Dacia Duster review
The Dacia Duster is priced like a supermini but has the space and ability to rival the Nissan Qashqai
It’s hard to believe it has been more than two years since Romanian brand Dacia arrived in the UK. Back then it was just the Duster than formed the range, but over the past couple of years, the Renault-owned company has added the Sandero, Sandero Stepway and Sandero MCV estate to the line-up.
The Duster has gathered a large fan base with the UK buyers. That’s thanks to its no-nonsense pricing structure and the ability to order a new Duster online.
There are three, easy to understand trims on offer: Access, mid-range Ambiance and top-spec Laureate. The entry-level Access doesn’t offer much kit (it only comes in white, for instance) while the Ambiance and Laureate add more goodies we have come to expect from SUVs over the years. There’s also the choice of two- and four-wheel drive and while the latter version is more than a match for the likes of the Suzuki Jimny and Fiat Panda 4x4, the two-wheel drive versions start at under £9,500.
While it may be a small off-roader similar to the Suzuki Jimny, Suzuki S-Cross and Fiat Panda 4x4, the good news for Dacia Duster buyers is that the entry level Access model with two-wheel drive and a 1.6-litre petrol engine costs less than £9,000 - that’s the price of a used SUV like the Nissan Qashqai!
It has also won fans here too. Our sister title Carbuyer has twice named the Duster as Small SUV of the Year, with the Dacia taking the title in 2013 and 2014.
Our choice: Dacia 1.5 dCi 110 Laureate 4x2
The Dacia Duster makes no bones about its utilitarian personality, and the generous use of black plastic and steel wheels on entry level Access models make for a purposeful, distinctive appearance in comparison to its rivals.
Dacia carries on the no-nonsense appearance with the Duster's interior, so while there's plenty of black plastic, everything feels robust and looks quite smart, with only the odd piece of switchgear giving away its Renault roots.
Entry-level Dusters have to make do with steel wheels and black roof rails, door mirrors and handles, but do get three rear headrests and electric front windows.
However, you’ll need to opt for mid-spec Ambiance and above if you want a Duster with a stereo, plus luxuries like Bluetooth, USB connectivity, fog lights, body-coloured bumpers and nicer upholstery. Top-of-the-range Dacia Duster Laureate models come with 16-inch alloys, air-conditioning, electric door mirrors, and more stylish chrome roof bars, scuff plates and door handles.
Dacia also offers a range of option packs on the Duster. These include a Styling pack that brings daytime running lights and chrome finishing for the side bars and exhausts. There’s also a Protection pack, which includes an alarm, rear parking sensors and front and rear mudguards.
Dacia gives the entry level Duster a Renault-sourced 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine, and while it's powerful enough to keep up with traffic, it isn’t particularly efficient.
However the 109bhp 1.5 dCi diesel taken from the Renault line-up, the sole engine available on Ambiance and Laureate models, is responsive and offers decent pace, thanks to the six-speed manual gearbox. It's a little noisy though.
The suspension soaks up bumps well, but there's a lot of body roll in the corner. That said, you're unlikely to be exploring the handling limits too regularly, especially when you know that stability control is not standard on diesel models.
The Dacia Duster has been available to buy in continental Europe since 2010. The Duster’s tried-and-tested parts has ensured a strong reputation for reliability – in the 2014 Driver Power survey, Dacia finished an amazing fifth place ahead of the likes of Mercedes, Kia and Audi.
All Dacias come with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, too. This can be upgraded to a Hyundai-rivalling five-year, 60,000-mile deal, or even a Kia-rivalling seven-year, 100,000-mile scheme for a small premium.
While it's practical and good value, the Dacia Duster scored just three stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, mainly due to a poor result in the pedestrian protection test and the fact that electronic stability control is only offered as an option on the higher-end Ambiance and Laureate models. Fortunately, in addition to passenger and side airbags, Dacia fits anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist to all Dusters as standard.
In addition to its excellent value, practicality is one of the biggest trump cards the Dacia Duster has - in fact, it gives some of the best space-per-pound you'll find in today's new car market.
The Duster's boot is 65 litres bigger than that found in a Nissan Qashqai at 475 litres, and despite the elasticated load cover feeling a tad flimsy, its opening is nice and wide.
However, Dacia only offers 60:40 split-folding rear seats on the Ambiance and Laureate models, but when folded, they do create a 1,636-litre space. What's more, they offer plenty of rear space for three adults and are comfortable.
In addition to its no-frills personality, one of the most attractive aspects of the Dacia Duster is its value for money. With a starting price of around £9,500 for an entry-level model, it costs less than some similar priced superminis such as the Ford Fiesta or Volkswagen Polo. For an extra £2,000, all two-wheel drive models can be upgraded to 4x4, making it the cheapest off-roader on sale.
As for economy, the 1.5-litre two-wheel-drive Dacia Duster diesel is the most efficient option thanks to economy of 56.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 130g/km. If you go for the four-wheel drive Duster, the economy drops to 53.3mpg and raises emissions to 135g/km.
However, this is still more efficient than the 1.6-litre petrol Duster. That can only manage 39.8mpg and emits 165g/km, which means it will cost a lot more to tax and run than a 1.6-litre petrol Nissan Qashqai. Furthermore, the residuals for the Duster are forecast to be similar to the Qashqai.