The Duster has turned Renault’s fortunes around in India. Solidly engineered, just the right size and with a healthy variant lineup that spans many budgets, it appeals on many levels, and not just because it ticks the right boxes. The Renault SUV has pretty much had a free run since its launch just a year ago, with no serious competition to trouble it.
Until now that is. Ford is hoping spoil the Duster’s party and take away its customers with the hotly anticipated EcoSport. The formula looks right – it’s very stylish and, like the Duster, has a proven 1.5-litre diesel motor under the hood, one of three engine options Ford is offering.
And that’s not all – Ford has pulled out all the stops and loaded the EcoSport with enough equipment to rival a Boeing in order to seriously woo customers.
Like the Duster, the EcoSport shares its underpinnings with a saloon, the body and mechanicals suitably modified to take on pseudo-SUV duties. But unlike the Duster, the EcoSport measures in at a millimeter under four-metres, qualifying it for the small-car excise sops.
And here lies the big difference between the two – the Duster comes across as a more practical, more utility-oriented design, while the EcoSport, with its stylish appeal, aims to win you over emotionally. The question is, can the EcoSport dust the Duster?
There’s no doubt the Duster looks more like an SUV, and the EcoSport is clearly a size down when parked alongside it. The EcoSport wins its street cred back with that massive grille, the tailgate-mounted spare wheel and the black cladding that runs around the car.
The Duster doesn’t need the overt SUV styling cues – its big chrome grille, broad shoulders and bulging wheel arches make it look the business. A large part of the Duster’s appeal lies in its simple yet well balanced proportions. It has a certain no-nonsense look compared to the flashy image the EcoSport portrays.
You can tell that the Duster comes from humble roots; it’s based on the Logan’s platform and just isn’t as rich in content as the EcoSport. The lift-type door handles feel particularly flimsy and, on this 84bhp RxL, aren’t even body coloured. There’s more cost saving to be seen when you open the door – there’s a single rubber door beading just like in the Logan, and the doors don’t shut with a really satisfying thud.
The Ford, in contrast, feels better built right from the time you yank open the heavy doors using the chunky handles. The EcoSport has a lot more detailing, whereas the Duster’s design has been kept relatively simple.
A QUESTION OF SPACE
Renault recently updated the interiors of the Duster and the most noticeable improvements are a smattering of silver trim to liven up the dashboard and a new two-DIN sat-nav-equipped touchscreen audio system. It’s clean and straightforward, and you sit at a good height. The view out is good and the cabin is a friendly place to be. There are ergonomic issues though – the driver’s seat doesn’t get seat height adjustment, there’s no dead pedal and the mirror power adjustment still sits in a tricky-to-reach place under the handbrake. Then you’ll realise you have to look down to see the sat-nav screen – no ideal when you’re driving – and there’s still no climate control.
The Ford’s dashboard looks like the command centre of the starship Enterprise in comparison. The dashboard borrows heavily from the Fiesta and has a lot of cool bit in it. Details like the sky blue needle for the dials, the chest-out stance of the centre console and the proliferation of different shapes give the dashboard plenty of visual drama. Plastic quality isn’t exceptional – there are plenty of hard surfaces, but then again, it’s slightly better than the Duster’s homegrown-looking dashboard.
The EcoSport’s cabin is not without its faults either –the dashboard is quite high and that A-pillar creates a big blind spot. The front seats are well bolstered but quite narrow, and people with broader frames may not be as comfortable in them as they would be in the Duster’s wider, more accommodating seats. The centre console is cluttered with button, Ford’s Sync driver interface system isn’t the most intuitive, and rear visibility is dreadful as well.
Now, the Duster has the bigger wheelbase, but the rear seats have been pushed forward quite a bit for a bigger luggage area. So as far as rear seat space is concerned, the two cars are pretty much even on legroom. However, the Duster has a much broader cabin (rear seat width is a staggering 12cm more) making it much easier for three-abreast seating. The EcoSport has the higher ceiling, making it easier for taller people. The rear seats themselves are pretty evenly matched, but the EcoSport allows you to adjust the seat back angle, giving you more flexibility.
