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Dacia Duster Reviews

Performance
Equipment
Handling
Economy
Comfort
Depreciation
Space
Insurance

The improved Dacia Duster continues to offer a trendy compact 5-door SUV Crossover for supermini money. Jonathan Crouch reports

A new car for the price of a secondhand one is always a tempting prospect and when it's as smartly styled and capable as Dacia's Duster, the concept becomes particularly appealing. Undercutting rival models in the Crossover and small SUV 4x4 segments by an enormous amount, this Romanian budget brand uses proven Renault engineering to create a very likeable product that could prove ideal as back-up family transport. It's recently been slightly re-styled and the crucial change is the introduction of a far more modern 125bhp turbo engine for petrol buyers. Otherwise, the basic recipe's pretty much unchanged. Dig down the back of the sofa for some money and join the queue to try one.

Romanian maker Dacia's modern era really started in 1999 with the purchase of the company by Renault. The French marque's master plan was to create a nameplate able to take Renault technology and apply it to modern products saleable at astonishing low prices. Cars like this one, the Dacia Duster. Old-era Dacias were Renault models built under licence. Modern ones have unique Dacia design with Renault running gear under the skin, this particular car targeting the growing market for Qashqai-like Crossovers designs and Freelander-style compact SUVs. These are vehicles which tend to be priced anywhere between £17,000 and £30,000 depending on your preferences, figures way beyond the frankly astonishing entry-level price for this Duster. Less than £10,000 gets you a baseline model, with even the top 4x4 diesel version costing 25% or more less than comparable rivals. Which would be irrelevant if cheap also meant 'nasty'. But it doesn't. It can't. Dacia knows that the opposition can't get near its pricing but it's also aware that if the quality and execution of this product isn't up to snuff, many potential buyers will rightly see a comparably-priced secondhand late low mileage Crossover or small 4x4 as a better bet. So will that be true? Or is the UK's most affordable 4x4 as impressive in practice as it is in price? It's certainly better equipped to win overr the doubters now that its been equipped with a far more modern 125bhp turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine.

Cut back on cost and you also cut back on expectations. Admit it - you didn't think the Duster was going to be any good at all to drive. It may well come as quite a surprise then, to learn that the market consensus in Europe, where this car has already been on sale some time, is that this Dacia has the sort of ride/handling compromise that would shame rivals many thousands of pounds more expensive. 2WD is standard fare unless you pay an all-wheel drive premium for a variant like the one we tried. It's well worth considering. 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', 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, well most buyers will want to avoid the entry-level 105bhp 1.6-litre petrol unit and go for the two more modern ones on offer. First up is the 125bhp 1.2-litre TCe turbo unit used in most compact Renault models. It's a decent choice, far more effcient than the 1.6 and with a lot more pulling power. If you need more of that though, you'll be directed towards the 110bhp 1.5-litre dCi diesel we tried.

Not a great deal's changed with the latest versions of this car. Dacia have added what they hope is a more stylish chrome front grille made up of two layers of four small intakes surrounding their logo. All versions now have 'Duster' branded roof bars - chromed on Laureate models. At the rear, a black tailgate trim with 'Duster' branding sits above the number plate. Laureate versions have smarter Tyrol 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured door handles and dark metal door mirror casings. As before, the look isn't typically compact-SUV generic, with a glasshouse shallower than that of some rivals, a kicked-up rear window line and a wheelbase that appears longer than it is. At the wheel, there's smarter trim and upholstery and, as before, you sit in front of a basic two-dial instrument binnacle with orange LCD bar graphs for temperature and fuel level. On seats that are very comfortable and offer decent all-round vision limited only by the upswept rear windows and thick pillars. Of course, if you look for them, there are signs of cost-cutting, but everything's been decently put together and the boot's a decent size, offering 475-litres in the 2WD model, much bigger than the 416-litre litres you'd get in a rival Skoda Yeti. Bear in mind though that with this Dacia, that figure that falls to 408-litres if you go for a 4x4 model, courtesy of this variant's proper full-sized spare wheel. Drop down the rear bench (which split-folds only on plusher models) and you can increase that figure to 1,636-litres. As for rear seat accommodation, well, there's actually more space here than you'd find in most compact 4x4s, with reasonable levels of head, leg and shoulder room for two and, on shorter journeys, even for three.

