Dacia Duster Review
The Dacia Duster is a budget-priced five-door SUV with 4x4 capabilities. The second-generation model sees the car move more upmarket but it still maintains its charming appeal and starting price under £10k.
- New dynamic styling
- Good off-road capabilities
- Priced between £9,995 and £16,395 with no hidden extras
- It’s light to drive and can be buffeted by high winds or when driving alongside larger lorries
- The basic model is quite basic
The Dacia Duster is a no nonsense five-door SUV that is very big on value and can capably conquer many off-road obstacles too. The second-generation model is on sale now and is completely new with not one single body panel carried over. It boasts a more robust, muscular appearance thanks to new 17-inch wheels (formerly 16-inch), a distinctive grille leading into the headlights to create a wider appearance, a sculpted bonnet, new signature lights, skid plates and a raised beltline to create a rugged, ready-for-action stance.
The dimensions are identical to the outgoing model, but the new Duster looks bigger. There are four trim levels to choose from and, at launch, one diesel and one petrol engine. Customers can also choose between 2WD or 4WD versions.
On the Road
The second-generation Dacia Duster comes with a choice of one petrol and one diesel engine. The 1.6-litre SCe petrol engine delivers 115bhp with 156Nm of torque. It is available in 2WD or 4WD guise. The 1.5-litre Blue dCi diesel powertrain provides 115bhp with 260Nm of torque. As standard the Duster features a six-speed manual gearbox, except for the 4x2 petrol model which is five-speed and that’s the car we took on our test drive.
This car could reach 62mph from a standing start in 11.9 seconds and maxed out at 107mph. They may not seem like the most dynamic performance stats, but the Dacia Duster has always focused on comfort rather than blistering pace.
The acceleration through the gears is steady enough, although there is a little mid-range drop-off in power between third and fourth at times which could put a damper on overtaking slower moving traffic on country lanes. It’s okay out of the starting blocks and the Duster is accomplished on fast-moving motorways when it can cruise along comfortably at the national speed limit. You will be buffeted if you are passed by a 15-tonne juggernaut due to the Duster’s lightweight design, but generally it skips along at quite a click.
The Dacia Duster features a new electric power steering system that reduces the effort required to turn the wheel by 35 per cent. This new technology brings both positives and negatives. In busy, congested traffic it was simple to weave in and out through the crowds and parking is made easier thanks to the more agile handling. On the downside, there seems to be less driver feedback when pushing on down a winding country road where the road surface is not the best.
But before judging the Duster too harshly, it’s worth remembering that it is a budget-based, no frills car – our model was priced at just over £13k.
The MacPherson suspension system has been designed to offer a comfortable ride and deliver plenty of ground clearance should the Duster move away from the trusty Tarmac. And it succeeds on all counts with smaller potholes and uneven surfaces not fazing the car. It feels well balanced at all times.
We even ventured off-road in a diesel-powered European spec 4x4 model and it was very accomplished as it crossed boggy tracks, moved confidently up and down steep inclines and even waded through some shallow water. Although it wasn’t the toughest off-road course, it’s easy to see why the Duster 4x4 is proving so popular with farmers in rural settings.
Refinement was an area that let down the first-generation Duster a bit but that has been addressed in the latest model. The designers started with a clean slate and they have paid particular attention to improving the fit and finish of features and improving the all-round quality.
The dashboard looks more upmarket in its appearance and the MediaNav touchscreen display is positioned higher making it more driver-focused. There are also new piano key type controls that are user-friendly.
The seats have been completely redesigned and incorporate denser foam for improved comfort and support. There is better lateral support when cornering and the front seat cushions are now 20mm longer offering improved leg support.
The introduction of thicker front windows along with revised soundproofing has resulted in a far more refined cabin with engine, road surface and wind noise intrusion halved. In fact, on several occasions we commented on how quiet the interior was even when travelling at higher speeds.
After a few hours driving on and off-road, we concluded that the Duster is a car that could easily fetch a far higher asking price.
In the car
The Dacia Duster is a car that’s easy to feel at home in. The high-seated driving position results in good all-round visibility and the trio of rear headrests are low enough not to block any view. The wide B-pillars do limit over-the-shoulder vision a little, but it’s not that bad.
