(The AMT Easy-R gearbox on Duster, courtesy Renault)
I did the good thing of calling the showroom, ensuring the car was available over this weekend and based on the promises went there. After checking out the RXS version of the duster for a while, I finally managed to get the Duster AMT for the test drive as promised. Without much fuss I got into the vehicle which was purring around with the engine running. As I do for all test drives irrespective of how experienced I am, I swithced the stereo off (though the sales guys keep shouting hoarse about how good the sound system is). Kept the AC to my liking not blowing too much on my face. I have this habit of diverting AC vents away from me so that I feel cool in the entire cabin not necessarily on my face.
Before I continue further, a few negatives.
> I did not much appreciate the cruise control buttons on steering and audio and phone buttons somewhere behind the steering. BAD
> The window buttons are all below hand brake or nearby. BAD
> The dashboard is so good in sports version but in the highest variant it looks crap. BAD
> The music and nav system could have been much better (like the apple car play stereo in s-Cross or Baleno)
> The lower variants have only one airbag for 13 lacs on the road. VERY BAD
<End of cribbing>
The first thing I found so good about this car is its steering. Without rake adjustment I was wondering if I’d be able to find a good seating position at all, but that was not an issue also especially considering this was an automatic. This is the first AMT for those who do not know mated to hill hold, and a six speed, with EBD, ABS in its category.
Everyone knows the amount of boot space in the duster. And enough said. Nothing even comes close to this in its category. For a five seater proper suv that is.
You see a duster, you don’t mess with it. Period.
I was really pleased to see the way the car handled the road. Ahem the SUV 🙂
The suspension just soaks up the bumps, and the passengers hardly feel that. Amazing. Just Amazing. And due to its ground clearance of 210mm (higher than how much we can screw up our roads into potholes), you can be rest assured the car is not going to scrape anywhere. And with nearly 35 degree rear angle and 30 degrees front angle, nothing is difficult with this car. The steering only adds to the joy. Its so easy to handle the vehicle and the size is never felt with such a smooth steering.
This car has loads of space for 5 passengers and all their family items in the boot. Its a proper five seater SUV. And the three people at the back can sit very comfortably without any issue. The middle passenger having a fixed headrest is a nice touch.
Frankly I did not like Duster’s interiors so much. It all looks like a lot of after thought rather than any planned outcome. The only exception was the sports version which had orange coloured strips and AC Vent borders which lent an exceptional look along with the seat stitching. I am really not sure why Renault is not including this along with all other versions. This is exactly what is needed to make it look much better on the inside.
The ride & AMT Gearbox
Coming to the AMT gearbox which is why I took this test drive in the first place there are a few things that I normally check with these gear boxes. So let’s go one by one
The upshift in drive mode
Put it to drive mode, and the car starts moving forward. You need to keep in mind that this will happen so that it does not take you by surprise at any time. The car drives smoothly for a while in first gear. Upon revving further rather linearly, the car quickly switches to second gear and then third. Through 1-2-3, there is no noticeable lag whatsoever. If the same thing was done with the accelerator floored, then the car holds on to 1 for a while more before switching to 2-3. If I were to put it more clearly for you, it gets you to the point of irritation and getting puzzled why its not shifting but before you can blink your eye, its shifted. This behaviour is only if you really press the pedal quite hard. If you drive normally even a bit spiritedly its no issue at all frankly.
Downshift upon braking
The downshift is in line with what you would expect and it comes down to 2nd gear quite soon upon slowing down. However just as you would expect, it holds on to the second gear for as long as it can before going to 1, something that we all do in manual. So brownie points there for Renault.
Manual mode upshifts
Switch the car to M mode, and you need to pull down for + and push up for -.
You need to switch to second gear as soon as you can for it to settle down, else the engine seems worked up on first gear if you are there in first for a while more. And it does not move either. So second gear onwards its ok to upshift as and where you would like to go.
Manual mode downshifts for overtake manouvres
As you would like to do sometimes, you can ask the car to go down a gear to quickly overtake another vehicle while on manual mode. I got limited opportunity to test this, but I would like to say that like other automatics, this maybe a hassle and not recommended. The car can get confused on how to behave suddenly in the lower gear and could give you loads of acceleration without much physical movement. Typical of all AMTs so far.
There is no sports mode in this car. But in any gear, the acceleration and power was always felt as per need. With 110 hp on tap, you are not going to feel this car is a laggard ever. So no issues there.
Conclusions and comparisons
At this stage I can compare this AMT with Celerio and Scorpio Automatic and I can say Renault really have implemented the AMT well. Almost comparable to Celerio and slightly mroe better itself. Of these three the Scorpio automatic is the worst as it has no clue which gear it is shifting to in any speed. One pedal less, same power as manual 110hp. No dearth of push in city traffic. Car like to drive. One leg resting. You cannot ask for more here.
I really wish Renault comes up with AMT in sports version, and RXL version and includes that freaking second airbag in both these models. Removal of an airbag is not a way to sell between versions and this is really not good. This is where I really like the XUV automatic which is now even available on W6 Trim.
Being an owner of a sunny, I have always felt the braking in sunny was not upto the mark. It leaves you wondering if the car will stop and if yes will the ABS work as expected. Thankfully in duster that’s not the case, the brakes are present and they work well as expected with lots of feedback.
If this were a CVT it should easily return as much or more than manual. However this is AMT, so the mileage should be nearby manual figures at least. The test drive vehicle was showing an average of 9.5kmpl and even if you excuse the fact that no one would have ever reached 4th gear during the test drive, and bump these figures up a bit, expectation is that it would give around 12kmpl, nothing more. Absolutely nothing more. In fact I’d be surprised if it even returns so much to be honest.
In Bangalore its starts from 11.53 lakhs on the road upto 17.29 lakhs on the road for the highest end version (AWD). Frankly I feel its overpriced for what it has to offer. But if you have the money, then this is the perfect car-like SUV. Period. No gimmicks here. For me for the AMT version which comes only in 110 hp avatar, its 16.4 lakhs on the road which is too much for a 1.5 litre engine today.
Gimmickery / Gadgetry / Features
> Cruise control with controls on steering, you can switch on cruise control and long press steering to set it to cruise. you can press + to increase cruise to certain level and – to decrease cruise. You can stop the cruise with a button, or restart to previous level in case of braking. All these four buttons are on steering.
> Power window and other such buttons are below handbrake, bad placement
> Audio and phone buttons are on a stalk fixed to steering column, bad design
> No start/stop keyless button
> Navigation system looks too basic in terms of UI design for me (being a UI centric guy)
The purpose of the test drive was to evaluate duster w.r.t to its AMT gearbox. For this the car does pretty well and will de-stress you out of Bangalore traffic on daily errands. It also should be a capable highway cruiser no doubt even with AMT. The tricky part was always about how car manufacturers implement the AMT system, and Renault looks to have mastered this in a neat way.
The AMT comes at a price which is steep and at this cost, there are lots of other contenders offering much more at the price point nearby to Duster (Creta, XUV, Scorpio, Ecosport, BRV, TUV, etc). The suspension and braking are a class apart and for Bangalore’s horrible roads, the Duster soothes like a balm for headache.
If you have the money to blow, you can easily plonk that cash into the AMT and you will not be too disppointed the way it will handle. For my own case I need to now arrange my funds as I have one contender who seems like a winner on most fronts.