While the thought of owning a trendy compact SUV/Crossover-style model for less than £10,000 might be the thing that gets people into Dacia showrooms, the car that satisfied prospective buyers end up driving out of them will probably require a very differently-sized cheque. Still one though, that'll offer a considerable saving on comparable models from other brands. The reason why becomes clear when you take a closer look at what's on offer. The baseline 'Access'-specification Duster, after all, is the only one that uses the older, rather noisy 105bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine that most will want to avoid. Such a car might be fine if all you want is basic, no-frills transport at supermini pricing, but aside from remote central locking with an immobiliser, electric windows, roof bars and tinted glass, its spec is spartan: it doesn't even have a radio! It also has only two driven wheels, unless you pay a £2,000 premium for the 4WD version. No, most buyers of this kind of car are going to need at least a few basic niceties - Bluetooth for your 'phone, body-coloured bumpers, a height-adjustable driver's seat and a split-folding rear seat for example. And they're probably also going to want one of the more modern engine choices - maybe the 1.2-litre TCe turbo petrol unit. Or perhaps the 110bhp 1.5-litre dCi diesel engine that's fitted to all but entry-level Dusters. Mid-spec 'Ambiance' trim gives you all that in a diesel model for a £12,000 budget and, once again, you can choose to find another couple of thousand for 4WD if you want it. You won't get air conditioning though, even as an option. The importers have tried to drive sales of the top Laureate trim level we tried by making these models the only ones in which the cabin can be properly chilled. At least the £1,500 premium you'll pay over Ambiance trim also gives you niceties like alloy wheels, a trip computer and body-colour for the mirrors and door handles. As there, it's a diesel or nothing under the bonnet and you've the option of two or four-wheel drive.

You'll find the Duster not only inexpensive to buy but similarly cheap to keep on the road. Or at least you will providing you avoid the old-tech 1.6-litre petrol model. In front wheel drive form, this delivers an unremarkable combined cycle figure of 39.8mpg. This takes a dive to 35.3mpg should you opt for the four-wheel drive chassis. Emissions are 165 and 185g/km for two and four-wheel drive petrol models respectively, meaning that opting for all-wheel drive will cost you about £45 extra a year when you come to tax your car. A much better bet though, is the 125bhp 1.2-litre TCe turbo petrol unit which, thanks to Stop & Start technology can vastly improve on the efficency levels offered by the 1.6. For some buyers though, only a diesel will do. With a Dacia 1.5-litre dCi, you'll see 56.5mpg from a front-driver and 53.3mpg if you want drive going to each corner. Emissions here are 130 and 137g/km respectively. By driving the prices far lower than the competition, Dacia also effectively pops a cap on depreciation, especially as the Renault-sourced dealer network has a firm 'no discounting' policy. Insurance? The 1.6-litre petrol-engined car is a very modest Group 7 on the 1-50 scale, while the diesel is a little costlier to cover, weighing in at Group 10. As for peace of mind, well Dacia has chosen to cock a snook at the Koreans by - and I quote - 'deciding not to force buyers into paying a premium for a longer warranty they might not want'. You may disagree, but at least if you do, you've the option of extending the standard 3 year/60,000 mile cover with an affordably-priced five or seven year policy.

So. Here's the bottom line. New cars are often a lot more expensive than perhaps they need to be, especially in fashionable market sectors like those for Crossover 4x4s. It's a trend manufacturers try and justify with high technology that's certainly very impressive but which many buyers neither appreciate nor really want. These are the people being targeted here by what continues to be a very clever package indeed, one that gives you almost everything you need - and nothing you don't. The things it can't offer - cutting edge handling, hi-tech equipment levels and a soft-touch trendy cabin - become irrelevant when you consider the asking price. A figure that in 4x4 models buys you off road ability that betters that of some rivals costing nearly twice as much. And in whatever guise you choose, you'll find a Duster smartly styled, practically finished and affordable to run, particularly in 1.2-litre TCe petrol or 1.5-litre dCi diesel guises. Enough to make it a better bet than a late, low mileage secondhand Crossover/4x4 rival? Many will think so.

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Overview

The Dacia Duster is Dacias full fat crossover vehicle that can offer genuine four wheel drive capabilities at an extreme budget. It is rugged, economical and incredible value for money. If you do not want the 4x4 engines there are 2wd available at even lower price if a crossover look is all you need.

Key Dacia Duster Points

Since crossover rose to prominence in recent years the prices have been fairly higher than hatchbacks, this is where the Duster holds the trump card. It is priced very reasonably which allows people to be able to have a 4 wheel drive vehicle for a lot, lot less. The Duster also has access to more powerful engines than the Sandero or the Logan which includes the 1.5 dCi 110 and the 1.6 petrol - this means that even without 4WD the Duster holds more power and nippier than the rest of the range.

Why Lease a Dacia Duster

Lease a Dacia Duster for access to greater engines and a higher ride than the Sandero Stepway. It sits itself in the market against the likes of the Nissan Juke, Vauxhall Mokka and perhaps the Ford Kuga however the prices for the Duster are much lower. Pound for pound the Dacia Duster is great value for money as its is cheap to lease and cheap to run.

Five reasons to lease a Dacia Duster

  • 2WD or 4WD
  • More power than the Sandero, Logan
  • Affordable
  • Economical
  • Rugged looks

Conclusion

The Dacia Duster opens the door to more people than other new cars with its low prices. 4x4 used to mean a premium but Renaults budget brand that is no longer the case. Have a look around the Dacia Duster car leasing hub today for the latest thorough reviews, high quality images and the interactive video.