There's seldom been a more closely-fought fight among vehicles. The Renault Duster and the Ford EcoSport are set to be each others' respective arch-nemesis and already we're seeing camps being formed with strong opinions either way. We took a closer look at the two compact SUVs and compared their bits.
It's a mixed opinion this. While the modern kinetic design language and sporty elements used in the Ford makes it more car like and premium, the Renault uses a more simplistic approach. But this doesn't mean it can't turn heads, the flared front and rear arches add muscle and give the car a more robust look. The only SUV element in the EcoSport is its height and the externally mounted spare tyre. The EcoSport is more attractive but the Duster definitely has better presence. Inside too, it's the same story. The interior design in the Ford is new age and the use of black and gloss aluminium detailing gives it a very sporty look like in a hot hatch. The Duster's interior is bland and very utilitarian in comparison. It offers similar fit and finish but one doesn't feel as special inside as in the EcoSport.
Space and comfort
At the front, both the SUVs offer similar space. There is ample leg and head room for front passengers but in the Ford the driver also gets an armrest. In fact the driver is more pampered in the EcoSport. Besides the armrest, the Ford also gets height adjustment for the driver's seat and a steering which is adjustable for both reach and rake.
The Duster's driver gets a height adjustable seat too, but instead of being continuously variable, it just a two step affair - high or low. The Renault's steering, again, only adjusts for rake but not for reach. So, finding a good driving position is a lot easier in the Ford.
Neither SUV offers a dead pedal but the Ford offers some space to rest your left foot which the Duster lacks. The latter however scores when it comes to shoulder room and visibility. The thick A-pillar and small quarter glass in the Ford results in a big blind spot and will take some time getting used to.
Moving to the back, this is where the lack of shoulder room is most felt in the EcoSport. It's a strict four-seater and only two adults can comfortably sit at the back. The Duster on the other hand offers more room and can accommodate three adults since the seat is larger. It even features a rear armrest with two cup holders. That said, the Ford surprisingly offers 75mm more rear knee room. But, since the EcoSport is less than four metres long, boot space suffers. At 346 litres, it offers 129 litres lesser space than the Duster. The seats however split 60:40 unlike the Renault's single folding seat. The roof rails also have mounts to hold a roof box.
The EoSport is also the better equipped of the two SUVs. It gets auto-climate control and SYNC - a voice activated feature to control a host of systems, both of which are missing on the Duster. In terms of safety, the top end EcoSport offers six airbags (four more than the Renault).
Engines and real world performance
Both feature 1.5-litre common-rail units but it's the Renault that puts out more power. The Duster produces 110PS at 3900rpm while peak torque is an impressive 248Nm produced at a low 2250rpm. The Ford meanwhile delivers a lower 91PS at 3750rpm and 204Nm from 2000-2750rpm. This difference on paper is quite evident on the road as well. Power delivery is stronger in the Duster while the turbo lag is less evident.
However, in bumper to bumper traffic the EcoSport is effortless to drive and is less tiring compared to the Renault thanks mainly to a much lighter clutch operation. The EcoSport is happy to take on the highways as well, but the Duster comes across as the more accomplished car for the job. Its engine feels less strained and more alert and thanks to a higher torque rating and an additional sixth gear, it makes for a more relaxed cruiser.
We also prefer the gear shift quality on the Duster; while the Renault offers short throws and crisp shifts, the EcoSport's five-speed transmission feels more rubbery in its operation.
In terms of outright performance, the Duster is slightly quicker. The sprint to 100kmph comes up in 12.7 seconds while the EcoSport does the same in a respectable 13.2 seconds. The Renault also has a slightly higher top speed. It maxes out at 175kmph, 5kmph more than the EcoSport.
It's a close fight in this round too. The ARAI figure is higher for the Ford (22.7kmpl against the Duster's 19.01kmpl) and in the real world in exactly the same conditions, the EcoSport again delivered high figures of 12.2kmpl in the city against the Duster's 11.8kmpl. On the highway, however, the Renault did better. It returned 21.8kmpl, 1.4kmpl more than the Ford. This means the Duster's overall fuel efficiency of 14.3kmpl is 0.5kmpl more than the EcoSport. Clearly, there's nothing to choose between the two in the real world when it comes to fuel efficiency.
Ride and handling
Based on the Fiesta platform, the EcoSport shines when it comes to dynamics. The chassis feels well balanced and is very much at home around corners. There is slight body roll and one does get the feeling of driving a tall car but then it still is the best handling vehicle in its segment. However, the steering could have been slightly heavier and offer more feedback like in the Fiesta.
The Duster on the other hand, isn't as involving but is still a capable handler. A wider track and broader tyres does improve handling while high speed stability is impressive. The only negative however is the strong steering kick-back that is felt especially while cornering on undulated surfaces. This isn't a good feeling and one needs to grip the steering quite firmly. The Renault has the better ride quality, though. It glides over rough roads and potholes with pliancy, and on the highway over undulating roads, it remains completely planted. The EcoSport on the other hand is slightly stiff and doesn't soak in the bumps as well.
How about going off-road? Both vehicles put down power though the front wheels and don't offer four-wheel drive even as an option, so we wouldn't recommend one going off-road. But if you still decide to drive on rough terrain and small boulders, the Duster will be the better choice since it offers slightly more ground clearance and even features a metal sump guard.
Which should one buy?
The EcoSport, yes as odd as it may be, hasn't been launched as yet. Talk about taking your own sweet time to do things. In any case, when the Ford is launched, we expect it to be cheaper than the Duster. Moreover, it will have more features, will look more upmarket, and though it will have a less powerful engine, the EcoSport's performance won't be significantly off the Renault's.
The Ford then is the clear winner here. It also makes better sense for the city given its smaller dimensions and lighter controls. The only reason to buy the Duster now is if you are specifically looking for a compact SUV that offers enough space for five and their luggage, to travel long distances in.