January 2012.

India saw two new breed of cars launched. Cars that would go on to become some of the most popular cars in the country. I also consider this time to be the start of an inevitable end of the saloon car.

July 2020.

So, 8 years down the line, where do the Ecosport and the Duster stand? Since 2012, Ford has updated its hot seller with a completely new front end, new interiors, some new engines and more importantly, stickers! No, seriously, stickered cars sell! Ford did do some justice for enthusiasts by launching the Ecosport S with its gorgeous 17 inch rims but then again, the Ecosport had always been a sorted car for most.

The Duster though, wasn’t so lucky. While it did not directly compete with the Ecosport (which was under 4 meters in length), the Ford did take away some of its sales. On a first glance, the Ecosport had better interiors, seats that looked more comfortable and overall was easier to drive around town. Add to that the updates Renault made (rather, the lack of) hardly changed the fact that it was, after all, one of the cheapest cars available in the Europe. But what that first glance did not tell you was the Duster’s roots.

Not many people know of this, but originally, the Duster was meant to go racing. Yes, and that isn’t a misprint. It was meant to go racing on ice in a series called Andros Trophy. That, and the fact that the Romanian Army uses it should be good enough for India, right? Well, it was that and so much better!

If you’re a Duster fan, you probably have owned one, or know someone who does. On paper, it does not look very appealing. But as you live with it, you might fall in love with it. And for 2020, it jumps in the new-crop-of-small-capacity-turbo-petrol-engines bandwagon.

A 4 cylinder turbo petrol is always welcome in a sea of 3 cylinder downsized engines

Let’s lead with the engine. 1.3L might not sound like a lot but it isn’t that small compared to the brilliant K9K 1.5L turbo diesel it replaces. You cannot buy a diesel anymore, blame BS6 for that; only two petrols are available in 2020. The new engine has been co-developed with Nissan and (surprise!) Mercedes Benz. Yes, Mercedes Benz uses this engine in the A Class and GLA. Aided by direct injection, it puts out, wait for it, a hundred and fifty six horsepower! Yes. 156HP. And 254NM torque. Which easily makes it the most powerful car in its class. What’s even better is that in the process of downsizing, it has not lost a cylinder, unlike other small turbo engines (hello, Ford, Hyundai, VW). Now I get it, sometimes a 3 cyl turbo engines makes more power than the larger engine it replaces but a 4 cyl will always be a lot smoother, quieter and most importantly, unstressed. This engine, coupled with a 6spd manual with well-spaced out ratios is surely a winning package.

Smart, but looks too similar to the Seltos rims

Ride and handling remains unchanged, which is a good thing. ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it’, right? The Duster was designed with long travel springs on all corners which aided excellent wheel travel, perfect for broken roads. The large-for-the-time 16 inch rims was the perfect size for a flattening ride and fairly surefooted handling. The steering, still the hydraulic unit, provides great feel and feedback. But beware of the violent kickback in mid corner bumps, which happens rarely, but it does happen. All these are carried over to the 2020 model, with the wheels now getting a smart machine-cut finish. What will be missed though is the AWD version with independent rear suspension, revised gear ratios for a lower 1st gear.

Yay! New steering!

The interior is still lagging behind its rivals in terms of ergonomics. Although it gets a new steering wheel, phone controls are still oddly place, like a Formula 1 clutch. The infotainment screen is placed too down low, making it hard to see it while driving and the armrests do not easily fall to place. Which was probably designed for tough winters, where you’d probably wear a couple of North Face jackets, and then you’d feel at home in the car’s spacious interiors.

Finally, projector headlamps!

On the safety front, you finally have projector headlamps with LED DRLs, along with the usual ABS, EBD, 2 airbags and even hill start assist on the 1.3L Turbo variant.

The Duster looks set to continue selling fairly well, but it is under threat from newer, more comfortable, though not quite capable rivals like the new Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos and now even the Sonet. Also in near competition is the new Mahindra Thar, if you don’t have a big family, that is. But look at it this way, the Duster is the best of both worlds. It will probably go to 80% of the places the Thar can and yet blow the doors off the soft roaders in terms of handling and highway manners. What the Duster is, essentially, a great chassis, suspension, engine and dynamics, only lagging behind in the interiors, comfort and convenience matters. For 13.46 lakh before taxes, the turbo petrol top end RXZ variant is decent value too. But don’t make your decision by going though paper. Go drive one, and you will come away impressed.