Dacia Duster review
The Dacia Duster is priced like a supermini but has the space and ability to rival the Nissan Qashqai
The Dacia Duster SUV was the first of the low-price car brand's models to arrive on British shores in 2012.
Since then, Dacia has added the Sandero supermini, tough looking Sandero Stepway and Logan MCV estate to its line-up of affordable cars which use engines, electronics and other mechanical parts from parent company Renault. This allows Dacia to cut manufacturing costs and offer excellent value for money to its customers.
Dacia offers the Duster in three trim levels: the entry-level Access, mid-range Ambiance and flagship Laureate.
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.
The mid-range Dacia Duster Ambiance and flagship Duster Laureate model are powered by a 1.5 dCi engine, but for the four-wheel drive Laureate the price moves up to around £15,000.
In addition to offering excellent value (with a comparable price to a used Nissan Qashqai), Dacia makes the Duster even more appealing by offering plenty of space, decent running costs and giving it strong off road ability which is why our sister title CarBuyer.co.uk named it Car of the Year 2013.
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.
While the Dacia Duster has only been on sale since 2012 in the UK, it's been available to buy in continental Europe since 2010. Given the Duster uses tried-and-tested parts from Renault, this should mean any problems should have been ironed out. Renault’s reputation for reliability has improved of late, too, and it finished 21st in the 2013 Driver Power results – two places ahead of Ford and 10 places ahead of arch-rival Peugeot.
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 £9,000 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.