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Dacia Duster review: 3.5/5

A vanishingly mild facelift brings the Dacia Duster SUV up to date, and it still represents some of the best value around.

Neil Briscoe

Words: Neil Briscoe - @neilmbriscoe
Pics: Max Earey - @MaxEarey

Published on: October 14, 2016

Words: Neil Briscoe - @neilmbriscoe
Pics: Max Earey - @MaxEarey

Published on: October 14, 2016

Tech Specs

Model testedDacia Duster Prestige 1.5 dCi 4x4
Price€21,890 as tested; starts at €16,890
Engine1.5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmissionsix-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door, five-seat crossover
CO2 emissions123g/km (Band B1, €270 per annum)
Combined economy60mpg (4.7 litres/100km)
Top speed170km/h
0-100km/h11.0 seconds
Power115hp at 4,500rpm
Torque250Nm at 1,750rpm
Boot space476 litres (seats up), 1,636 litres (seats down)
EuroNCAP ratingthree-star; 74% adult; 78% child; 28% pedestrian; 29% safety assist

Good: cheap, rugged, useful

Not so good: noisy (at times), slow, plastic cabin fittings

You just have to keep in your mind, at all times, how much the Dacia Duster SUV costs. Or, more accurately, how little it costs. You have to keep remembering that for the price of a very, very basic Golf, you can buy a compact SUV with actual, real four-wheel drive, a diesel engine, touch-screen satnav and plenty of space for you and the kids. You have to remember that an equivalent rival product would cost you at minimum €5k more - and sometimes the gap is even larger. You have to remember that the Dacia Duster is, above all else, cheap.

It's that cheapness, born from its low-cost Romanian roots and its paid-for-already Renault and Nissan parts, that makes the Duster so appealing and allows you to ignore (or at least overlook) its faults. Those include a cabin that squeaks and creaks even though this is a brand spanking new car we test drove.

Those include an engine that roars and rattles whenever you ask for acceleration, and which has gearing so low that you're in fifth by the time you've hit 40km/h. Those include dashboard plastics that, in spite of an upgrade, still have the whiff of pound-shop school shoes about them. Those include handling that's technically present but palpably absent and brakes that need a hefty shove on the pedal to awaken. 

Now that paints a pretty grim picture, but the good news is that the Duster isn't that bad, even without taking its low price tag into consideration. For a kick off it looks good - always has done in fact, with a pleasantly chunky profile that has been enhanced by a new front end with tweaked lights, bumpers and grille. Inside, that cheap plastic has indeed been improved (a little) and the front seats are rather less torturously uncomfortable than once they were. Equipment levels are good (you now get standard electronic stability control across the range, which once was reserved only for the top-line models) and this Prestige version comes with four-wheel drive and a touch-screen.

OK, so that touchscreen looks cheap and is located down by your knees, which is hardly ideal, especially when you remember that it's also a reversing camera screen, so you end up looking at your ankles to check behind you. Awkward. 

The 1.5 dCi Renault-Nissan diesel engine is ancient, but game. It roars and shouts when you press the loud pedal (never more aptly named), but it's actually commendably quiet at a main-road cruise. Wind noise picks up on the motorway, but the Duster is surprisingly well-insulated from tyre noise and it has a very comfortable ride quality.

It's not great to drive with over-light, springy steering and not much in the way of precision, but it has a kind of appealing old-school Jeep Wrangler feel about it, which is kind of nice. Not sporty, but then it doesn't need to be. The rear seats are spacious, the boot is big and the warranty and reliability prospects are better than decent.

Will you match Dacia's official 60mpg figure? Nope, but it'll do 45mpg all day long and it's more frugal around town than on the motorway (thanks to that short gearing). Emissions are 123g/km with the four-wheel drive system (which does actually give the Duster some proper off-road credentials) so you'll only have to shell out €270 a year for a tax disc. Not bad.

And of course, you're saving buckets compared to any major brand competitor. The Duster can't compete with those cars in terms of sophistication and outright refinement, but it has sufficient of both, and an overdose of good old fashioned gumption to go with its tiny price tag, so you end up both liking and admiring it more than its ritzier rivals. It's cheap, simple, straightforward and effective. And worth keeping in mind.



Alternatives

Car Reviews | Citroen C4 Cactus | CompleteCar.ie
Citroen C4 Cactus vs. Dacia Duster: at the bottom end it almost matches the Dacia on price, and is more sophisticated into the bargain, but it's far smaller and less practical.
Car Reviews | Peugeot 2008 GT Line | CompleteCar.ie
Peugeot 2008 vs. Dacia Duster: pretty much as practical, but you're going to have to spend at least €4,000 more to get a comparably equipped model. 
Car Reviews | Suzuki Vitara | CompleteCar.ie
Suzuki Vitara vs. Dacia Duster: probably the Duster's closest rival. More sophisticated and more spacious and not far off the mark on pricing and equipment against the top-spec Dacia.

Tech Specs

Model testedDacia Duster Prestige 1.5 dCi 4x4
Price€21,890 as tested; starts at €16,890
Engine1.5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmissionsix-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door, five-seat crossover
CO2 emissions123g/km (Band B1, €270 per annum)
Combined economy60mpg (4.7 litres/100km)
Top speed170km/h
0-100km/h11.0 seconds
Power115hp at 4,500rpm
Torque250Nm at 1,750rpm
Boot space476 litres (seats up), 1,636 litres (seats down)
EuroNCAP ratingthree-star; 74% adult; 78% child; 28% pedestrian; 29% safety assist