Dacia Duster review – cheap and cheerful SUV motoring

Dacia Duster review – cheap and cheerful SUV motoring
Dacia Duster review – cheap and cheerful SUV motoring

We’ve got a Dacia dealer near me and, while I’ve never seen it, I reckon the franchise owner must have a Rolls-Royce tucked away.

Given the sheer number of Dacias I see on the roads around me they must have more than enough stashed away to buy a nice Dawn or Ghost, even if their company car’s a Renault.

Maybe I exaggerate slightly but the number of Dacias I see on a daily basis is staggering. From not existing as a brand in the UK a decade ago, the budget Romanian manufacturer has become a serious force.

Dacia Duster Comfort

Price: £13,195 (£13,930 as tested)
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 114bhp
Torque: 115l/ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Top speed: 107mph
0-62mph: 11.9 seconds
Economy: 43.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 149g/km

Its methods are as simple as its cars. Using a lot of components borrowed from parent company Renault, Dacia produces straightforward, basic and – vitally – cheap cars. Its Sandero is the cheapest new car on sale in Britain and the back-to-basics approach is clearly winning fans among drivers who want “a car” that comes with the guarantees of a new model but not a lot else.

Given that half the world wants an SUV, even budget-conscious folks, the Duster is an obvious car for Dacia to make. Priced from £9,995 it’s a simple, compact model but still offers a choice of petrol or diesel, two- or four-wheel-drive and manual or automatic transmissions.

Dacia Duster

While the Duster has been around since 2010 our test model is a largely new car. It might look very similar to the original car but every body panel is new. It’s also got new equipment and a revised interior that promises “enhanced comfort and quality”.

The interior might be better than previously but there’s no doubting that it has been built to a budget. There is a lot of fairly hard, featureless black plastic around the cabin that was brightened a little by our model’s chrome highlights. It’s acceptable for the price though and makes up for it by being really practical. There are lots of storage cubbies and cup holders – the sort of thing families care about – the controls are chunky and simple and the flat wide rear bench plus decent rear legroom means it’s a genuine five-seat car. The boot, too is a family friendly size – 478 litres – and shape.

Dacia Duster

The Duster’s simplicity also helps with driving – you sit high and upright and there’s good visibility – not always a given in modern cars. The rest of the driving experience is nothing exceptional. In true Renault family tradition the steering is overly light and the ride is very soft and wallowly but buyers won’t generally be looking for a hard-driving B-road blaster.

Our test car was a manual two-wheel-drive 1.6 petrol and, truth be told, felt a bit gutless. It’s refined enough and sufficient for the car as long as you’re not looking to win any traffic light grand prix but if you want a bit more poke there’s also a 114bhp diesel with 192lb/ft of torque.

At its starting price of £9,995 the Duster is pretty basic. There’s no stereo at all, wind-up rear windows, steel wheels and none of the exterior embellishments such as roof bars. Our test car, however, was the higher-end Comfort model and featured fairly strong equipment such a seven-inch touchscreen with sat nav, SIRI Eyes Free voice command plus Bluetooth, USB and aux inputs, as well as air con, cruise control, parking sensors and camera and 16-inch alloys.

Dacia Duster

When you think that the smaller, less practical, less pleasant to drive Renault Captur starts at £15,300 and lacks the navigation, parking sensors/camera and more, the Duster starts to look pretty attractive.

The Duster used to be a fairly singular proposition but it now faces a challenge from the MG ZS and SsangYong Tivoli. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses but all are serious options for buyers after a cheap, practical SUV. The Duster majors on offering tried and tested components in a really practical package. As long as you can live with the insipid driving experience and budget interior you could do an awful lot worse than a Duster. And you’d make my local dealer even happier.

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