The Dacia Duster makes complete sense as a good value, economical 4×4 for use in rural areas if it’s not a priority to have a fashionable car with all the latest technology.
The Dacia brand (pronounced ‘Datch-ya’) may be new to the UK but it’s been around in Europe since 1966. It started life as Romania’s national vehicle manufacturer but was bought by Renault in 1999. In France Dacia became the sixth best-selling retail brand within just a few years. Dacia is designed to offer a good basic car without all the frills that can add cost. The UK’s right-hand drive Duster models are built in India.
It may be a ‘budget’ car, but we think that the Duster looks good; with its flared arches, it has off-road Tonka Toy looks.
The interior is one place where you’re aware that this is not an Audi Q3 or Range Rover Evoque; the interior is fairly basic, with lots of grey plastic. There’s lots of storage between the two front seats, and an interesting feature is the additional storage area up above in the roof lining.
The Duster can seat five adults and there’s also lots of room in the boot; you even get a spare wheel and a load bay cover.
In terms of mechanicals, there’s a 1.5-litre Renault diesel 110 engine sitting under the bonnet, which is both well proven and efficient. The four-wheel drive system is from Renault’s Alliance partner Nissan, so again, it’s tried and tested.
The Duster driving experience doesn’t have any major flaws, but it hasn’t got the on-road dynamic refinement of some more expensive 4x4s. The ride is generally acceptable, although handling and steering both lack precision.
It’s also somewhat noisy, both in terms of the engine, road noise, and wind noise; the latter seems to emanate from the large door mirrors and huge roof bars. If we were being picky, the doors also sound a bit tinny when being closed.
There’s no separate low ratio ‘box, but the Duster’s six-speed manual gearbox does have a low ratio first gear, which, combined with the basic clutch action, doesn’t make for the smoothest shifts on-road, but the short first gear ratio helps off-road. And it’s off-road where the Duster really does make sense. It has decent ground clearance (210mm) and relatively short overhangs (it has an approach angle of 30°, ramp break over of 23°, and departure angle of 36°), along with a wading depth of 350mm.
There are three drive settings – two-wheel drive, automatic four-wheel drive, and four-wheel drive lock. It also comes with reasonably grippy Continental Cross Contact ‘mud and snow’ tyres. For averagely demanding off-road use it’s very capable, and it really does make sense as one of the most affordable new cars that can cope with most challenges that rural living can throw at it.
You can imagine that the Duster has excellent sales potential in many of the world’s emerging markets such as India, Russia and Brazil.
The official combined fuel economy figure of the Duster in 4×4 form is 53.3mpg along with emissions of 137 g/km CO2. Anything over 50mpg is good for a 4×4, so the Duster scores highly in this area. However the majority of cars today are proven to achieve around 20-25% worse than the official figure in real-life driving, and the fuel consumption of the Duster really does suffer the further it’s driven out of the NEDC cycle – the car’s aerodynamics probably don’t help. For a 4×4 it’s actually quite light, at 1,294 Kg, which is good for efficiency.
Driving carefully we achieved 52.2mpg, with average driving we managed 44.0mpg, but with enthusiastic driving this dropped to 35.7mpg.
The headline is that the Dacia Duster can be bought for as little as £8,995. However that’s for the base 1.6-litre petrol two-wheel drive model, which has very basic equipment levels – there’s not even a radio. The top of the range 1.5 dCi 110 Laureate 4WD costs £14,995 – but this is still much cheaper than all other similar size 4x4s. Laureate spec includes 16-inch alloys, air conditioning, electric rear windows, trip computer and leather steering wheel trim, so this is the one to go for. Metallic paint is an option.
One thing to be aware of is that the Duster didn’t perform particularly well in NCAP safety tests, gaining only a three-star rating. Stability control is only an option (for £350).
The Duster is used in environments that are tougher on cars than the conditions here in the UK, so it should easily cope with life on our roads.
The Dacia Duster looks good, it’s efficient if you drive it carefully, and it’s competent off-road. At £14,995, for a spacious 4×4, it represents good value. If you’re looking for the utmost in refinement and you’re a fan of upmarket, tech-laden interiors then the Duster may not be the car for you, but if you want a good value overall package that can cope with the average demands of UK rural life then you should consider the Duster. For offering an affordable and capable 4×4 choice for motorists, the Dacia Duster is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 7 out of 10.