It may have an odd name, but the Duster from Renault promises to raise a lot of dust in the lower-priced SUV segment in our country. A vehicle that’s been keenly awaited for some time, Renault India’s latest offering is just what its target audience wants.When you first look at the length of the vehicle, 4.3m, it does not stand out – in fact, it looks decidedly smaller than its main competitors, the Safari and Scorpio. But its flared wheel arches, huge wheel well clearance, typical aluminum scuff plates that wouldn’t look out of place in an Audi or a BMW, and satin chrome roof rails, all play their part in making the car look like a distinctive SUV. The design is refreshingly modern, though a tad conservative for the European market, which likes greater flair. Even we would have appreciated something bolder.The front has double-barrel headlamps and a wide chrome-finish grille that give the Duster a friendly look. The bumpers sport a premium look with their two- tone finish and the rear door has a chrome applique. Chrome also sits on the exhaust pipe end and satin chrome adorns door handles, which feel a little flimsy in the hand. Alloys are standard on the top model but optional on the smaller engine model. Thankfully, a full-size spare wheel is standard, though access in case of a flat can be tricky!At first glance, the acres of plastic inside the car may be off-putting, but make no mistake that this is a vehicle made to last. Deeply recessed shelves, a big glovebox and an integrated sound system earn brownie points for the Duster. Legroom at the rear is quite good thanks to the 2,673mm wheelbase.advertisementA feature worth a mention here is the air-conditioning, which has been modified for India. It works extremely well in heat and the additional vent at the back delivers outstanding cooling. You get keyless entry, a pollen filter in the air-con unit, sound system with MP3, USB and Aux-in, audio mounted on the steering and phone controls for the standard Bluetooth, an onboard trip computer and electrically adjustable external mirrors. Thoughtful touches include up to three sockets to power your gadgets and illuminated power window switches so no fumblingin the dark.There is one petrol and two diesel engine options available. We have not driven the petrol vehicle, so let us stick to the diesel variant. The version we put our hands on was the 110ps engine, which really impressed us by its effortless performance. Renault has worked hard on this 1.5- litre engine, which is most popular world over.Although power is 10ps less than the Scorpio and about 30ps lower than the Safari, the Duster’s lower vehicle weight endows it with sprightly performance. Six forward gears ensure progress is decent and a tested fuel efficiency of over 19kmpl means the Duster is as careful with its diesel as you are with your money. There is a bit of turbo lag, so you’ll need to keep your foot planted to keep the engine spinning at more than 2,000rpm.The other good parts are the suspension and the steering. A 5.2m turning radius ensures the Duster is manoeuvrable in city traffic. The rigid chassis, with its front McPherson struts and a torsion bar rear suspension, riding on beefy 215/ 65 R16 tyres, works in complete unison to soften the worst of blows. Renault cars have always been known for ride quality and the Duster measures up to the reputation. A ground clearance of 205mm means you can even clear speedbreakers the height of dam walls.The Duster is the first in the segment moving towards smaller SUVs. Renault India is so confident of its product that it is going to export the Indian-made Duster to the UK. At this point the company is not offering a 4×4 system or automatic transmission to the Indian market, though these are on the cards.The Duster’s price is similar to the basic Scorpio’s, but with better technology. At this price, Renault will simply sweep the competition off the floor with its Duster.(Rs 7.99L Ex-showroom Delhi price of Renault Duster’s diesel model)How the competiton stacks upMahindra Scorpio Rs 7.52 lakh*The Scorpio is like SRK. It may be over a decade old, but its popularity is ageless. Over time, it has gotten better and it now packs in cutting-edge technology, such as a micro-hybrid start-stop system, a variant with sixspeed automatic transmission, and goodies such as tyre pressure monitoring system and on-board computer. The Scorpio just got an upgraded mHawk engine that doles out 120ps of power and 290Nm of torque, which ensures its popularity with SUV shoppers. It is a comfortable albeit high vehicle that scores on reliability, a Mahindra, is cheap to service.advertisementTata Safari Rs8.15 lakh*The first SUV to be designed and manufactured in India, the Safari was a revolutionary idea in 1998 when it was launched with a 2.0-litre engine. Many avatars and experiments later, it continues to be a strong player in the SUV segment with a 2.2-litre, diesel engine that produces 140bhp and 320 Nm of torque. The car is well built. A hoot to drive when it works properly, the Safari also has the most comfortable front seats. The top versions are wellequipped – they include a rear entertainment system, parking camera, et al. The Safari represents great value for money and being a Tata can be easily fixed.
The Duster is a gangbuster