The Duster has the far bigger boot though – at 475 litres, it’s a lot larger than the EcoSport’s 362 litres. Speaking of which, the Ford has a lot more useful storage space in the cabin than the Duster’s single shelf on top of the dashboard and big door pockets.
The Duster’s engine is a familiar one – it’s in almost all of Renault and Nissan’s cars in India. but we think this particular 84bhp version is one of its best guises. We say that because it uses a fixed-geometry trubo, one that makes it respond really well to throttle inputs. That means you can cruise around all day in the city in higher gears. It may not have the EcoSport’s 90 bhp, but it makes up by having almost as much torque and more linear power delivery. The precise, snappy gearshift is a joy to use and the only hitch in its drive train is the heavier, unprogressive clutch. Again, to save costs, the clutch is not hydraulically operated (like in the EcoSport) but uses a simple cable-operated system which requires more effort.
But, thanks to the Duster’s shorter gearing, you won’t have to use that clutch much. It’s happy driving around the city in the higher gears all day long. The Duster is much more responsive than the EcoSport and turbo lag is virtually non-existent. In terms of sheer drive ability this version of the K9K diesel is unmatched. The EcoSport’s engine is also quite responsive, but it does have more turbo lag than the Duster, and power delivery is not as linear. What’s important is that both cars have more than enough performance for city driving, but it’s the Duster than pulls more strongly from low revs which makes it engine so well suited to the cut and thrust of city driving.
It’s the EcoSport, whit its punchy mid-range, that feels the livelier of the two. Driven flat out, the Duster is the slower car. It takes 1.7sec longer than the EcoSport’s 13.7sec to get to 100kph, and by 120kph, the Ford is ahead by a considerable four seconds. The problem here is that the Duster’s 84bhp motor isn’t as free-revving or as happy pulling to its redline as the Ford’s and that’s where it loses time. Nonethelss, both will get to 140kph without too much complaint, and it’s only when you load them up or when you need some overtaking grunt on the highway that you will wish you had a bit more power. The EcoSport is also much better insulated than the Duster, which is distinctly noisier, especially when you’re revving hard.
The EcoSport smothers out most road imperfections quite easily and feels stable and secure at speed. However, the stiff front and the soft rear suspension prevent the car from setting down on a very bumpy surface. The Duster easily trounces the EcoSport when it comes to ride quality. The way it flattens out a bad surface is simply incredible. And this becomes even more evident when you drive both cars back to back. Where the EcoSport pitches and moves about, the Duster simply coasts over the same surface with hardly any body movement. The Duster feels incredibly stable at speed and it gives you the confidence to not slow down as much as when you hit a bad patch of road or even a speed breaker!
The EcoSport makes up by being a lot more fun to drive. The Steering is effortless and despite being electrically assisted, it has some level of feel and weighs up nicely as you go faster. The Duster’s lower-geared hydraulic steering is heavier, but it’s not a cause for complaint. In the end, it’s the Duster, with its larger proportions and brilliantly tuned suspension, that feel far better on Indian roads.
DONE AND DUSTED
If you travel five up most of the time, then it’s the Duster for you, It’s got the wider cabin, the bigger boot, the better ride and is the easier to drive around town thanks to its responsiveness and great outward visibility. It is no doubt the more practical car and the one that’s a bit more suited to its compact SUV tag. However, when you’re paying over Rs. 10 lakh, you don’t expect rough-around-the-edges interior quality or a basic cabin and, despite the improved kit level, you will certainly expect more equipment.
The EcoSport’s biggest shortfall is a tight cabin. The rear seat is narrow not just by SUV standard, but even when compared to a premium hatch. The boot, another SUV requirement, is a bit too small.
However, if you don’t mid sacrificing space, the EcoSport does everything the Duster does and with more sophistications. It has an upmarket aura that makes it more appealing than the Renault, and comes packed with so many first-in-class features. Overall, the EcoSport, despite its small size, offers better value and is out pick in this new compact SUV segment.