What is it?
With the Hyundai Creta going on to dominate the very segment the Duster pioneered, Renault needed to do something to bring the attention back to its small SUV. So, what you see here, really is Renault’s answer to the Creta. This facelifted Duster gets revised styling, a revamped cabin, more equipment and, for the first time, the option of an automatic gearbox.
In terms of looks, the basic design remains unchanged, but stylistic tweaks here and there do help the Duster look fresh. The square headlights now get more intricate detailing (though there are no DRLs) and there’s a new twin-slat design for the grille as well. There’s a greater dose of brushed silver cladding with chunky scuff plates at the front and rear that seriously enhance the Duster’s SUV credentials. Fatter roof rails with the Duster name embossed on them and new rear view mirrors complete with turn indicators are other elements that help bring the Duster’s appearance up to speed.
The Duster gets new black alloys but the design is quite plain and nowhere near as attractive as the Terrano’s wheels, which is one of the selling points of the Nissan-badged version of the car. Another missed opportunity are the door handles – we just wish the cheap lift-type flaps had made way for pull-type handles. At the rear, the re-profiled tail-lamps get a very distinctive S-shaped LED signature and the brake lights too look unique. Also, our test car came finished in the new shade of Cayenne Orange and the colour sure did its bit to spice up the look.
What is it like on the inside?
Though Renault has made improvements over the years, the Duster’s cabin has always come across as a bit utilitarian. That feeling has reduced, though still not completely gone, thanks to a fresh round of upgrades on this facelifted version. For starters, the new black and chocolate-brown plastics help cover up the rougher edges better than the lighter tones of the earlier Duster. You’ll also notice more silver highlights and a bit more chrome detailing (on the air-con vents, for instance) that help spruce up the cabin. The centre console also gets a lot more gloss-black plastic. On the whole quality has improved, but it's still not at Hyundai levels.
The facelifted Duster also gets embossed branding atop the glovebox, but only those very familiar with the earlier Duster’s cabin will note that the layout of the centre console has been slightly revised. The buttons for the hazard lights and door lock now sit higher up and are more convenient to access. On a related note, the mirror controls that were formerly under the handbrake have been moved to the more traditional position near the window switches, which is more practical. However, the cruise control switches are still scattered between the dash and steering, and the steering column-mounted audio controllers continue to remain out of view. The cumbersome driver’s seat height adjust is also something that should have been improved. The seats themselves are trimmed in richer fabrics and the front pair get armrests for added comfort.
Equipment-wise, only top-spec Duster RxZ versions see some additions. The range-topping versions finally get automatic climate control, though lower trim levels continue with the rudimentary manual setup. The functionality of the touchscreen system on the RxZ versions has also been enhanced with voice recognition for paired iPhones. There’s a new reverse camera too, as well as auto up-down for the driver’s side window. Curiously though, the Duster AMT doesn’t get a dedicated dead pedal even though the footwell is spacious enough to accommodate one.
In terms of space and comfort, this Duster is no different to the pre-facelift version which is no bad thing. The front seat is comfortable and despite its flat contours, the rear seat also offers a good deal of support. There is a plenty of head, leg and shoulder room in the cabin too. As ever, the large boot will be a boon for anyone looking to use their Duster on long out-of-town excursions.
What is it like to drive?
As before, the Duster is available with a 104PS, 1.6-litre petrol engine, an 85PS, 1.5-litre diesel and a 110PS, 1.5-litre diesel. Again, front-wheel drive is standard though the 110PS diesel can also be opted with all-wheel drive. What is new is the option of an automated manual transmission or AMT for the 110PS front-wheel drive Duster. Renault calls the system Easy-R (to be read as ‘easier’) and, well, it does make driving in heavy traffic less of a chore.
At mild throttle inputs in average scenarios, automatic gearshifts on the six-speed ’box are timely and largely predictable. Gearshifts aren’t exactly seamless, but unlike the characteristically abrupt shifts of other AMTs, the Duster’s gearbox swaps ratios more progressively. We suspect the K9K 1.5 diesel engine’s relatively heavier flywheel has a smoothening effect. The Duster Automatic is the first AMT to come with hill-start assist too, which allows for safe getaways on an incline.
Where the Duster’s AMT unit does get caught out is when you press down hard on the accelerator, say to overtake. There’s a bit of a delay before the gearbox downshifts to the right gear and in general, there’s no escaping the characteristic AMT ‘head-nod’ or pause in power between gearshifts. Gearshifts are expectantly not as fluid as on the Creta’s more sophisticated torque converter unit, but its safe to say this is the best AMT in the market today.
The Easy-R gearbox does give drivers the option to shift manually too. In manual mode, gearshifts are nicer and what’s good is that the electronics don’t intervene with an upshift right till 5000rpm. This is an important point because it gives you better control especially through corners and on hilly roads.
Earlier Dusters were known for transmitting road shock through the steering wheel and while this has been minimised, there’s still a fair bit of judder that filters through the steering whilst cornering on rough roads. Handling on the whole though is surefooted and predictable and the Duster’s legendary ability to flatten bad roads is just as good. The suspension is one of the highlights on the Duster. While it can come across as a tad stiff at low speeds, it absorbs just about everything at higher speeds. The AWD version gets independent rear suspension that is a touch more supple and sure-footed but, as mentioned, it doesn’t come with an AMT option, which is only reserved for the front-wheel-drive version.
As for other elements of the driving experience, there are mild improvements to the powertrain. The 110PS engine continues to impress for its good pulling power, but it does run quieter now and the ‘CMO 10’ engine electronic introduced first in the AWD Duster has reduced turbo-lag too. The AMT may have blunted a bit of the Duster’s performance but there’s enough grunt from the torquey engine and, if you flick the nicely finished gearlever to manual mode, overtaking is not a problem. In fact, ironically the AMT feels far better on the highway then it does in the city, as the tall sixth gear allows for easy cruising.
Should I buy one?
With the update, Renault has addressed some of the Duster’s lesser points. The cabin looks that little bit plusher than before and the top-spec versions get more equipment too. And we think you’ll agree the facelift has done its bit to freshen up the design. At the same time, the Duster’s not lost its tough and honest air either.
As for the AMT version, it doesn’t match the smoothness of a torque converter let alone a twin clutch unit, but it does the job of providing two-pedal convenience rather well. The advantage of an AMT of course is that this comes with no real impact on fuel consumption. But the bigger plus is the substantial cost advantage. The Duster AMT RxL costs Rs 11.66 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) while the fully loaded RxZ one costs Rs 12.86 lakh. In comparison, the sole Creta automatic costs Rs 13.96 lakh.
It still may not have the sophistication or finesse of the Creta, but Renault has broadened the Duster’s appeal to give a strong fight back.