Ingress is easier than in the lower slung sedans. The elderly will surely appreciate the higher placement of the Duster's seats. However, egress from the back seat isn't as simple. The gap between the large rear seat & the B Pillar is limited, thus interfering with an effortless exit.
Slide inside the Duster and you'll immediately notice the bright, airy ambience. The large greenhouse allows a lot of sunlight in. In terms of look & feel, the interiors are all function and no form. The overall design is uninspiring; it's liveable, yes, but there is no “wow” factor at all. You'll be happy or unhappy with the interiors, depending on what class of vehicle you are comparing the Duster to. Scorpio, Safari or Xylo? The Duster blows them away. Interior quality is at least 2 levels superior to what the home-grown MUVs have to offer. The Duster feels far more contemporary on the inside, while fit & finish are much superior too. On the other hand, if you are cross-shopping with equivalently priced sedans (like the Vento or Verna), the Duster's interiors will fail miserably. There is an abundance of hard & shiny plastics here. None of the parts feel particularly worthy of a million rupee car; the quality is more in line with entry-level sedans than the likes of the Honda City. Unlike the exteriors, cost cutting is extremely obvious on the inside. For instance, the rubber beading wouldn't look out of place on a humble Maruti WagonR. The switchgear is economy-grade and the 7,000 rpm counter is common to the petrol & diesel variants (no redline marked). Feel closely and you'll notice a lot of flimsy parts and panels with rough edges. It appears that the purchasing department exhausted its budget on the exteriors & mechanicals, and were left with little by the time they got inside.
On the positive side, I found the colour combination to be very tasteful. The black, beige & cream colour combination works, while the piano black & chrome touches are thoughtfully applied. They play their part in improving the feel of the Duster's interiors. In full grey, this interior would have looked right out of the nineties (Logan memories are afresh). Which reminds me, I prefer the Duster's interiors to that of my Nissan Sunny. In summary, those who buy the entry & mid-variants for 8 - 10 lakhs will learn to live with it. But customers spending 12 - 13 lakh for the higher 110 PS Dusters will inevitably feel short changed.
Space for front seat occupants is A+. The Duster has reasonable width on the inside and the driver won't be elbowing his co-passenger much. Also, the glove box doesn’t interfere with the front passenger's knees. Headroom is just about enough, although it isn't excessive as in other SUVs. The front seats don't get much in the way of bolstering. They are on the flatter side and under-thigh support, especially, is lacking. I liked the fabric seat upholstery. The compound isn't too firm and feels durable. Actually, I prefer the Duster's fabric upholstery to the economy-grade leather seats offered on the topmost variant. The front seats get a rating of 7 / 10 from me. All 4 doors offer a comfortable place to rest your forearms on the move. That said, a center armrest for the driver is sorely missed, especially since the competing Scorpio offers a wonderful center armrest for the driver & co-passenger (each). The front seat's fore & aft adjustment range is long enough to accommodate the shorter as well as taller drivers. The driver's chair gets adjustable lumbar support as well. The setting is progressive and provides you with adequate lower back support. If you want to increase the seat height, you have to get off and pull on the bare metal lever (no plastic cladding). Of course, you can lower the height while being seated. It's a rudimentary procedure and just one of the many areas in which cost-cutting is obvious. On the bright side, the seat height adjustment has a good range. Short drivers will need this feature; even though the dashboard is placed on the lower side, the top of the instrument console will interfere with their line of sight. Frontal & lateral visibility are superb, and rearward view isn't too bad either. Whatever the reason may be, some folk will appreciate being able to "see the bonnet" while driving. The steering gets tilt adjustment only (reach is fixed). I found the horn pad to be unnecessarily large, even if it makes honking easier. As a result, the gaps in the lower half of the steering are too small. When cornering, I was unable to make much use of the steering's bottom half. I'm going to go against the tide by saying I actually liked the placement of the audio controls (behind the steering, to the right). I prefer my steering wheels to be just that, and don't like the clutter that integrated audio & phone controls bring. Drive the Duster for a while and you'll agree that the audio controls are intuitive to use. Their el-cheapo build quality leaves a lot to be desired though, with the audio buttons of our brand new test car suffering from excessive play.