There is ample steering wheel and seat adjustment so it’s easy to get comfortable and a new height-adjustment seating system offers extra tweaking.
All the controls, dials and readouts are well positioned for ease of use. The new slightly raised infotainment system is simple to operate and there is a generous array of on-board technology to explore.
The Duster is available in four trim grades called Access, Essential, Comfort and Prestige (the two mid-level names are new and replace the outgoing Ambiance and Laureate versions). Our Comfort model was well-equipped featuring a seven-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation system, rear parking camera and sensors, leather steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, a DAB digital radio with steering column-mounted controls and a front armrest.
The Duster is also the first model to feature the likes of climate control, blind sport warning, curtain airbags, automatic headlight activation, a multi-view camera and keyless entry on certain models.
Although the new Duster looks completely different, the actual dimensions haven’t really changed. It remains 4.34 metres long, 2.05 metres wide including mirrors and 1.69 metres high with roof bars. For those interested in taking the car off the beaten track, the interesting figures will be the ground clearance of 205mm (210mm on 4x4 versions) and wading depth of 350mm. The approach and departure angles are also impressive at 30 and 34 degrees and the car’s short overhangs means less scraping of the bumpers.
Although Dacia promotes the Duster as a five-seater, in reality it can accommodate four occupants comfortably with the fifth at a squeeze. Rear legroom is okay provided the front seats are not pushed too far back and the high design of the car means there is ample headroom in the back of the car.
The boot capacity on the new Duster remains exactly the same at 445 litres for the 2WD and 411 litres for the 4WD version which increases to 1,478 litres and 1,444 litres with the 60:40 split folding rear seats dropped flat.
But, throughout the car, storage capacity has been increased by 20 per cent to 28.6 litres with cup holders, a glovebox, an under-seat drawer, trays and door bins.
Pricing and value for money has been an area that Dacia excels in and the latest Duster is no exception to that principal. The entry-level model costs £9,995 which is a £500 increase on the outgoing version. That is for the Access trim level which is relatively basic, but if you move up through the grades Essential costs from £11,595, Comfort from £13,195 and range-topping Prestige from £14,395. The most expensive versions are the Blue dCi 115 4x2 Prestige and SCe 115 4x4 Prestige which both cost £16,395.
Our SCe 115 4x2 Comfort test car could deliver combined fuel economy 43.5mpg with carbon emissions of 149g/km. This would result in a Vehicle Excise Duty cost of £200 for the first tax year and £140 after that. The diesel version is the most economical with combined fuel efficiency of 64.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 115g/km which would see a first year VED charge of £160.
Dacia likes to hold back on the optional extras but it is possible to add a personal touch with some extra kit such as side steps costing £335, an all-in-one wipe-down boot liner priced at £125 and a tow bar that costs £345 including fitting.
Insurance for the Duster ranges from Groups 9 to 14. Our test car was classed as Group 11.
This is an area that Dacia has concentrated on. Admittedly, it’s no VW Golf inside, but the bargain basement price is not reflected in the build quality. There are a few hard surfaces and the door pockets feel quite cheap and flimsy, but elsewhere there are new seats that have been redesigned and strengthened so they are more durable and comfortable. The switchgear has also been upgraded with new piano key type controls that look stylish and are more user-friendly.
Careful attention has been given to the materials, fit and finish with the grain on the dashboard trim refined by 80 per cent.
More than 50 per cent of the new Duster components are shared with other Dacia and Renault vehicles.
The Duster comes with a standard warranty of three years or 60,000 miles, but there is the opportunity to extend to five years/60,000 miles, six years/80,000 miles or seven years/100,000 miles. There are also some additional servicing packs that can be included.
The outgoing model scored three out of a possible five stars when it was tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating. It’s not been confirmed whether or not the latest Duster will be tested again, but it does feature some additional safety specifications that have never been seen in a Dacia before. These include a multi-view camera, blind spot warning, curtain airbags and automatic headlight activation. The new model also boasts a reinforced frame along with new seat structures to improve safety.
Other standard safety features on the Duster include ABS and emergency brake assist, electronic stability control and traction control, Isofix points for child seats in both outer rear seats and a tyre pressure warning system.
Security is taken care of via a Thatcham-approved engine immobiliser.