When Renault launched the Duster in India two years ago the SUV sold like hot cakes. This was an SUV which was appealing to the masses not just aesthetically but also financially. Though not a hard core off-roader the Renault Duster quickly impressed auto enthusiasts winning praises, and though it lacked the feel of an off-roader, it was anticipated that Renault would eventually launch the Duster with features that would make it an SUV not just for the road, but also off it. In the past years the Duster has been launched in the Anniversary and Adventure editions, but these have been merely cosmetic changes. Come 2014 and Renault introduces the Duster with a 4x4 version called the Duster AWD. We recently drove the Duster AWD at a drive conducted by Renault at Lavasa and here are our first impressions.
The exteriors on the Duster AWD are pretty much the same as the previous variants. The noticeable bits are in the alloy wheels - these are now called anthracite alloy wheels which simply mean they are grey coloured wheels. It also gets a darkened headlamp cluster along with AWD badging at the rear that clearly helps distinct it from the 2WD variant. There is AWD stickering even on the door panel that imparts a sport look.
The first impressions of the interiors will be clean design lines. The dashboard has been well designed and feels clutter free. Renault has incorporated new changes in the form of a three spoke steering wheel with steering controls, dual tone dashboard (black/grey), three-pod instrument cluster, fuel consumption meter and the 2WD/AWD button. Music control are in the form of paddle shifter and feel niche. Since the Duster AWD is notch above the RxZ variant, the seats also get minor tweaks and come in complete black colour with hints of red. The Duster offers ample legroom in the first and second row and space is no issue with its 410 litre boot.
Performance and the AWD drive system
As the name suggests the Duster now comes accompanied with a shift-on-fly AWD. The electronically controlled 4x4 is called iDrive technology by Renault and the Duster also gets independent suspensions at all four corners. Keep the knob on the 2WD and the car will be in the 2 wheel drive mode, pop the knob on auto and the car detects which wheel to send power to incase of tricky patches. The lock-on mode brings the car in the 4WD mode, but cross 60kmph and it comes back into auto mode.
When I drove the Duster AWD the first thing I noticed was how light the clutch felt compared to the previous variant. The lighter clutch feels comfortable and aids during off-road fun. The steering is equally light and is very responsive. Renault has shortened the gear rations on the Duster AWD especially for the first gear, and the benefits of this can again be seen once you get off-roading especially on slower trails and on steep declines. The Duster AWD comes with ESP and Anti-Skid resistance that'll tackle slippery conditions giving you the feel of gliding on butter, literally. The 210 mm ground clearance is good and easily helps you wade water upto 400 mm deep.
The off-road trail at Lavasa was a mix of steep inclines, rocks, water crossings, slushes and muddy trails and the Duster AWD drive tackled them all without breaking into a sweat. The electronics make the off-road experience pleasurable if I may say so, and the Duster now feels more of an off-roading SUV than before - the good just got better!
Renault has not announced the price of the Duster AWD but we contemplate that it may cost around Rs 80,000 more than the top end RxZ trim and it may be launched close to the upcoming festival season.