustment. Because these things do little to take away from the fact that the Duster is versatile, it’s priced realistically, it’s capable and is a well-engineered, honest-to-goodness soft-roader. I, for one, am not surprised that it’s our 2013 Car of the Year.
Price Rs 14.61 lakh
Test economy 14.4kpl (overall)
Maintenance costs None