Road tests

New Dacia Duster 2021 review

We've tried the facelifted Dacia Duster in diesel guise, but is the cheaper petrol version the one to get?

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

Verdict

We haven’t quite found a four-star version of the updated Duster yet, but this Comfort spec does feel like it’s on the right track. For those who do need a bit of all-weather ability, this four-wheel-drive diesel edition could be just the ticket - but we reckon that a similarly equipped, front-drive 1.3 petrol will be even closer to the value ethos, while being noticeably cheaper on cash and finance.

The Dacia Duster has been a sales smash for the Renault-owned Romanian brand ever since it was introduced in 2010, with more than two million examples sold so far. But when we tried the latest edition of the vehicle on French roads recently, we came away thinking that time was, at last, catching up with a model whose underpinnings can be traced back more than 15 years - especially now that the Sandero supermini now uses a modern Renault platform. 

That first taste of the updated Duster came in range-topping, high-powered petrol form, though. Now it’s our first chance to see how the revisions stack up on British roads, and in a more modest trim level.

Our test car here is an increasingly rare beast in the market too, because it’s a diesel - a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, producing 113bhp and 260Nm of torque. Dacia also sells the Duster with 1.0, 1.3 and 1.5-litre petrols, of course, as well as an LPG-based bi-fuel configuration. 

Still, the diesel does offer extra choice because while it has a single transmission option - a six-speed manual - it is available with either front- or four-wheel drive, as tested here. There’s a fair old gap in list price between the two versions, mind you; Dacia wants £2,300 more for the 4x4, which seems a hefty whack for a bit of extra capability in slippery conditions.

On the road, you’ll never be in any doubt of your choice of fuel. There’s a reasonable amount of diesel clatter at start-up, and the relative shortage of noise insulation means that it really never fades away, even when the car is fully warmed up. There’s also a noticeable resonating rasp between 1,750rpm and 2,000rpm. which is unfortunate, because the motor’s torque really punches in through that range.

And there is punch; the gearbox has a surprisingly short throw and you’ll need it, because you can easily spirit the Duster along in a 1,000rpm band, just by throwing gears at it. The 0-62mph time of just over 10 seconds belies some solid in-gear pace and it’s swift, in a charmingly old-school diesel type of way - even if the heavy steering and body roll will swiftly get in the way of any B-road antics.

What does impress is the ride quality - and here, at least, there’s a key difference to note over our earlier French drive. Top-spec Prestige models get 17-inch alloys as standard, whereas the mid-spec Comfort version we’re driving here settles for 16s. Combined, perhaps, with the suspension tuning to accommodate the extra weight of the motor and the 4x4 system, it feels noticeably more supple and happier over bumps, particularly at lower speeds.

It works off road, too; we’ve tried the 4x4’s abilities over a specially created test track and while it’s not about to threaten a full-blown Land Rover Defender any day soon, you’ll be surprised at what it can get away with. On suitable tyres, it would be an awesome, near-unstoppable winter tool; after all, there’s a reason why you see so many basic Duster 4x4s in the south of France, ready for use in the Alps.

Back on the road, though, we should point out that there’s still a fair amount of tyre roar and wind noise from around the A-pillars - further signs that while the Duster may have been treated to some new engines and fresh in-car tech, it remains a fundamentally old vehicle on an elderly architecture. And the cabin, for all its updates, is spacious but still compromised in a few areas, such as the positioning of the infotainment system.

What we’re left with, then, from this UK experience, is the conclusion that while Prestige spec does bring fripperies like sat-nav, heated seats and climate control, the sweetest, most ‘honest’ level of Duster is Comfort. It brings the basics - air-con, rear sensors and parking camera, fog lights, heated and electrically adjustable side mirrors and electric rear windows. And while it does without integrated nav, it does get the same eight-inch dash display as the Prestige, complete with Apple and Android smartphone hook-ups that will offer better mapping than Dacia’s own anyway.

And, this being Dacia, you can have it at a reasonable monthly price on a PCP deal for a very small outlay. In fact, for our test car, you could even place a £287 deposit for a 48 month term and pay a matching £287 a month. No four-wheel-drive SUVs as capable as this offer such value for money.

Model:

Dacia Duster Comfort Blue dCi 115 4x4

Price:£19,645
Engine:

1.5-litre, 4cyl diesel

Power/torque:

113bhp/260Nm

Transmission:

Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive

0-62mph:9.7 seconds
Top speed:108mph
Economy:53.3mpg
CO2 emissions:139-140g/km
On sale:Now

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