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Review: Renault Duster AWD

Driven September 2014

Review: Renault Duster AWD

Finally, the wait is over. Renault has confirmed that in the next couple of months, you could actually walk into their showrooms and write off that cheque for a Duster 4x4. It’s called the Duster AWD and in essence, that’s what it is – an all-wheel drive version of the regular Duster that can send power to all four wheels when the situation demands.

Is it worth the wait? Oh yes it is. In fact, this is the best thing that could have happened to the compact SUV, apart from an auto variant, which the company is tight lipped about. So for now, it’s only the new Duster AWD that will go on sale at the onset of the festive season and we were the lucky ones to try out the tools that make this Duster stop at nothing.

First up, the AWD. Unlike the traditional 4x4 mechanism, there isn’t an option of engaging the 6-speed gearbox into low-range, instead, you get an electronically controlled AWD system that could be engaged on-the-fly with the help of a knob. You could slot it in permanent 2WD mode for your regular urban commute where it works like an ordinary front-wheel driven Duster, or switch to Lock mode, wherein the torque is equally distributed to all four wheels for better traction on tricky situations. This mode can be accessed till the speed of 60kph, after which it automatically switches to Auto mode. Renault has full faith in its AWD system and suggests we switch to Auto when venturing out in the wild as the electronics, when left alone, can do a better job on its own.

We took Renault’s word on that and during our six hour off-road exercise, the Duster AWD, at many occasions, did manage to get itself out of trouble without any sort of assistance. The Auto mode worked surprisingly well, sending power to the rear wheels whenever it sensed a loss of traction at the front wheels. There are those occasional wheel spins, but never did things go out of control and that’s quite commendable for an AWD system.

Steep climbs, slush pits, water wading (good for Mumbai streets) or driving down a steep mountain road, the Duster AWD is up for such challenges. What also makes the AWD system work even better is the addition of independent suspension at all four corners, traction control and minor tweaks to the ECU that make it an impressive package. Renault has shortened the gear ratios for the AWD variant, especially the first gear, which further helps the Duster crawl down a steep slope without even the need of feathering the brake pedal. And then the lighter clutch which, in general, makes driving the Duster AWD so much more fun and stress-free in all conditions.

Talking about driving, the Duster AWD is driven by the much-appreciated 1.5 dCi K9k diesel motor that dispenses 108.6bhp and 248Nm of torque, teamed with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Renault has made a few minor but significant changes to the ECU and it shows in the manner the AWD variant performs on the road. There is better torque distribution across the power-band, making it easier to drive at lower rpms too. So you don’t really need to downshift every time you want to overtake those annoyingly slow moving auto rickshaws. Plus, there’s the lighter clutch that adds to the improved driving experience.

What’s also remarkable about the AWD variant is the ride comfort. It feels amazing to drive over bad roads as the independent suspension does an unbelievable job of dampening road irregularities and offer greater ride comfort. The feedback from the steering wheel too has been softened a bit so it doesn’t kick you back the way it does in the older Duster variants. But it continues to be precise and turns the SUV in the direction you want it to.

Renault hasn’t revealed its pricing strategy yet, but we are sure the Duster AWD will set you back by Rs 70,000 to a lakh for the RxL and RxZ variants it will be available in. However, to sweeten the deal, the French carmaker will offer a better cabin and slightly distinct looking SUV here. The exterior design includes black inserts for the headlamps, darkened alloy wheels and AWD badge and stickers on the bootlid and door respectively. The cabin, however, manages to look better. The plastics used are of better quality and the black and grey dual-tone interior doesn’t look as cheap as before. There is a new instrument cluster and a sporty three-spoke steering wheel and dual-tone seats that add extra bit of sportiness.

Space has never been an issue for the Duster and the AWD variant offers ample of passenger legroom and luggage space. The rear aircon, however, is missing from the AWD variants, but it isn’t sorely missed. Renault claims the Duster AWD can run over 19km to a litre of diesel and helping it achieve that figure is a new Eco mode that improves overall efficiency by 10 per cent. We didn’t really bother testing that claim as we were too busy throwing the Duster around slush fields, over green grass, wading through streams and getting to hill top without landing ourselves into any sort of trouble. And the AWD fared surprisingly well out there.

It may not be as potent as a Mahindra Thar, Force Gurkha or the Maruti Gypsy, but it’s more in the league of the Skoda Yeti and Mahindra XUV wherein the SUV will be used more in the corporate jungle rather than out in the wild. And for those roles, the Duster AWD makes for a strong case. The only thing that remains to be seen is pricing, which will be made public in the next couple of months. Till then, enjoy the Duster AWD out in its elements in our detailed photogallery.

The numbers
4cyl, 1461cc, turbo-diesel, 108.6bhp, 248Nm, 6M, AWD, ground clearance: 210mm, boot space: 475 litres, Overall kpl: 19.72 (claimed), RxL: Rs 13.3 lakh, RxZ: Rs 14.5 lakh (est. on-road, Mumbai)

The verdict
New off-road tools add to the Duster’s overall character. The AWD mechanism works well in most situations and allows you to have some fun out in the wild. However, don’t get too carried away, it’s not going to win you those hardcore challenges off the tarmac.

Devesh ShobhaBook Now

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