Dacia Duster overview
If you're looking for the cheapest new family SUV for sale in Ireland, this is it: the Dacia Duster. It's the biggest model in the Dacia line-up (although a larger SUV is due to be revealed later in 2022), and it's a five-seat vehicle that rivals the Nissan Qashqai for space, yet it undercuts the smaller Nissan Juke on price.
The second-generation Duster first arrived in 2017, and a facelift was introduced for the 2022 model year. This added a fresh look, with Y-shaped LED headlights and a different grille design, while the interior was also upgraded with new upholstery and two eight-inch infotainment options. A dual-clutch automatic gearbox was also added for the first time.
Here we're testing the mid-range Comfort model powered by a 115hp 1.5 dCi diesel with a manual gearbox and front-wheel drive.
The Dacia Duster model range
Irish pricing for the Dacia Duster starts at €21,190, which is less than the starting price for most new small SUVs. This puts you behind the wheel of an Essential model, and the name should give you an idea of what kind of equipment you get for your money, i.e. the bare essentials. This means steel wheels, manual air conditioning and a basic stereo, although it still features Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Electric front windows and auto-dipping main beam headlights are also fitted.
Move up to Comfort trim, and alloy wheels replace the steel items, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity mean the associated apps can be used on the eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system. There are electric windows all round, a rear parking camera and sensors, plus emergency brake assist.
At the top of the range, Prestige models add navigation and traffic alerts, blind-spot warning, climate control, keyless entry and heated front seats if you choose leather upholstery. This three-model line-up is pretty simple and covers all bases from the basic to the well-equipped, while prices for the top-spec versions only just break the €30,000 mark.
Engine options comprise one diesel and three petrol units. The 115hp dCi diesel is offered in all trim levels, and it can be had with front- or four-wheel drive, although it does only come with a manual gearbox. The TCe 90 petrol is also offered in all trim levels, while the more powerful TCe 130 only comes in Comfort and Prestige trims - and these two engines are also manual-only. If you want an automatic gearbox, you need to pick the TCe 150 petrol engine, which again only comes in Comfort and Prestige trims, and has a dual-clutch auto set-up. All of the petrol models are front-wheel drive only.
Low list prices mean there's a greater possibility that you'll be able to afford a Duster outright, but Dacia still has plenty of finance offers available. Visit the Dacia Ireland website for the latest offers.
The Dacia Duster interior
The Duster's five-seat layout offers more space than any other small SUV for a comparable price. There's decent rear legroom, plus two sets of ISOFIX lashing points for the outer seats, and a 471-litre boot in the dCi diesel version (down from 478 litres for the petrol cars), while the new upholstery helps to improve the perceived quality of the cabin.
Though the original Duster could feel pretty basic, the current model is a lot better in this regard, thanks to neat switchgear and controls that have been borrowed from parent company Renault. Really, the Duster no longer feels like the budget machine it once did, especially with our Comfort-spec car's leather-trimmed steering wheel and eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
This is another carry-over component from Renault, and on Comfort models it includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for navigation, calls and music streaming. It's a decent unit to use and adds a hi-tech edge to the cabin that would have been impossible to include even just a couple of years ago.
In fact, the Duster is really quite generously equipped for the price, with a reversing camera and parking sensors, climate control and all-round electric windows adding to the non-budget feel. It's easy to get comfortable at the wheel, with a height-adjustable seat, while an adjustable armrest is now fitted between the front seats. Cabin storage is let down a little by the small glovebox, but that's a minor niggle when the car itself offers so much room for the money.
The Dacia Duster driving experience
A tall driving position means the Duster offers a clear view of your surroundings front and rear, although the rear camera and parking sensors are useful. While the Duster is one of the larger cars at this price point, the controls are all pretty light, so it's easy to manage at low speeds.
The dCi diesel model driven here has a modest 115hp, but there's also 260Nm of torque, which is the highest figure for any engine offered in the Duster. This maximum is on tap from a lowly 1,750rpm, too, so the Dacia has surprisingly quick responses at low revs, and this low-down power should mean the Duster is well suited to towing, too.
The engine never feels laboured, while the six-speed gearbox helps you to keep the engine in its power band. It also has the added benefit of boosting cruising refinement at dual carriageway speeds.
Soft suspension and high-profile tyres fitted to those 16-inch alloy wheels combine to deliver excellent comfort, especially on poorly surfaced roads, and overall, the Duster is good to drive.
It's economical, too. We averaged 6.0 litres/100km during our time with the car over a variety of roads, which isn't bad at all.
Our verdict on the Dacia Duster
The Dacia Duster fits a fairly typical family SUV formula, but its low pricing means there's not really anything else like it for sale in Ireland today. Look elsewhere, and you'll either have to pay a lot more cash for an SUV of an equivalent size, or you have to compromise on cabin space and equipment, too.
While the original Duster could feel pretty basic, a decent kit list and higher quality materials mean that the current model no longer feels like a budget machine, and the latest facelift has made it even more appealing. Combine this with a punchy diesel engine and great driving manners, and the Dacia Duster could be all the family SUV that cost-conscious buyers need.