Friday, August 15, 2014

The Duster that does not bite dust!

You are up early in the morning, driving a nice compact SUV towards the wilderness and it starts raining. You venture deeper into the sea of bright green on the narrow internal roads of the Western Ghats and you come across a small off-road trail – the one that’s disappears into the woods just to peep out above the tree-line on the hillock yonder. You sit up in your driving seat, gripping the wheel hard. The boulder patches, running streams and slush fields are running in a loop in front of your eyes just like the breaking news reel on our TV channels. It just makes you want to go in and take the plunge! What a dream!

Here in India, such dreams seldom come true. You are left wanting your little SUV to have a four-wheel-drive system, so that you can just hit off the trail just for the heck of seeing where it goes. But now that I am writing about it – yay – I have lived this dream. Yes, I was previewing a compact 4x4 SUV, the Duster AWD from the French manufacturer Renault, on invitation from the team at Blogadda. Being an automotive fanatic, I had been tracking the Duster since its global launch under the brand Dacia. As the car was being launched in India, Dacia had already built a Dakar spec Duster with a high performance engine and an effective four-wheel-drive system. I had been waiting for this car since at least a year and now that I got a chance to lay my hands on it, I was quite excited.

The test schedule for the day was planned really well as we drove off from Pune city towards Lavasa getting to drive the car on the highway as well as on narrow country roads filled with pot-holes and the challenging twisties of the Mula and Mutha Ghats. The Duster has always been a great handler. If you could live with strictly plain interiors and some weirdly positioned switches, you would love this car. This probably is one of the best handling cars to be launched in India for people who can spend about a million bucks and a bit more.

The second leg of the test drive was something that I had been a dream for quite some time. I got to hit a long 5 km off road trail. As I was leaving tarmac, I offered my prayers to the Gods of Speed – Hanu Mikkola, Ari Vatanen, Sebastien Loeb et al – and let all the 110 horses go! The ESP light blinked frantically on the dash as the wheels kept spinning on the loose gravel. The car lunged ahead with zest. I was really surprised by the composure of the Duster. It always had the right amount of driver aid kicking in to keep the car in check. The Torque-on-Demand and the ESP work in great unison letting even novices cruise through the obstacles. The car is quite capable of handling a 30-35⁰ incline on a dirt road even when it is raining! 

After some water crossings and more broken tarmac, we could finally hear our stomachs calling for food.
The last leg was the drive back to the Courtyard Marriott where we had been hosted by the extremely friendly and hospitable team of Blogadda and Renault. I took it easy on the way to feel how the car would feel in real world. As I ran in 2WD mode, the Duster just ate up all the road undulations. Being an automotive engineer, I have an idea of how difficult it is to get a car to ride like that at low speeds and also hold corners at high speeds.

It had been a fun day, the exact kind of a getaway I was planning for – a good road, a mad location and a crazy car – it doesn’t get better than that for someone who has more gasoline and oil in his veins than the blood corpuscles. It turned out to be the one of the best ways I could have celebrated Independence – the freedom to hit that unknown trail which I would probably have turned away from for the lack of choice!

-          - This blogpost is written as a part of the #DusterAllWheelDrive event by Blogadda and Renault India.
--         - For further details about the Renault Duster AWD and any other car please log on to CarWale - The biggest Automotive Website in India

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