Renault India introduced the Duster AWD in late 2014, and Hassath and I
bought one just days after it was released. We liked it immediately, and
wrote a detailed review after one
year. At the time of writing, our car is doing fine after five years of
unrelenting offroad use.
Time to upgrade?
The Duster retains a dedicated following, but attracts fewer new buyers
with each passing year. Its outstanding ride quality and surprising AWD
competence are still unmatched in its segment (the Mahindra Thar is much
less usable on-road, and the Jeep Compass AWD costs as much as a Duster
and Thar put together); but the AWD market in India was always a niche,
and the Duster is now increasingly described as “dated” and lagging its
competition in terms of features and interior comforts.
Renault chose not to bring its second-generation 2017 Duster to India,
and was content to release the occasional “facelift”, most recently in
July 2019. Meanwhile, grim rumours began to circulate about the future
of the Duster AWD in India after the April 2020 deadline for adoption of
BS6 emission standards (or even Renault's future in India, depending on
how grim you wanted to be).
In October 2019, the Duster AWD took top spot in Autocar India's list of
“cars to buy before they die”.
Alas, the latest facelift did not endear itself to us. The AWD variant,
formerly available only in the top-spec RxZ configuration, was relegated
to the “RxS(O)” line and stripped of various features to reduce costs.
Some of the differences we didn't care about (cosmetic changes), some we
could live without (e.g., the touchscreen, electrically foldable outside
rearview mirrors, reverse parking camera), and some we were willing to
sacrifice (e.g., cruise control, speed limiter).
But that left us with the infuriating omission of the rear wiper and
washer and height-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support. We need
both and were prepared to pay more for them, but neither feature could
be retro-fitted onto the RxS(O) car (and we couldn't do without AWD).
Conclusion—keep the 2014 RxZ AWD, don't buy a new one.
RxZ AWD: the last of its kind
At least, that would have been the conclusion if it hadn't been for
Hassath. At her urging, someone at the dealership went to consult the
inventory, and found a pre-facelift 2019 Duster RxZ AWD at the factory
in Chennai. Just one.
At first, I was not a fan of buying an "older car", but Hassath asked me
to enumerate specific reasons to avoid it. After much thought, the only
objection I could come up with was… “But it's brown”.
And that's how we came to buy the very last pre-facelift 2019 RxZ AWD
available anywhere in India. And it's actually quite a lovely brown.
Headline feature comparison
Here's an armchair comparison of some major features between the 2014
RxZ AWD (our old car), the 2019 RxZ AWD (our new car), and the 2019
RxS(O) AWD (the latest available model).
This table omits features present in all three models (e.g., ABS+EBD+BA)
as well as differences from the brochure that I didn't find interesting
(e.g., the colour of the inside door handles).
||2014 RxZ AWD
||2019 RxZ AWD
||2019 RxS(O) AWD
|Front fog lamps
|Rear wiper and washer
|Height adjustable front seat
|Height adjustable driver's seat
with lumbar support
|Driver's seat armrest
|One-touch driver's window
|Automatic climate control
|Reverse parking camera
|New MediaNAV touchscreen
|Projector headlamps, LED DRLs
One minor change deserves special mention: the rear window controls have
been moved to the front of the rear armrest, which fixes a long-standing
annoyance for rear passengers who accidentally lowered the window with
their elbow. This might be our favourite new feature.
Not all of the differences above were initially clear to us. The rear
wiper and washer and the height-adjustable driver's seat by themselves
were enough to tip the scales in favour of the older model. We realised
later that we would get automatic climate control and a reverse parking
camera, and discovered only when we received the car that it had the
new-style touchscreen with Android Auto support.
Thanks to Hassath, we didn't lose any features we already had, we got a
few nice surprises, and missed out on only two relatively minor features
from the facelift. In short, we got lucky.
Renault has made various design changes to the original Duster, and we
don't particularly care for any of them. Since the Duster was launched
in 2012, their aesthetic sense has never strayed too far from “can we
make it even more shiny somehow?”
Many of these changes can be seen in the Team-BHP reviews of the
(which is what we had), and
(which was also only a “facelift”, and looks very much like the 2019 RxZ AWD).
Here are some of the changes we've noticed, in no particular order.