I could write a book on the messy ergonomics : Power window buttons are thankfully placed on the driver's door (remember the Logan's controls?), but the console on which they are fitted looks like an after-thought. Most of you will need to really stretch to access the buttons which are placed all the way at the start of the door. The sharp edge of this console poked my right leg a bit too much while driving. The clutch, brake and accelerator pedals are awkwardly positioned, and are also too close to one another. There's no dead pedal...placing my left foot in the available space (to the left of the clutch) was tricky with large shoes. The ORVM adjustment knob is strangely located below the handbrake. Then, the center console angle & the tiny central lock / unlock button are geared for left-hand-drive variants. Ergonomically, the Duster misses the mark by a mile. Try as I might, even after spending 2 days with the SUV, I just couldn't find my "ideal" driving position. Every hour or two, I'd fidget with some seat setting or the other. The Duster is simply not as user-friendly as the typical Japanese or Korean car. In fact, the only other car in which that ideal driving position remained elusive is the Fiat Linea.
Even though the Duster is built on the Logan’s platform, it doesn't offer the rear legroom of its sedan sibling. To put things in perspective, legroom is similar to a Hyundai i20 rather than the Honda City. I'd term it as strictly adequate; it's not what I would call spacious, but neither is it too cramped. The back of the front seat is scooped in to liberate that much more knee room. Where the rear bench scores is in support & sheer width. The seat back is superbly reclined, making the bench a comfortable place to relax on. Also, the center armrest is great to use. The rear seat is positioned noticeably higher than the front; this, combined with the large windows, makes for a bright ambience. It's not claustrophobic at the back at all. The rear seat is wide enough to easily accommodate 3 passengers. The India-specific rear air conditioner looks like an after-market fitment though. It's placed too close for comfort to the rear seat. The 5th passenger will have to twist & turn his legs before being able to sit in the middle. That said, he won't have any problem once he is seated (contrary
to popular perception). I sat as the 5th passenger for a couple of kms and didn't have any complaints. The 5th passenger's seatback - which is the base of the center armrest
- is soft and provides adequate cushioning. The rear air-conditioner has its own condensor and is extremely effective, unlike the Nissan Sunny's meagre air blower. At speed II, it can chill the Duster's rear section in no time, despite having only a single air vent. Do note that speed II is pretty noisy. You might want to switch back to speed I after the desired temperature has been reached. The planted ride quality improves overall comfort levels for rear passengers. The body roll is well in control and I'd much rather be seated on the backseat of a Duster than a shaky Xylo. The single fly in the ointment is the limited legroom, something Renault could have easily solved by equipping the Duster with a sliding rear seat. Such small additions make the difference between an "average" and "intelligently" packaged interior. After all, what do you use more? The rear seat or the boot? Why not leave it up to the owner to decide? A number of market successes have proven that the Indian customer prioritises rear seat space over luggage capacity. At the very least, the rear seat should have been positioned further back to release more legroom for passengers.
The 2nd day of our test-drive included a drive on the Coimbatore highway. The Duster's air-conditioner seemed up to the task of keeping the cabin cool under a hot sun, although rains were intermittent and I'll leave the final verdict to Duster ownership reports. We had only the front air-con running most of the time and I doubt anyone will miss the rear unit. The OEM stereo has mediocre levels of sound quality, thanks to the budget quality speakers. If you care even a little bit about audio quality, upgrading the speakers might be a good idea.
There is a fair amount of storage space at the front. The glovebox runs deep and is illuminated. The door pockets are deep as well, and can hold 1 liter bottles. Be warned that the mouth (of the door pockets) is quite narrow and the rough edges can scratch your hand. There are two small cup / can holders right ahead of the gear lever. The dashboard has accommodating storage cubicles above the center air-vents and the glovebox. I found the cubicle below the handbrake perfect to park my smart-phone. It also has borders that ensure your phone doesn't slide out under hard cornering. Rear passengers don't get door pockets, although there are two seat-back pockets (on the front seats). The 475 liter boot has a practical layout and the loading lip isn't too high either. The twin-tray parcel shelf can hold knick knacks in place. The parcel shelf will also come in handy to hide shopping bags from prying eyes. I am at a loss for words why the folding rear seat doesn't have a 60:40 split option. This greatly limits cargo flexibility. My unscientific opinion is that a split seat would be used a lot more in lifestyle SUVs than hatchbacks or sedans.
