Dacia Duster review
The Dacia Duster is a compact 4x4 with a supermini price-tag. It will go on sale in the UK in January
The Dacia Duster aims to offer something different from the new-car norm. It's built using engines, electronics and other mechanical parts from parent company Renault, which means Dacia can cut manufacturing costs and offer outstanding value for money. Entry-level models are extremely basic, but the entire range weighs in at the same level as a supermini, yet you get more space than you'd find in a Nissan Qashqai. All versions are offered in two or four-wheel-drive guises, too.
Our choice: 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 entry-level Access model - adds to the purposeful look. Another clear indication that the Duster is built to a price is the fact that only top-spec Laureate cars have alloy wheels, and also get more stylish satin silver scuff plates, doorhandles and roof bars. Inside, there's plenty of black plastic, but the cabin feels robust and looks quite smart, with only the odd piece of switchgear giving away its Renault parts bin roots.
The entry-level Dacia Duster gets a Renault-sourced 1.6-litre petrol engine, which is smooth and powerful enough to keep up with traffic. Move up the range, and Renault's 109bhp 1.5 dCi diesel is the sole engine available on Ambiance and Laureate models. This engine is getting on a bit, so it's quite noisy, but it offers a decent turn of pace. 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 uses tried-and-tested parts from Renault, and it has been on sale in Europe since 2010, so any problems should on the whole be ironed out by the time UK cars hit dealers in January 2013. For added peace of mind, all Dacias will come with a three-year 60,000-mile warranty. For an extra outlay, you can upgrade this to a Hyundai-rivalling five-year 60,000-mile deal, or even a seven-year/100,000-mile scheme as found at Kia. In terms of safety, the Duster was given a three out of five rating for safety, largely being let down by poor pedestrian protection and the fact that electronic stability control is only offered as an option on some of the range.
The Duster offers some of the best space-per-pound you'll find in the new car market. There's a 475-litre boot - 65 litres bigger than a Nissan Qashqai's - although the elasticated load cover does feel a bit flimsy. The rear seat has a 60:40 split, which creates a 1,636-litre space. Passenger room is decent, with room for three adults across the rear bench, while the seats themselves are comfortable.
Value-for-money is the Duster's biggest selling point, as it's priced at a similar level to a supermini. But you get what you pay for, and the entry-level Access model doesn't have a radio, while electronic stability control isn't even an option. However, go for the top-spec Laureate models, and you get a decent amount of kit, including air-con, electric mirrors and windows, a trip computer and piano black trim. All models can be upgraded to four-wheel drive for an extra £2,000. As for running costs, the 1.6 petrol is thirstier and costs more to tax than a 1.6-litre petrol Nissan Qashqai, but the 1.5 dCi diesel is more economical. Residual values are forecast to be on a par with the Qashqai, while a chain of 127 dealers is being established across the country.