Dacia now offers an Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) automatic transmission on its popular Duster crossover SUV, so is that enough to make this affordable high-rider even more alluring to the car-buying public of Ireland - especially as, if you opt for the automatic, you can't have the car with four-wheel drive?
In the Metal:
Don't go looking for visual changes externally on the Dacia Duster EDC model, as this value-for-money crossover/SUV has already had its facelift earlier in 2016. Thus, the automatic Duster looks exactly the same as its brethren - chunky and with a no-nonsense appeal of its own, even if you accept that, to keep the costs down, the designers were hardly allowed to go off on a tangent penning wild swage lines and funky light clusters. About its most identifiable features are the legend 'Duster' emblazoned on the roof bars and those swollen wheel arches at all corners.
Same news within, the only obvious alteration being to the gear lever, which is now a P-N-R-D item with a sequential side-gate that is - joy of joys - set up the correct way around, as you have to pull back to go up a gear and push forward to descend the gearbox. Not that you'll ever use this feature, mind, but it's nice to know Renault's engineering correctness is there in some form.
Which is more than can be said for the rest of the interior. The Duster has what is clearly Dacia's 'nicest' cabin so far, as the plastics used seem just a touch more stolid than those found in the Sandero twins or the Logan MCV, while the use of some piano black trim and chrome flashes help to engender more of an upmarket ambience. But this is by no means a cabin that will have the haptics team at Volkswagen crying into their latte macchiatos, as it still feels substandard compared to the vast majority of alternatives out there on the market right now.
It's also not helped by two examples of bloody stupid ergonomics, which are the electric mirror switch located underneath the handbrake lever (mildly annoying, yet not devastating) and the satnav touchscreen being situated way too far down the console, meaning the reversing camera view flashed up on it is next to useless, while you won't see half of the navigation mapping if you have your hands on the wheel at the ten-to-two or quarter-to-three positions - this is much more of a serious transgression on the part of the Dacia (Renault) interior designers than the odd mirror switch placement. Ideally, the touchscreen needs to sit where the two central air vents are positioned, where it would be far more useful to the driver.
Expect the EDC to add around €1,000 to the price of the models on which it is available - we're predicting only the top Signature (€18,690) and Prestige variants (€19,890) will feature it as an option, and fitting it to the 110hp 1.5-litre dCi diesel (which is the only engine offered here in Ireland at any rate) precludes the addition of drive to the rear axle... for now. So if you need a Duster 4x4, forget letting the car shift gears for itself; you'll have to stick with a manual model.
There are no real penalties to pay in terms of performance or economy if you specify the automatic transmission, the EDC turning in almost identical figures to the 4x2 manual Duster, so buying one of these vehicles will purely come down to how much you have always wanted Dacia to offer an automatic on its crossover prior to this moment. Because the Duster EDC drives in a very pleasant manner. It isn't free from faults, as the steering is - for want of a better word - vague and the venerable Renault-Nissan 1.5 dCi engine can be a rowdy companion if you ask for full power, but the gearbox isn't to be criticised. It shifts in a lovely, smooth manner and responds reasonably well to throttle inputs, while we never once experienced it hunting for ratios on inclines or while ambling around town. Coupled to the Duster's comfortable ride quality and its ability to limit wind and tyre noise to acceptable levels, it makes the EDC the most refined model in the Duster line-up and therefore a worthwhile addition to the range.
What you get for your Money:
You're buying a spacious and comfortable cabin with a smattering of useful toys, plus a massive boot and the Duster's enduring, perversely cool image. Whichever EDC model you choose is going to cost either the best part of or the wrong side of 20 grand, which undoes some of the good work carried out by the Duster's headline-grabbing, 'shockingly affordable' €16,690 starting ticket; however, as even something as reasonably priced as a Suzuki Vitara starts at €19,995, then the automatic Dacia is hardly breaking the bank.
The EDC transmission works really well on the Dacia Duster, offering it additional refinement that goes hand-in-hand with its pre-existing attributes - namely, that it has the most appealing styling and nicest interior of any of the Romanian company's products, as well as comfortable driving manners that make it an easy-going crossover. The thing is, you can't pair the automatic gearbox with four-wheel drive, so for customers in the more remote parts of our country, some of the enticement of the Duster's 'cheap 4x4' mantra is sacrificed - but for those buyers who only ever use their Dacias on tarmac, the new EDC could be the pick of the range.