It is seldom that you get a chance to break free from the monotony of your weekly 9-5. It is even rarer that you get a chance to explore the vehicle you put your hard earned money down for, in its natural element. Well, Renault India gave a select owners the chance to do both of that - at once! The owners, as a part of the Gang of Dusters programme witnessed the true potential of their mean machines over a two day drive packed with adventure and fun.
Day 1 saw the Gang of Dusters setting their courses for Amby Valley. Amby Valley is a picturesque township located just off Lonavala. The roads leading upto the township is as well known as the township itself. Our car, was this humble silver Duster AWD you see above. All drivers were given a route and safety briefing before flag off. As the convoy was flagged off from Renault Jogeshwari, 40 Dusters, 3 Media Cars and 5 Support vehicles along with an ambulance and a tow truck set off towards the destination for the day. The route was rather straight-forward: Airoli - SionPanvel Highway - MumbaiPune Expressway - Lonavala - Amby Valley. Initially I struggled a bit to get used to both the Duster’s proportions and the seating position. Once I made myself comfortable, the journey was a tad bit more relaxing. The Duster’s highway manners are nothing short of brilliant. It can shame most low slung sedans. No doubt, it is amongst the best handling compact SUVs out there right now.
What does take away slightly from the overall driving experience is the long clutch travel and narrow footwell. This was very evident, especially in the twisties on Lonavala and Amby Valley where weekend traffic dampened the mood ever so slightly. However, what more than made up for it was the piping hot lunch and adventure sports lined up at 19 degree north, our playground for the day.
Why ‘playground’ you ask? Playground, because it houses a neat off-road track where one can put the Duster’s off-roading ability to the test. Having taken multiple laps around the course, I can safely say that the Duster does not budge one bit when the terrain gets rough, or worse, disappears all together. Being a newbie to off-roading did scare me at the outset, but the Duster made up for my lack of skills with it’s assists like traction control and the 4WD lock. A big shout out to Mr. Ranjit and his team for their help and support.
While most of the journos were busy putting the Duster through its paces at the off-road track, the participants indulged in a bit of ziplining, zorbing and rock climbing after which they had a chance to take their own Duster round the track. The image below is proof of the fun we had.
An unnecessarily long security check and check in at Amby Valley ensued which meant I could finally catch up on some long lost sleep. More importantly, we were supposed to set out at 530 the next morning.
The clatter of 40 diesel engines is not something you look forward to hearing on a Sunday morning. However, that was music to the ears since the participants were brimming with enthusiasm to get a move on to Kolad - a place located along the western ghats, well known for the river Kundalika. Rafting on River Kundalika scores very high in the ‘Things one needs to do in Maharashtra’ list, after striking out the usual ‘Eat Vada Pav’ and ‘Visit Gateway of India’. The convoy was extremely disciplined this time round following crew instructions to the T. And what a scenic drive it was! The view outside the window looked like a painting with an overdose of green and a dab of blue here and there.
The first 30 odd kilometres barely had any tarmac. It involved driving over virtually no roads, laced with small stones and gravel. A few water-crossings and slush patches made appearances as well. And in the real world, where there aren’t any tyres to cushion your impending crash, the Duster performed - yet again. I’d like to add that the Duster is amongst the most ‘reassuring’ cars to drive. It has that ‘ Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it ‘ aura to it. Which is rather nice to have, considering the drive to Kolad was rather spirited for the kind of roads.
Whilst driving past Mulshi, the roads were nothing short of divine and we let the Duster loose to hunt some corners. Being a tall baby SUV, you do expect it to whine and cringe when you shove it into a corner. But to our surprise, it barely did. Although it did understeer every now and then and the traction control light did come on a couple of times as if it were Diwali, but nothing that made the Renault (or us) feel nervous or uncertain.
The tarmac was so tempting that we decided to skip the rafting and explore the roads further down. And I’m glad we made that choice. It gave us more time to understand the car, and more importantly, have a lot of fun. More twisties, mud, muck, slush, gravel followed. The terrain kept changing. What did not change was the car that tackled it with a grin that was probably as wide as ours.
After a steaming lunch and certification distribution at MPower camp, we set off towards Mumbai with a smile on our faces and new found respect for the Duster in our hearts!