Dacia Duster road test
More polished and better equipped than before, the new Duster is a true bargain.
What is it?
The second generation of Dacia’s cut-price SUV. Despite a modest price hike, the new Duster’s bargain-basement cost remains a big part of the car’s appeal.
How green is it?
Not especially. There are no electric or hybrid versions, and the 2WD petrol achieves 43.5mpg and emits 149g/km of CO2. The 2WD diesel returns 64.2mpg and emits 115g/km.
Who should buy one?
Anyone shopping for an SUV of this size who knows the value of a pound should consider the Duster. Brand snobs will have to look elsewhere.
Road test by David Motton, August 2018
DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
The old Duster had many things going for it, but the driving experience wasn’t one of them. From the driver’s seat, it’s clear that Dacia has made a number of improvements.
The new model has electric power steering offering more assistance. Turning the wheel takes 35% less effort, according to Dacia. It certainly makes for easier parking, and as speeds increase the Duster generally feels less vague and cumbersome than before.
It’s not a car that keen drivers will really relish – handling is neat enough but the Duster is nothing like as agile as a Mazda CX-3 or Seat Arona. Instead, comfort has been the priority. Really rough surfaces can send a shudder through the cabin, but for the most part the pliant suspension smoothes the road rather well.
Dacia has also worked hard to make the Duster quieter, with more soundproofing, thicker glass and a more rigid front-end structure to keep noise at bay. Anyone familiar with the old car will immediately notice the improvement. You can still hear wind and road noise at motorway speeds, but not enough to make long trips tiresome.
You’ll hear the petrol engine, too. In the fifth of five gears it’s turning over 3000rpm at 70mph. However, it’s not until around 4500rpm that the 1.6-litre unit starts to sound rowdy.
Don’t expect the increase in volume to coincide with a sudden surge of acceleration. With just 115hp and 115lb ft of torque, the Duster petrol seems to build speed in slow motion. For more overtaking punch there’s a 1.5-litre diesel with 115hp and 192lb ft of torque. Or if you’d rather stick with petrol power and efficient petrol engine will be added to the range in the first quarter of the year.
We haven’t driven the production version of the diesel, but did take a left-hand drive car with a slightly less powerful diesel engine around an off-road course. It showed that 4×4 versions of the Duster have true off-road credentials.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Very few cars offer as much space as the Duster for so little money. That was true of the old model, but many of that car’s rough edges have now been smoothed over.
The dashboard design has been thoroughly modernised. It doesn’t have the soft-touch textures you might find in more expensive rivals, but it’s a lot less drab and utilitarian than it used to be.
There’s more height adjustment for the front seat, so you can sit up nice and tall, and the seat itself has been redesigned to improve long-distance comfort. We certainly had no aches after our test drive, although it’s irritating that there’s no rest for your left foot.
There’s grown-up friendly head and legroom in the back of the car, too, and the rear doors open very wide so it’s easy to get in and out.
Boot space is generous. The 445-litre capacity is greater than a Nissan Qashqai’s, despite the Nissan costing thousands of pounds more.
Dacia has included more safety kit in the new car, including blind spot detection on top-spec models. However, that wasn’t enough to please Euro NCAP who awarded the new Duster three out of five stars. One of the key omissions from the Dacia’s specification is autonomous emergency braking, which isn’t even on the options list. Even on a budget car we’d like this technology to be available, ideally as standard.
We’d steer clear of the Access model – the headline grabbing £9995 price tis tempting, but not the lack of air conditioning or a radio. Essential spec includes these essentials and more for £11,595. Step up to Comfort for alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel, cruise control, an onboard computer, satnav and a rear-view camera, with prices from £13,195. Prestige cars have larger alloys, part-leather upholstery and climate control, with prices from £14,395.
Even allowing for the poor spec of the most basic car, the Duster is an absolute bargain. It makes even budget rivals like the SsangYong Tivoli look expensive. However, it will cost more to fuel than rivals with more sophisticated engines, with an official combined figure of 64.2mpg for the two-wheel-drive diesel. Insurance costs should be low, however, with starting from group 9 and ending at group 14.
WE SAY More polished and better equipped than before, the new Duster is a true bargain.
AT A GLANCE:
Performance: 0-62 in 11.9 seconds
Figures for the SCe 115 4×2 Comfort