Sociology tells us that the basic needs of man are food, water and shelter. The Duster just added an SUV to the list. Yet again, driver psychology tells us that the basic expectations in an SUV are a high driving position, a secure feeling and crossing the occasional sandy patch to get out of a traffic jam. The Duster gets a nod on all those fronts, and even affords you the smile of complacence in a parking lot full of sedans of all sizes.
I was surprised at how agile the 2.0L engine was but for the time when I caught the unsuspecting throttle by its jaw and heaved it wide open. It let out a scream, and then painfully climbed on. As long as you keep the engine speed low, it will keep smiling, and even reward you with quick passing maneouvers on the highway.
The pint-sized SUV is surprisingly stable on interchanges and roundabouts at speeds you wouldn’t mess with in a large crossover. Quick lane changing is vindicated and U-turns are aided well by the short turning radius of the Duster, while the drive itself is pleasant with no hiccups whatsoever. The thin pillars are well placed to afford an overall view that is best-in-class.
From the side, it looks like a shoddily clipped Nissan Pathfinder but maintains a ‘nicely aggressive’ look from the front. The flared up wheel arches are almost characterless and even a bit awkward but they get away with giving some muscular pretence to the Duster.
Inside the cabin, I had to check back a couple of times to see if the Duster had its hazards or turn signals on – the panel blinkers don’t tell them apart! The material quality inside the car makes itself felt when you grip the gearshift – you know where the penny pinching happened! And yet, the Duster is made of stuff that dreams are made of – coz at its price, it brings the “SUV” within the reach of thousands of aspiring souls.
Cabin and Controls
Cheap is a word I will deliberately avoid in this review. The lobs of plastic and the bits of leather that you find in the Duster and even the flimsy looking CD player don’t stink of cheapness; they sweat the pleasant smell of value.
The glossy trims around the cabin console actually look quite nice if you care to look again; as does the music system sound when it is playing. It reminded me of the system my Uncle imported for his car in India long ago, when we children thought it sounded really nice. I thought the same about the Duster’s system too, in a pretty similar manner.
Wind does make itself felt around the Duster. First, intruding the quietness of the cabin, especially at highway speeds. And next, by not letting you feel comfortable at highway speeds, on a terribly windy day!
The horn is another nostalgic thing, which belongs to the eighties and even sounds like an echo from the past! But you better find it early on a drive to spare the confusion in a situation – it is curiously placed on the left stalk edge.
I am not what you would call a tall guy, and I felt thankful for it in a Duster. I don’t know if Renault equated tall guys with big egos, but anyway those egos won’t be at ease in Renault’s everyman’s SUV when it comes to headroom. The height adjustment mechanism too is pretty archaic though simple, with a one-push rise to ‘SUV view’ and back to the low-perched sedan like seating.
The legroom at the rear is just enough, but that leaves us with an almost cavernous 475 L boot befitting a medium sized SUV. That is another great functionality of the Duster ticked, apart from the roof rails.
The Essential Duster
The Renault Duster does the dual task of satisfying a basic need and a whim. The basic need of an economical family car as well as the caprice of wanting to belong to the SUV club. Starting at just below AED 50,000 the Renault Duster makes it easy to come to terms with the concept of lowering your expectations even as you climb up the ladder!
UPSIDE: Most safety features are standard, SUV sized boot, Ego boosting value
FLIPSIDE: Penny saving details, Underpowered for serious off-roading, Ride height restricts headroom
Drive Courtesy: Arabian Automobiles
Pictures: Sudeep Koshy