Dacia Duster exceeds expectations in a new era of affordable SUVs

Posted on: 15 October 2013 by Adrian Foster

Adrian Foster is impressed by the Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 110 2WD 5dr Lauréate

Dacia Duster

The Dacia Duster has given the UK car market a genuine wake-up call, because right now there’s nothing else quite like it available.

Indeed, the timing couldn’t have been better for cash-strapped Brits: a new car for the price of a second hand one has got to be a tempting prospect and when it's as smartly styled and capable as Dacia's Duster, the concept becomes almost irresistible. Undercutting rival models in the Crossover and small SUV 4x4 segments by an enormous amount, this Romanian budget brand uses proven Renault engines and engineering to create a very likeable product that could prove ideal as back-up family transport.

Dacia Duster

Decent kit

One of the main selling points of the Duster, along with being so cheap, is the decent kit list. For the entry £8,995 4x2 Access model, buyers get 16-inch steel wheels, roof bars, electric front windows, four airbags, emergency spare wheel, height-adjustable steering wheel and remote central locking. Go up to Ambiance level and you get added goodies like a radio/CD player with aux-in, Bluetooth and USB connection, plus the added practicality of 60/40 split rear seats. The range-topping Lauréate model we tested adds the luxuries of air conditioning, 16-inch alloys, electric rear windows, leather steering wheel and a trip computer.

The Duster’s interior is light and airy and is an object lesson for other manufacturers. The two-tone grey dashboard is easy on the eye and set off by a quality leather trimmed steering wheel, though without any controls. Seats are comfortable and well trimmed, though there isn’t masses of legroom for taller drivers. Dials are clear white on black, reminiscent of BMW, and the air conditioning functions well as does the radio / CD player. There are electric windows front and rear and shiny, piano-black door handles add an up-market feel to the cabin. The only thing letting down the interior was the nasty feel of the rotary air conditioning controls, especially that for the air distribution.

Dacia DusterGenerous storage

Storage space is on the generous side up front, with door packets and useful compartments in the centre of the dashboard and on the passenger’s side above the capacious glove box. Unusually, there is also a centrally mounted overhead storage compartment which will accommodate map books and larger items, though there is a danger that these could tumble onto the driver’s head during hard cornering, with dramatic consequences!

Tractable diesel

Two wheel-drive is standard fare on the Duster, unless you pay an all-wheel drive premium for a variant, but it's well worth considering if you need a budget 4x4 The extra cash gets you an impressive Nissan-engineered three-mode system, selectable via a rotary controller in front of the gear stick. Most of the time you'll be in '2WD' mode but in wet or icy conditions, there's the peace of mind of being able to switch seamlessly to 'Auto' so that extra traction will automatically cut in when necessary. For mud-plugging meanwhile, you'll want to keep all wheels turning permanently by switching to the 'Lock' setting. It's in these kinds of conditions that you'll appreciate the useful 210mm of ground clearance and the impressive clearance angles.

As for engines, most buyers will want to avoid the entry-level 105bhp 1.6-litre petrol unit and opt for the 110bhp 1.5-litre dCi diesel we tried, which has nearly 60% more pulling power. That said, the 1.5-litre diesel isn’t the torquiest of engines and lacks somewhat in refinement compared with, say, a VW-built unit. However, it scores well in terms of tractability and pulls well from low speeds and in traffic.

Dacia Duster media consoleNo OMG moments

In many ways, the Duster is like a traditional SUV: It has soft suspension that soaks up most bumps well. However, you pay for this comfort with considerable body roll in bends. However, the steering feels positive and the car goes exactly where you point it, without any of the OMG moments you might experience in some 4x4s, but it can be susceptible to side winds. Suspension feels floaty at speed and lets through quite a lot of road roar, but the quality of the gear change though the six-speed ‘box is a revelation. On the debit side, the audible warning for the direction indicators is a distracting squeak, in place of the tick-tick you would normally expect.

Our verdict

The Dacia Duster is a neat-looking compact SUV that grows on you. It offers lots of room, good levels of equipment and decent running costs. Yet it's priced the same as a supermini and there's just no other car that can offer that much passenger and luggage space for the money. Prices start from a near unbelievable £8,995 for the entry-level 1.6-litre petrol Access 2WD model, for which you get a chunky-looking, five-seat compact SUV, designed with some off-roading in mind. The Duster comes with a three-year warranty as standard, although buyers can extend that to five or seven years, adding extra value to a strong package.

On The Road Price: From £8,995.

For information visit: http://www.dacia.co.uk/vehicles/duster

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