2016 Renault Duster AMT - First Drive Review

Published On  By for Renault Duster at CarDekho.com

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When you scour through pages of Indian automotive history, you'll find that it is always the 'brand' that made the 'car' popular. For example, 'Maruti' made the 800 iconic, 'Mahindra' made the Bolero what it is and 'Toyota' made the Innova moniker click. What we have on our hands today is something that is the diametric opposite. A 'car' that made the 'brand' what it is. At least in the Indian context.

Say 'Renault' and the layman will take a moment to soak in that piece of information. Say 'Duster' however and he'll know exactly what you're talking about. Renault's poster boy, sales hero and claim to fame in the Indian market - the Duster gets some fancy clothes with an update. To keep up with the times, there's an AMT on offer too. Does the update make the Duster a better package than before? Let's find out.

Exterior

When the Renault Duster was first launched, the butch proportions made it click with the masses almost instantly. The imposing face, flared wheel arches, 16" wheels and the SUV esque stance made it one of a kind. For once, we're glad that the facelift is subtle and doesn't change the core Duster specifications.

The Duster's proportions are near identical to the outgoing version. There's no mistaking the Duster for anything else, that's for sure. The front is where most of the updates are clearly visible. The grille gets a larger Renault insignia and is surrounded by a generous garnish of chrome. The bumper gets a very prominent matte silver skidplate that accentuates the Duster's compact 'SUV' positioning. Our favorite element however, have to be the new headlamps. The redesigned cluster looks really nice and the smoked finish adds to the aggression. That said, Renault could have (and should have) taken a leaf out of the Creta's books and given the Duster projector headlamps with daytime running lamps.

The side and the rear remain rather unchanged. The changes are minimal and you'd miss them easily if you aren't paying attention. The 16 inch wheels get a different design and are finished in this black/gunmetal shade with a machined surface that looks rather swanky. The roof rails are new too and get 'Duster' embossing. Changes to the rear include an LED tail-lamp and the customary skidplate.

We have to say that Renault has been wise with the update and corrected only what was needed. While we don't think the Duster has a design that will age gracefully, the update has injected some much needed botox to keep it soldiering on till we see an all new generation.

Interior

An opportunity missed. That is how we have to sum up the interiors of the Duster. The interiors get a new color palette and a few new goodies, but that just doesn't do justice to the package (and the price) in our books.

We believe the Duster could've done with an all-new dashboard. The facelift retains the same dash we've been seeing for the past half decade. Yes, the piano black centre console does look good, but that too is a fingerprint magnet. The large MediaNav touchscreen system hoards most of the real estate. The system is slightly better to use (read: inputs aren’t as laggy and slow) and audio quality is fairly decent too. That said, the interface for the navigation isn’t the best. It is pretty hard to better the experience one is used to with Google Maps on their phones.

The addition of automatic climate control to the package is a welcome move. The unit is easy to operate and chills the cabin down very well. The air-conditioning managed to keep us cool on a sultry afternoon in Pune - with temperatures hovering above the 30°C mark. However, it is slightly difficult to access the controls on the move. They are placed far too low for our liking.

With the facelift, Renault could have inverted the positions of the wiper and headlamp stalks. Ford did the same with the Ecosport facelift (Wiper controls to the left of the steering and headlamp controls to the right). That said, it doesn’t take too long for one to get used to the setting. Renault could have also used the facelift to add audio and call controls on the steering wheel, instead of having them on a separate stalk behind the wheel. Reason being, you will be using controls for audio and phone more frequently compared to cruise control.

Other than these changes, the cabin remains unchanged. The front footwell is still slightly cramped, the driver’s right knee still hits the power window controls and the overall fit and finish still remain a hit or a  miss. Also, while we are talking about ergonomics - the armrest is a bit too thin and placed a bit too low down. It is rather odd that it is only the driver that gets the armrest. We think, a large centrally mounted armrest would’ve been a perfect solution. Before we forget, with the armrest down - it is nearly impossible to buckle up. You have to take the seatbelt ‘around’ the armrest to buckle it in.

Overall, the package remains more or less identical to the outgoing version. Parameters such as space, cushioning and the 410 litre bootspace remain exactly identical to the outgoing version. Like we said, Renault could have used the facelift as a platform to up the ante in terms of design and quality. Instead, they have chosen to stick to the tried and tested formula of rugged appeal and durability.

Engine and Performance

The Duster retains both the petrol and diesel engines in the same configuration as before. The only mechanical change is the new AMT gearbox which is available with the 110PS, 4x2 version only. It is interesting to note that the gearbox is the only 6-speed AMT in India as of now. It is also the only AMT to be paired with features like Hill Assist, ESP and Cruise Control.

What we really like about the AMT, is how well it fits into the Duster’s existing (and potent) package. The gearbox takes nothing away from the driving dynamics and possibly - only makes it better. The gearbox behaves like a typical AMT unit should. There’s nothing drastically different to report there. By ‘typical AMT’ we mean that the upshifts are clearly noticeable. For example, when the gearbox shifts from 1st to 2nd & 2nd to 3rd - it is quite jerky. This can get slightly annoying, especially inside the city. You will know when the gearbox downshifts as well. Thankfully, the gearbox knows when to downshift and does not unnecessarily lug the car.

Speaking of downshifts, the gearbox isn’t too comfortable when the throttle is pinned down to the floor. The gearbox takes a good second to drop gears, and when it does, the engine screams itself hoarse thanks to the revs rising too high. For spirited driving, we’d recommend sliding the lever into Manual mode and taking charge of the gears yourself. When in manual, you pull the lever behind to upshift and push it forward to downshift. Shifts in manual mode too, take a small while to register and reflect. The gearbox ponders if the gear you want suits the revs and the speed and then executes. Try to shift to too high a gear at too low a speed or vice versa and the gearbox will override your command.

Out on the highway, the AMT feels rather relaxed. In fact, you wouldn’t even know when it has upshifted to 6th. The engine is ticking over at ~2100rpm when the speedo denotes 100km/h; and is relatively relaxed while doing so. Go heavier on the right foot and the Duster pulls comfortably in 6th, all the way to it’s top speed. It is key to note that the power delivery here is linear and non-urgent. However, if you stomp on the gas at 100, the gearbox will downshift to 4th to give you that burst of acceleration. In that sense, the gearbox does pick up inputs really well.

Ride and Handling

Ride and Handling was always the Duster's forte and it is no different with the refresh. The ride is forgiving and absorbs everything our roads will ever throw at it. The suspension is a nice balance between stiff and soft, ever so slightly biased towards comfort. We think this works really well for the compact SUV, since it is going to spend most of its time within the confines of the city.

While the steering is slightly heavy at low speeds, we loved the weight the steering has at high speeds. Feedback and feel is decent too. Do not expect it to dive into corners like a squirrel, remember to ease off the gas well in advance and it will hold its line really nicely. Braking power is adequate too. The brakes bite in nicely and it doesn’t nose-dive a lot under heavy deceleration. Pedal response is rather vague, that keeps you guessing if you need to go harder on the pedal to make it stop. Other than that, it does just fine.

Verdict

The AMT is a valuable addition to the portfolio. If you were considering buying a manual 110PS version, we’d recommend spending extra and getting the AMT. The gearbox is an absolute boon inside city traffic and you will excuse the jerky shifts in exchange for a relaxed left leg. If convenience is amongst your top priorities for your next compact SUV - the Duster AMT must be on your checklist!

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