Dacia Duster: A whole lot of car, for not much money

Dacia Duster: A whole lot of car, for not much money
As a long-term enthusiast for budget brands doing budget things, I was heartened by the latest Duster, writes Sean O’Grady

According to an obviously self-self serving survey commissioned by Dacia, drivers dislike “unnecessary” technology in their cars, and resent paying for it. They do like parking sensors, DAB radio and sat nav – can’t go anywhere without them – but the rest of the stuff the British motorist is happy to junk. Surprise, surprise, Dacia, a famously value-oriented brand, fits those essentials to all its new models (as indeed they’re fitted to just about anything less Spartan than a Caterham).

Still, I do think it’s on to something there. I’ve used features on test cars that I’ve discovered only by accident, such as ambient sounds in a Kia, a perfumery in a Mercedes S-Class, and a torch in the tailgate of a Volvo, things I’d probably not usually opt to purchase, given the choice. I’ve also rarely used the “automatic parking” features I’ve encountered, never quite trusting the car to park itself without expensive incident. Even if you’re loaded (with money) your personal transport doesn’t have to be (with useless kit). Which brings us quite cheerfully to the Dacia Duster, which can be yours, complete with the most desired features on a modern car, but not much else, for £13,995, or about £160 a month on the usual sort of PCP deal. After a decade in the UK, Dacia models are still spectacular value, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about being seen in your smart, fashionable, tough-looking Duster. Somehow, Dacia seems to avoid the jokes aimed at other budget brands, and that is a remarkable achievement. It’s snob-proof – and at no extra cost.


Dacia Duster

Price: £20,890 (as tested; range starts at £13,995)

Engine capacity: 1.3 litre petrol; 6-sp auto

Power output (bhp @ rpm): 110@5,250

Top speed (mph): 124

0-62 mph (seconds): 9.7

Fuel economy (mpg): 44.8

CO2 emissions (g/km): 142

It’s just updated the second-generation version, and kept it looking very presentable, with a new grille and headlights, an 8-inch touchscreen and new (optional) double-clutch automatic gearbox. While very few of us go though life wishing we were in possession of a dual-clutch automatic gearbox, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a very useful improvement on older designs, with the box pre-selecting your predicted next gear, so it’s all ready for you on the move. I had the option fitted to my test model, and I can confirm it works relatively well. With some other changes to the wheels and tyres Dacia has also knocked a couple of percentage points off the CO2 emissions, which is also obviously good news, and means lower fuel costs.

Almost all the engine options are lean-running Renault petrol units, driving the front wheels only, and the one diesel version is best suited to the 4×4 variant of the Duster, a serious small off-roader for the price, now that the loveable and able Suzuki Jimny is off the market. There’s also, unusually, a bi-fuel dual tank petrol/LPG version, derived from the popularity of such fuels in its main east European markets, if you really want to ultimate in fuel economy and have an LPG outlet nearby. There are no hybrid Dusters, by the way. More forward looking is the all-electric concept Duster. This has been showcased, and we shouldn’t have to wait much longer for a properly green option to emerge: parent group Renault is one of the EV pioneers. A battery-powered Dacia should really help EVs become more mainstream. At the moment, I’m sorry to say, for many motorists a fossil-fuel Dacia Duster will make more economic sense than, say, the MG ZS, its nearest all-electric rival, and a brilliant piece of engineering, given that the Chinese-built ZS is about double the cost of the Duster.

The touchscreen is simple to use, though you’ll need to plug your smartphone in to get at the sat nav in the more basic versions

Otherwise, the Duster is very much the happy blend of abilities we’re familiar with. There’s decent space for five and their clobber in there, and the interior is tough and hard wearing. True to the spirit of their marketing drive, the touchscreen is simple to use, though you’ll need to plug your smartphone in to get at the sat nav in the more basic versions of the car. The biggest change is that there is now a little rest for your foot, which I would certainly count as an essential. The controls are supplemented by buttons on the steering wheel and a little pod behind the wheel for the radio, as is traditional on French designs.

There’s decent space for five, and the interior is tough and hard wearing

The suspension is the right side of soft for a car basically designed for the school run, and it’s all surprisingly quiet and refined. Dacia treated me to the most upscale of the versions, the unironically named “Prestige” pack, complete with such non-essential but welcome features as cruise control, an arm rest (a bit too stubby, mind), a leather trimmed steering wheel and keyless entry. Even packed full of kit, from its lovely 17-inch alloy wheels to its grey-finish roof rails, it only just broke the £20,000 barrier. It’s less than some people pay for a kitchen, so I’m told.

As a long-term enthusiast for budget brands doing budget things, I was heartened by the latest Duster, as so should you be. It’s much, much harder to make a competitive car that does as much as a Dacia, say, or an MG or a Kia, than any supercar, where the prestige brand can name its price and money can be chucked at trying to get it to break the laws of physics. The Dacia tries to test the limits of economics instead.