The Dacia Duster offers a lot of car for the £13,000 price tag, and despite having a 4×4-style body with a 1.6-litre petrol engine, it proved to be surprisingly economical, matching its WLTP economy figure in real-world driving.
We’ve tested the Dacia Duster before, in diesel 4×4 form. The Duster has recently had an update, and we’re now reviewing the front-wheel drive 1.6-litre petrol-engined model. So should you consider a £13,000 SUV?
We think that the Duster looks good on the outside, with its chunky 4×4 styling. The interior may best be described as ‘fit for purpose’ – it’s somewhat less interesting than the exterior, being very black and basic overall. However you get a touchscreen with satnav and even a reversing camera, and most of the equipment that you’re likely to need. There’s a good amount of space and a big boot.
We’re testing the SCe 115 model, with a 1.6-litre engine, a 5-speed manual gearbox, and front-wheel drive.
OK, let’s start with the headline: the Dacia Duster is generally fine to drive overall, and on twisting A-roads, there’s even a bit of fun to be had, as, despite the steering not being very sharp, the handling feels direct and connected to the road, unlike many modern cars that are so refined that you lose this sensation. The relatively light weight of just 1,179kg is no doubt a factor in aiding handling and ride.
If you don’t want to hear about a number of minor issues, then you can stop reading now. While we’re on the subject of refinement, let’s start here, as this is one area that understandably hasn’t received priority in a £13,000 car. In normal driving it’s not much of an issue, but on the motorway you feel as though more insulation would be helpful, as a lot of road noise makes it through into the cabin. The motorway driving experience isn’t helped by the petrol engine and the 5-speed manual gearbox; the Duster is revving at 2500rpm at 60mph, and 60mph feels more like 90mph. However it should be noted that this petrol model is more refined than the diesel version.
There’s also a distinct lack of power and acceleration, which is again particularly evident on the motorway when trying to overtake. And there’s turbo lag, which is an issue in stop-start driving around town.
In terms of interior ergonomics, as with Renault models, the audio volume controls are behind the steering wheel, where you can’t see them, and they’re uncomfortably close to where the key sits in the ignition.
The USB socket is at the top right of the touch screen, so if you plug in your phone, the lead drops down in front of the screen. You also can’t zoom out on the satnav to see delays on the route ahead – one of the most essential features of a car when driving around the UK motorway network.
Although our test car was only two-wheel drive, it was fitted with off-road tyres. So you’re likely to get further off-road in this Duster than you would do in many 4x4s fitted with summer road tyres. However if you’re planning off-road excursions, then you’re probably likely to buy the 4×4 model, so, for the UK, this is a slightly strange tyre choice – although this might work for other global markets where resilient tyres are needed but where two-wheel drive will suffice.
The official WLTP combined fuel economy for the Dacia Duster SCe 115 4×2 is 43.5mpg, with CO2 emissions of149 g/km. So, on paper, it’s not particularly economical, but in real-world driving it came closer to its official WLTP figure than any other car that we’ve tested – and it beat this figure in some instances.
At 50mph over a 20 mile stretch of the M6 the Duster returned 61.7mpg. On 60mph A and B-roads it averaged 47.6mpg. Overall after a week of driving – with our typical split of 80% long journeys and 20% around town – the Duster averaged 43.4mpg – just 0.1mpg short of its new WLTP combined figure. The Duster also has a useful driving range – over 500 miles during our week with the car.
The new, more realistic WLTP test is likely to have helped the Duster match its official figure in real-world driving, but we also believe that the Duster’s 1,179kg weight is a factor – this is considerably less than most SUVs of this size.
The Dacia Duster Comfort SCe 115 4×2 costs £13,195. Our test car had options of metallic paint (£495), emergency spare wheel (£150) and Western European mapping (£90), taking the total price to £13,930.
The Duster is available from £9,995 for Access trim level, £11,695 for Essential, and £14,695 for Prestige. Petrol and diesel engines are available, as well as front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive.
We may have listed a few minor issues with the Duster, but overall this is a lot of car for £13,000. It does pretty much everything you need it to do, and it’s spacious, including a good-sized boot. And it almost exactly matched its new WLTP fuel economy figure after a week of real-world driving – no other car that we’ve tested has ever come this close to its official NEDC or WLTP figure. Avoiding unnecessary equipment seemingly keeps down the price, the weight, the emissions, and the fuel bill.
So the Duster gets our approval, but with our standard comment: it has all the 4×4 features engineered in, but the 4×4 system has effectively been disconnected. So you still have the impact in areas such as aerodynamics and therefore efficiency, but you have none of the benefits of extra 4×4 traction. So in our opinion if you’re buying the 4×4 body style, especially if you live in the countryside, you may as well go for the 4×4 powertrain – available with a petrol or diesel engine – which makes the Duster even more of a capable all-round vehicle. However even in two-wheel drive form the Dacia Duster gets a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.