Basic steering is reasonably thick, but the horn pad is unduly large. Quality of leather stitching isn't up to the mark:
Going against the tide, I actually prefer
this placement of the audio controls (behind the steering wheel). Extremely intuitive to use. It's a full feature module with controls for choosing the media type, radio stations, mute button, phone control etc.
Ordinary meter console is common to petrol & diesel engines. No redline marking on tachometer!
MID has all the necessary information. Shown here are average speed, fuel efficiency, distance to empty and, uniquely, the liters consumed so far:
2DIN head-unit with 4 speakers. CD, MP3, USB, AUX & Bluetooth compatibility. Sound quality is typically OEM grade. Lost count of the number of times I tried to adjust stereo volume from the large chrome knob (which actually scans through radio frequencies). Below the head-unit is the tiny central lock / unlock button and the seatbelt reminder:
Powerful air-conditioner. No climate control offered on any variant. Recirculation slider control sticks out like a sore thumb:
Duster 110 gets a 6 speed transmission. Shift quality is light enough and sure slotting, although it has a rubbery side to it:
Budget quality control stalks. Light control stalk is to the left, wipers to the right:
No dead pedal. Hard clutch & brake pedals are too close to each other. You can also see the oddly placed headlamp height adjuster to the top right:
India-spec door panel sees improvements. Power window controls are back where they belong. Piano black finish looks neat. Deep door pockets can hold a 1 liter water bottle:
No one-touch down function (so useful in India), even for the driver's window:
I prefer the Duster's fabric upholstery to leather. Nice design. Seat is otherwise flat and not too supportive:
The bare-metal seat height adjustment lever. You have to get off the seat to properly adjust its height. Rudimentary to look at, rudimentary to use. On the positive side, it has a good adjustment range:
Lumbar support works like a charm:
ORVM adjustment knob is oddly placed below the handbrake:
Rotary air-vents can be adjusted any way you want. That's a deep storage cubicle right above:
Two cup-holders ahead of the gear lever. The button (with the red light on) can be used to switch on / off the reverse parking sensors:
Illuminated glovebox runs fairly deep. Notice the dedicated partition for the owner's manual:
Even though both wing mirrors are the convex-type, I found them to be a size too small for an SUV. Their height is satisfactory, it's the width I am unhappy with:
Inside mirror is sufficiently wide:
Rearward view for the driver. You won't miss cars that are parked at your tail. Be sure to give the ORVMs a glance before reversing, as the thick D-Pillars create blind spots. Also visible in this picture is the 5th passenger's fixed neck restraint:
Mediocre legroom for rear passengers. Seat offers superb support while the backrest is nicely reclined for comfort:
The center armrest is comfortable to use. It has two cup / can holders:
Rear air-con tower looks like an after-market fitment and is placed too close to the rear seat. It's a proper air-conditioning unit, and not merely a blower like in the Nissan Sunny. The elastic strap at the bottom can be used to hold a water bottle:
Two seat-back pockets. Notice how the seat-back is scooped in to extract that much more kneeroom for rear passengers:
The twin-tray parcel shelf can hold knick knacks in place. Also useful to hide shopping bags from prying eyes:
Boot has a practical layout. The tail-gate opens upward (as in a hatchback) and not sideways (like the Scorpio):
1064 liters of cargo capacity with the rear seat folded away. Unfortunately, the rear seat doesn't split in a 60:40 ratio:
Alloy-wheel spare is mounted right under. Tip the tyrewalla well for bending down & checking the air pressure! Though tricky to remove & reinstall, an advantage of having the spare wheel placed this way is you don't have to lift holiday luggage to access it. Note the heat insulation from the muffler: