The Duster gets a nip and tuck in the face of fresh competition.
What is it?
Another week and another new SUV. Except, the one you see here isn't 'new' in the strictest sense because sadly India won't be getting the second-gen Duster that's gone on sale abroad. This is the latest iteration of the Duster that's been on sale in India since 2012. In brief, it's got revised styling, a refreshed interior, some more features and even new colours, including a vibrant Caspian Blue. The variants have also been shuffled; although, as before, the Duster is available with a 106hp, 1.5-litre petrol engine with 5-speed manual and CVT auto gearbox options and a 1.5-litre diesel in 85hp (solely offered with a 5-speed manual transmission) and 110hp states of tune. The more powerful of the diesels continues with the choice of 6-speed manual and AMT gearboxes; and an AWD version, too.
What's it like on the outside?
The Duster's chunky shape has aged quite well thus far, and the latest round of styling tweaks do their bit to hide the Renault's vintage further. Interestingly, while the majority of the visual updates are concentrated at the front end, some were necessitated by regulation. For instance, the bonnet line has been raised to meet latest pedestrian protection norms.
The bonnet itself has been redone – the flat panel has made way for a far more contoured surface. Lower down, there's a slightly larger, new grille that's big on bling, with much of it being finished in chrome. The updated Duster's headlights are familiar in look but again, they've been updated with projector lenses and LED daytime running lights. While the latter is a welcome upgrade, full-LED headlights would have been more in keeping with the times. The front bumper carries forward with a scuff plate, cladding and fog lamps, although the individual elements have been reworked.
Viewed in profile, the attractive new machined-alloy wheels are the biggest giveaway that the Duster you're looking at is the latest one. Compare the old and new Dusters and you'll note the small strip of chrome lining the base of the window line is new too. Wish Renault upgraded the lift-type door handles as well; they aren't a very premium first point of contact. At the rear, there's nothing new save for the addition of plastic cladding that flanks the tail-lamps.
What's it like on the inside?
Those familiar with the older Dusters' interior will note the switch to a nice-to-hold new steering, neat new fonts for the instrument console and, of course, the redone dashboard. The centre console has been revised and now features rectangular vents in place of the older circular units, though the position of the touchscreen infotainment system and climate control dials remain unchanged. New to the Duster is a second glove box (also cooled) that takes the place of the storage recess on the front-passenger side of the dashboard. An exterior body-coloured embellishment on the dash adds some colour to the interior and the embossed patterns on the seats are nice too.
However, the look and feel of things inside the cabin is still not at par with the latest SUVs in the market. There are far too many hard and shiny plastics in the cabin and fit and finish is also far from class-best standards. Things like the rudimentary driver's seat height-adjust lever don't help the impression either. The ergonomics could have been better too, especially the low-set position of the touchscreen that requires taking your eyes off the road to use its functions. The last bit is a shame because the 7.0-inch touchscreen system is nice to use and finally comes bundled with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – a standard feature on the Duster facelift from the mid-spec RxS trim upwards; as are the steering-mounted audio controls. There's also a new Eco readout that scores drivers on efficient driving.
In terms of comfort, there's nothing new to report of. You sit at a nice height, the flat seats are more supportive than they appear and there is reasonable room in the cabin too. As always, the 475-litre boot is large enough to accommodate big suitcases.
The updated Duster complies with latest safety norms and gets dual airbags, ABS (with EBD), rear parking sensors, front seat-belt reminders and a speed warning system as standard. Automatics and AWD versions also get ESP and hill-start assist.
Auto climate control, cruise control and a rear parking camera are only part of top-spec RxZ trim. The spoiler? This top-spec fully loaded trip is only available with the 110hp diesel (manual and AMT auto) motor and not with the other two engine options.
What's it like to drive?
Given that Renault has not made any mechanical changes to the Duster, a spin in the 110hp diesel-manual was merely a refresher of what we already know. The engine runs quiet at low revs, pulls cleanly and delivers its power in a friendly manner. A slicker gearbox would have added to the experience, no doubt about that. Still, there's not much to complain about the powerplant. Do note, Renault is yet to find a viable solution to make the engine BS6-compliant and there is a chance it might be discontinued by April 2020. So if you simply must have a diesel Duster, now would be a good time to get one.
Of the other things, the Duster's absorbent ride, surefooted demeanour and confident cruising ability continue to impress. It really feels like an SUV built to take a beating. The steering gives reasonable feel but kickback on harsh bumps does corrupt the experience.
Should I buy one?
The Renault Duster might have started the midsize SUV segment but it's no longer the first model that springs to mind when thinking of the class of SUV. With the update, Renault has essentially breathed fresh life into what is an ageing product. It's nicer on the outside, priced between Rs 7.99-12.49 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) and it's fairly good value for 4.3m-long SUV.
Is the refreshed Duster good enough to take on the latest midsize SUVs? Not really. However, there's a certain honesty to the Duster that still makes it alluring. Sure, it's down on frills but loyalists will see it as a hardy SUV that gets the basics right. Done and dusted? Not yet.
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