Renault Duster AWD: Take this SUV just about anywhere

The Duster AWD is expected to be launched just before Diwali at a price of R80,000 over the top-spec Duster

Renault Duster AWD: Take this SUV just about anywhere

The two-wheel-drive Duster has been one of our most recommended SUVs because it is a very well-rounded package of space, ride quality and efficient yet reasonably powerful engines. This is the new all-wheel-drive (AWD) Renault Duster that gets an electronically controlled 4X4 system. Renault has also made a fair bit of other mechanical changes to this new Duster and the interiors have been spruced up as well. So, does this new ?go-anywhere? Duster build on those traits or should you rather save your money and stick with the regular Duster instead? We spend a day testing the new hardware on tarmac and an off-road trail.

The 4X4 Duster doesn?t look that different?the tough wedgy look is carried over. Immediately noticeable are the smoked grey alloy wheels and darkened headlamp clusters. Buying the top-of-the-line RxZ trim will also get you matte black B-pillars and goes quite well with the overall theme.

However, stepping inside the all-wheel-drive Duster, you?ll notice a fair bit of changes carried out. The two-pod instrument cluster has been replaced with a three-pod unit. There?s also a new three-spoke steering wheel, dual-tone grey and red seats and some soft-touch plastics on the upper portion of the new dual-tone, black and grey dashboard; all of which together improve perceived quality.

We drove the Duster 4X4 over slippery wet mud to test its effectiveness. There are three modes to choose from: 2WD, Auto and Lock. 2WD keeps it front-wheel driven, while Auto sends a part of the power to the rear wheels when the system detects the front wheels slipping. ?Lock? keeps the system in AWD mode up to around 60kph, after which it shifts back into ?Auto?.

There?s more to this SUV than the addition of a four-wheel-drive system. Firstly, the heavy clutch of the standard Duster has been replaced by a lighter one that?s much easier on your calf muscles. The gearing has also been altered to tap into the motor?s powerband better, reducing the need to downshift. Other welcome additions are the traction control and hill start assist that prevent the wheels from slipping under acceleration and stop it from rolling back while on a slope. Renault has tweaked the engine software to make it more responsive at lower speeds (the regular 108bhp Duster suffers from a delay in throttle response), making the Duster 4X4 more driveable in slow moving traffic and ghat roads. Sections where the standard Duster would require a downshift from second to first, this Duster soldiered on in second. What?s also impressive is that the independent rear suspension has improved the ride further, and the Duster 4×4 feels composed even while dealing with moderately sized potholes at speed. The steering feels accurate and there isn?t much body roll.

The Renault Duster AWD is expected to be launched just before Diwali at an estimated price of R80,000 over the top-spec Duster. So, should you buy one? Simply put, if you?re in the market for a top-spec Duster and you know you will make use of the added traction of the AWD system, this variant is worth waiting for. The mechanical tweaks and added off-road capability means it can take a bit of a beating for some off-road weekend fun. Think of it as a Duster that improves on all of its traditional strengths. Sure, the tweaked cabin still looks a bit bland and lacks the plushness you?d expect at this price point, but apart from that, the package this Duster AWD offers is hard to top.

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First published on: 20-09-2014 at 03:03 IST