Come mid-2012, the Duster will be part of Renault’s range in India, sporting the Renault lozenge instead of the Dacia logo it uses in Europe. It could become one of the most important models for the French carmaker in India and erase memories of the Logan debacle, especially since both the Logan and Duster share the same platform.
The Duster isn’t an out-and-out hardcore SUV. At 1695mm in height, it’s not as tall and the Duster isn’t muscular looking either. Still, a purposeful bumper, running board and overtly flared wheel arches hint at the Duster’s SUV pretensions and the large 215/65-R16 tyres give it a high stance, which is good enough for basic off-road duties.
From the side, the low window line rises gently, before getting thrown up by the flush-mounted rear quarter-glass. The tail-lights and the rounded tailgate feels out of place on what is otherwise a simple, yet effective design. 475 litres of luggage space is not that big but the Duster at 1205kg doesn’t weigh as much as an SUV either. Although built on the Logan platform, ground clearance has been increased to a purposeful 210mm and wheelbase has been stretched too by 43mm and is also longer overall (25mm).
Those familiar with the Logan will notice the highly inconvenient placement of the rear power window switches between (and just behind) the front seats. Other ergonomic gaffes are carried over too like the air-con switchgear, whose poor location is made worse by the centre console which oddly slopes at the bottom. However, the Duster feels better built and more upmarket than the Logan. The black dash looks smart and will age better and the silver door handles look more stylish. The plastics though still lack any plushness and the shiny finish makes them look cheap.
The Duster however scores well with its spacious interiors. The driver’s seat gets a two-step height setting for a commanding view of the road ahead. The backseat is also very good, if not better than the Logan. Excellent kneeroom just makes it all the more comfortable to be in, even for the long haul.
The Duster shares the proven K9K 1.5-litre diesel motor with the Logan too however power is up to a useful 107bhp and comes mated to a six-speed gearbox. Once past the 2000rpm mark, the turbocharged motor develops power cleanly, running till the redline without faltering. The rubbery gearshift quality meant that slotting gears in a hurry required some effort and the clutch too was quite heavy on the car we drove, which made negotiating rush-hour traffic hard work. Out on the highway, the Duster’s tall proportions and large frontal area don’t suit high-speed driving.
The Duster has a MacPherson setup at the front and the semi-independent torsion beam suspension at the rear. The ride was supple and pliant and unaffected even with a full load. The high profile tyres would work brilliantly in India, rounding off sharp edges with their tall sidewalls. However, don’t expect the Duster to be a hoot to drive. The soft setup has the Duster rolling a fair bit around corners and this two-wheel-drive version distinctly understeers. The ventilated front discs and rear drum setup offers sufficient braking power to slow things down when required. For proper off-roading duties, the Dacia has a 4x4 variant which should do the job.
The factor that is likely to make the Duster a no-brainer and will turn the tables decisively in its favour is an expected Rs 7-8 lakh price tag. If Renault pulls this off, then the Duster will end up scripting a new and exciting chapter for Renault in its India story.