Dacia Duster review
The Dacia Duster is a 4x4 that rivals the Nissan Qashqai but with the price tag of a supermini
When the Dacia Duster was launched back in 2012, it was the budget brand’s first model in the UK. Since then, it has been joined by the Sandero supermini, rugged Sandero Stepway and Logan MCV estate. It’s built using engines, electronics and other mechanical parts from parent company Renault, which allows Dacia to cut manufacturing costs and offer outstanding value for money. As you would expect given the starting price of only £8,995, entry-level cars are extremely basic. However, Dacia is expecting the range-topping Laureate to be the best seller, and that is available from only £12,995 for the two-wheel-drive model - that’s roughly the same as a used Nissan Qashqai. The Duster also offers plenty of space, decent running costs and strong off-road ability in four-wheel-drive guise, which is why our sister title CarBuyer.co.uk named it its 2013 Car of the Year.
Our choice: Dacia 1.5 dCi 110 Laureate 4x2
The Dacia Duster wears its utilitarian look with pride. The chunky bodywork doesn't look like any other compact 4x4, and the generous use of black plastic outside - especially on the base-spec model - adds to the purposeful look. Inside, there's plenty of black plastic but everything feels robust and looks quite smart, with only the odd piece of switchgear giving away its Renault parts bin roots. There are three trim levels to choose from: Access, Ambiance and Laureate. Entry-level cars 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 stereo, along with luxuries like Bluetooth, UB connectivity, fog lights, body-coloured bumpers and nicer upholstery. Top-of-the-range Laureate models come with 16-inch alloys, air-conditioning, electric door mirrors, and more stylish chrome roof bars, scuff plates and door handles. There’s also a range of option packs, including a £655 Styling pack that brings daytime running lights and chrome finishing for the side bars and exhausts. There’s also a Protection pack, which costs £575 and includes an alarm, rear-parking sensors and front and rear mudguards.
The entry-level Duster is powered by a Renalt-sourced 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol that is smooth and powerful enough to keep up with traffic, but isn’t particularly efficient. The 109bhp 1.5 dCi diesel is also taken from the Renault line-up and is the sole engine available on Ambiance and Laureate models. Although it’s a little noisy, it is responsive and offers decent pace, thanks to the six-speed manual gearbox. The suspension soaks up bumps well, but there's plenty 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 only offered as an option on diesel models.
The Duster has been on sale in Europe since 2010 and uses tried-and-tested parts from Renault, which means that any problems should on the whole have been ironed out. Renault’s reputation for reliability has improved of late, too, and the brand finished 21st in the 2013 Driver Power results – that’s two places ahead of Ford and 10 places ahead of arch-rival Peugeot. Its best result was in the technology category, but it also performed well for running costs, ride quality and practicality. All Dacias come with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, too, which 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. In terms of safety, the Duster has a three-star Euro NCAP rating, which is mostly down to a poor result in the pedestrian protection test and the fact that electronic stability control is only offered as an option on the two top trim levels. Anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist is standard across the range, as are driver, passenger and side airbags.
This is one of the Duster’s strengths – so much so, that it offers some of the best space-per-pound you'll find in the new car market. The 475-litre boot is 65 litres bigger than a Nissan Qashqai's. The opening is nice and wide, too, although the elasticated load cover does feel a bit flimsy. You’ll need to opt for either Ambiance or Laureate trim if you want 60:40 split-folding rear seats, which when used creates a 1,636-litre space. There’s plenty of space for three adults across the rear bench, while the seats themselves are comfortable.
Key to the Duster’s success is its value for money, and with a starting price of less than £9,000, it will cost you less to buy than some superminis. All models can be upgraded to four-wheel drive for an extra £2,000, too, which makes it the cheapest 4x4 on sale, too. As for running costs, the two-wheel-drive diesel is the most efficient option, thanks to an official fuel consumption figure of 56.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 130g/km. If you opt for four-wheel drive, the fuel economy figure drops to 53.3mpg and raises emissions to 137g/km. However, this is still more efficient than the 1.6 petrol model. That can only manage 47.1mpg and emits 165g/km, which means it will cost a lot more to tax and run than a 1.6-litre petrol Nissan Qashqai. Residual values are forecast to be on a par with the Qashqai, while a chain of 127 dealers is being established across the country.