All three models have different alloy wheels. We still like the original
bold five-spoke “anthracite” design best, both for its distinctive looks
and because it's easiest to clean. We don't mind the generic-looking but
inoffensive (no red centre) in-between design that we ended up with. The
facelift introduces distinctive “diamond cut” alloys, but they're a bit
too busy and shiny for our tastes. (Also, diamond cut makes me think of
an addictive but crumbly South Indian fried snack, and I'd just as soon
keep those away from the car.)
The plastic front and rear skid plates have both become larger and more
prominent. The unobtrusive black-and-silver one in front has now become
a flamboyant contrasting silver moustache with a nicer-looking mesh for
the air dam. The facelift goes back to a darker silver colour for both.
The turn indicators have moved to the outside mirrors, and their place
on the body is taken by a stupid shiny badge that says “RXZ” (nowhere
else is this X capitalised). If you happen to drive at night with the
mirrors folded in, remember to budget an extra few seconds per right
turn to recover from temporary blindness after switching on the
Speaking of shiny badges, the rear hatch now has only a “dCi 4WD” badge
instead of the separate RxZ, dCi, and 4WD badges on the old car. The big
chrome plate across the hatch says “Duster” in raised letters instead of
embossed ones. Also, the wider roof rails now say “Duster” (as does the
dashboard, just above the glove compartment).
All three models have different steering wheels, but the differences are
minimal. The original design was plain and unremarkable. The one we got
is nearly identical, but the horn pad works better (no more presses that
fail to activate the horn). The latest design may be a bit nicer to the
touch, but tries too hard to make the steering-mounted controls look
Both older models have a large cubbyhole above the glove compartment,
and a smaller one above the centre console. The facelift does away with
these in favour of cooled storage and a closed console. Inexplicably, it
does so in a way that still fails to provide a secure flat
surface to place mugs of tea on. The lack of storage is a serious
impediment—the front cup holders are so tiny and so close to the
controls that they can be used to store at most a few coins or perhaps a
phone standing on one side. We're glad to have both cubbyholes.
The facelift has two rounded-off rectangular central AC vents on the
console, but retains a round vent on each side. The original had four
unremarkable round vents with silver outlines and matte-finished dark
vanes. The model we got has four round vents too, but the glossy vanes
are of appallingly poor quality. They feel flimsy and unpleasant to use,
and badly let down the otherwise pleasant interior.
The newer models are upholstered in “Deco Brown” fabric (shades of beige
that go nicely with the woodland brown exterior), where the old car had
shades of dark grey. The new seats look nice enough to be worth some
extra effort to keep them clean.
The outside rearview mirror controls (adjustment only, not folding) have
moved from their original position below the parking brake to the block
of controls on the driver's door. This doesn't really matter.
That brings us to the end of the comparisons that we can do without
starting the car.
What's it like to drive?
The new car has the same engine, the same chassis, the same suspension,
and the same steering as the old car. Even the horn sounds the same! So
I expected it to feel exactly like the old car to drive. I was wrong.
Somewhere along the line, Renault tweaked the gear ratios significantly.
I don't know when, or for which models, but the result makes the new car
even easier to drive in the mountains.
The old setup was upshift-happy. You could start from a standstill and
be in fifth gear in under a minute at a speed slightly above 40km/hour.
If your engine speed dropped to about 1500rpm or lower, you would have
to drop a gear or two briefly to build up to a cruising speed again.
The new car is very different. The 3rd and 4th gears in particular are
tolerant of a wider range of engine speeds. You can hold on to them for
longer and rev higher before you have to shift up. More importantly, you
can hold on while the engine revs much lower before you need to
shift down. Climbing hairpin turns that we used to take in 2nd gear now
feel comfortable in 3rd. You can slow down for traffic or a speed
breaker and ease back onto the throttle from 1000rpm or so without
shifting down from 3rd. You can do the same thing in 4th gear, so long
as you are careful to accelerate gently and don't need to climb uphill
right after the obstacle. On good roads that allow for slightly higher
speeds, you can spend a lot of time even in fifth gear. It's a truly
Of course, nothing prevents you from dropping gears and getting onto the
power early—as the gear shift indicator suggests—but with the long and
awkward clutch travel, it's nice to have the option of a more relaxed
driving style and also benefit from increased fuel efficiency. Dropping
to such low engine speeds and trying to recover without downshifting
would result in a lot of juddering in the old car. The new one remains
composed. The difference is particularly noticeable on mountain roads,
but the new gear ratios should also help in traffic and other situations
that call for frequent speed changes.
