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Renault Duster 156: Settling into a new beat

S Muralidhar | Updated on October 01, 2020 Published on October 01, 2020

For an ageing mid-size SUV, it needed a shot of fresh blood. Can the new turbo petrol engine give it the much-needed fillip?

It’s been a long while since the Renault Duster was put under the spotlight. But, earlier this year, the wires were abuzz during the Auto Expo and the trending news was that the Duster would get a new turbocharged petrol engine from Mercedes-Benz’s portfolio. That pre-Covid era development resulted in the launch of the Duster 156 PS a few weeks ago. And importantly, the turbocharged, 4-cylinder, 1.3-litre petrol engine under the bonnet is actually the result of the alliance between the French car maker and Daimler. The same engine is used by Merc in quite a few of its entry cars and the alliance sourced small-displacement petrol unit has been plonked into the Duster at an opportune moment. After all, currently, the Duster is far from its prime — remember the time when eager customers stood in kilometre-long queues outside Renault dealerships.

So, the Duster only offers the two petrol engines now — the older 1.5-litre and the new 1.3-litre gasoline burners. It is still a little odd to stand next to the Duster and not hear the familiar beat of the K9K diesel engine. It is a mix of both the Duster’s size, sports utility character and the popularity of the Renault diesel engine that makes it still seem the right fit. But the pressures of BS6 emission regulations, the fading away of diesel’s fuel price advantage and the consequent rise of petrol engines even in what has traditionally been a diesel domain means Renault also has to make that transition. Thankfully, the new petrol engine is very capable of delivering the low-end torque and progressive, linear rise in power delivery that we have come to like about diesel engines.

Accent on rouge

The new Duster 156 PS gets some changes, minor tweaks really, to the exterior identifying its special status in the variant line-up. My test mule was the RXZ 1.3 Turbo, which basically means that it is the top-spec variant of the 1.3-litre turbo engine paired with a 6-speed manual transmission. The one above this is the RXZ 1.3 Turbo X-Tronic and that powertrain features a CVT gearbox (continuously variable transmission) with a 7-speed manual mode.

The Duster’s design hasn’t aged very much, though it is extremely familiar by now and the fact that it is a generation older compared to the new kids on the block then becomes more apparent. The last upgrade it got with the projector headlamps, chrome tri-wing bonnet grille and the LED tubes in the tail-lamps had already contributed to elevate the Duster’s looks a fair bit. They are all there in the new engine variants, with the addition of some red accents on the grille and fog lamp housing in the front fender. A matt-black tailgate embellishment with the Duster brand in bold red at the rear gives it some more character, as does the special Forza diamond cut alloy wheels. A ‘Turbo’ badge at the rear identifies the engine variant; but that’s about it on the outside.

The new Duster 156’s cabin too remains identical to the current top-spec variants. The dashboard layout, knobs and controls are all the same, and though they look clean and are all intuitively accessible, it is a bit disappointing to see that Renault India hasn’t taken the opportunity to bring up some changes to make the Duster’s interior more contemporary. The plastic quality used for the dashboard panels is rather hard and reminds me how much has changed in the eight years that this model has been in the market. But, there are still some features that we can thank Renault for, including the cooled storage at the top of the dash, the new style multi-function steering wheel, the generously proportioned seats and the automatic climate control. There is also a 17.64cm touchscreen MediaNAV system with Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity. An automatic engine start stop and a remote precooling function for starting the car and getting the aircon going is also available in the CVT variant. Many customers in the segment today want a sunroof, which is missing in the Duster.

Turbo magic

The heart of the matter with the new Duster 156 is, of course, the new 1.3-litre turbocharged, direct injection petrol engine. By bringing in this refined engine, with nary any other substantial changes to the Duster, it is obvious that Renault is hoping to woo customers simply based on performance. The new turbo petrol engine delivers 156PS of peak power and 254Nm of peak torque; those look very much like that of a mid-range Diesel engine’s output figures. Making that output even better when experienced on the road is the fact that the torque is fully available from as low as 1,600rpm. The engine settles into a lightly gruff idle at about 1,000rpm. Shift into gear, press the throttle and there is just a hint of lag, as the turbo spools up to force feed air into the engine. There is a discernible level of torque that kicks in once the analog needle passes the midway spot on its way to 2,000rpm. But, it is still relatively well behaved and linear. Peak power is delivered at 5,500rpm, but there is enough available midrange to work on the new Duster’s performance in both city and highway conditions. Extremely quick overtakes needed a bit prior planning, more due to the long travel throttle pedal’s sensitivity. This engine makes the Duster the most powerful mid-size SUV, though it doesn’t feel as quick as the Korean vehicles in the segment; possibly more due to the engine’s tuning and the vehicle’s heft. Though the engine is refined overall, it is also not the quietest inside the cabin.

Bottom line

The new Duster 156PS carries forward the legacy of having the best ride quality in the segment. A high 205mm ground clearance and its suspension set-up manage to soak the worst that the roads could throw up.

The new 1.3 Turbo Petrol gives the Duster a leg up, but probably only just enough to keep it in the list of contenders for buyers in the segment. There are now a lot of competitors also offering turbo petrols, in vehicles that are much more feature loaded. The Duster needs a more elaborate overhaul to rake in significant numbers. In the meantime, the new 156 PS is available at prices starting from ₹10.49 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi).

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Published on October 01, 2020
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