The inevitable flip side of this change is that the car takes longer to
reach highway cruising speeds. Where the old car was sprightly and felt
eager to accelerate into the triple digits, the new one is more sedate
and likes to take some time to think about it. Once at that speed, it
feels as relaxed and composed as ever, but you might need to change
gears a bit more often if you intend to dart aggressively through
openings in traffic instead of just cruising along.
We spend a lot more time driving in the mountains than on highways, so
this arrangement suits us perfectly. A gradual increase in the number of
roads in India where one can use cruise control as something more than a
gimmick also helps to accept more relaxed highway manners.
Apart from this, the car feels utterly familiar. The driving dynamics
are still the same: negligible body roll through corners, stable and
responsive handling, and excellent ride quality.
Our review of the 2014 Duster is
still relevant for background information.
Apollo claims that the stock
215/65R16 tyres are all-terrain tyres, but they just don't look like it.
They're obviously strongly road-biased, and the manufacturer is probably
counting on most drivers to do no more off-road driving than an
occasional foray through mud or wet grass. Unfortunately, this
assumption does not apply to our driving conditions at all.
Still, these tyres seem comfortable enough and behave well on road, at
least while they're new. We decided to keep them for however long they
last before switching to something with a more aggressive tread (such as
the Yokohama Geolandar A/T tyres we fitted on the old car).
The old car had the
worst AC unit we had ever encountered.
It bears repeating here that the redesigned AC vent flaps are so cheap
and flimsy that they do not give a good first impression, but it's too
soon to say much about the AC itself.
The AC controls don't look nearly as nice as the European version (which
gets three knurled silver-and-black control knobs), and while they don't
feel nearly as bad as the vents, they are only a few rungs lower on the
ladder of nastiness. If you like LEDs, the AC controls have about two
dozen between the two knobs and eight buttons. One of these buttons is
marked “A/C off”, and it has a red LED that lights up when the A/C is
Reverse parking camera
The reverse parking camera does the minimum required to tick a checkbox
on the brochure. It's an improvement over parking sensors alone, but we
would have preferred a clearer and brighter image with guidelines that
responded to steering changes.
At night, the image is just barely usable if you use your brake lights
to illuminate the scene. The reversing lights are not nearly enough to
provide any useful detail.
New MediaNAV system
The new MediaNAV is uglier than the old one, but works fine. All we want
is to play music from a phone via Bluetooth, and it still does that. The
system seems to respond more quickly when you touch the screen.
There is still no dedicated mute button near the screen, and the system
now hesitates for a moment when you use the controls mounted behind the
steering wheel to mute the audio. On the other hand, going back to play
the last audio track used to take some frantic spinning of the selector
wheel, but a quick touch now suffices.
We don't care about the inbuilt navigation at all (we never used it),
but we can use Google Maps directly on the touchscreen now, thanks to
Android Auto support. Unfortunately, the USB port is placed at the top
right corner of the screen, and when you plug in a cable, a bit of the
connector will block your view of the corner (where the time is
displayed). Then, depending on where you put your phone, the cable might
obscure some other bits. This unforgivably thoughtless bit of design can
be mitigated by buying a cable with a special right-angle USB connector.
The physical AC controls have LED indicators, but the console displays a
slightly-delayed and redundant notification of every change anyway. You
can turn this off in the display settings.
The MediaNAV manual mentions a “Vehicle” menu with “Eco” and “4x4 info”
(realtime compass and inclinometer display) options, but this unit does
not have it.
The stock headlamps on the old car were an immediate disappointment. The
new ones are much better (still halogen bulbs, and without the projector
setup introduced by the facelift).
The one-touch control for the driver's window is handy when you want it,
and annoying when you don't. I'm not sure yet which happens more often
when I'm driving.
The 2019 RxZ AWD is a welcome improvement over the 2014 RxZ AWD: many
good things remain unchanged, some things are better, and only the AC
vents are unquestionably worse. The Duster remains a capable car, well
suited to our needs, at a reasonable price point.
In short, we got lucky.