Dacia Duster (2009-2017) review
The Dacia Duster offers the space and practicality of a Nissan Qashqai, but for the price of a Micra
The Dacia Duster is a small, rugged SUV that costs about the same as a small family hatchback. The low price point means it's competitive enough to take on the best of the best in the crossover SUV and family hatchback segments of the market. If you look it as a cut-price Nissan Qashqai, you might start questioning whether you really need to spend more for "the real thing".
The Duster's range is pretty easy to get your head around, but the entry-level model is basic. In Access spec, there's black plastic everywhere, steel wheels and no radio inside; cheap and cheerful is the name of the game. Ambience and Ambience Prime versions add more toys, while the the higher-spec Laureate and Prestige models offer a genuine alternative to mainstream rivals - with cruise control and electric windows all round. The range was subtly updated in late 2015 with a slightly revised front end, and again in 2016 with a new turbo petrol engine and dual-clutch automatic model.
It does have its issues, particularly its three-star Euro NCAP crash test safety rating and engines that aren't quite as economical as more expensive alternatives. The Duster does fight back with a flexible interior, appealing looks and pretty decent driving manners.
Car group tests
The Dacia name returned to the UK in 2012, with the Romanian company having been under Renault ownership since 1999. The Duster was the first car to be sold here under the new corporate umbrella, offering a refreshingly old-school take on the crossover-SUV formula.
It uses running gear from Renault and Nissan models, but economies of scale mean it offers SUV-levels of practicality for the price of a supermini. As such, direct rivals are few and far between, but from a size perspective, it's up against the likes of the Suzuki Vitara, Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar.
Prices start from a headline-grabbing £9,500, but the entry-level Duster Access is basic in the extreme. The white paint, black bumpers and 16-inch steel wheels deliver a UN-spec vibe, while 'luxuries' are kept to the minimum. On the plus side, a 4x4 system can be added for £2,000, creating a bargain basement full-fat off-roader.
The Duster Ambiance still runs on steel wheels, but the styling is improved courtesy of body-coloured bumpers. Other upgrades include front fog lights, a DAB/FM/AM radio and a USB connection for MP3 players.
Manual air conditioning isn't part of the Duster package until you reach the Laureate trim level, which also adds 16-inch alloy wheels, leather steering wheel, chrome roof bars and cruise control. The Prestige trim delivers diamond-cut alloys, sat-nav and a reversing camera.
At the top of the range is the aptly-named SE Summit, which gains bespoke alloy wheels, grey metallic paint, body side and wheel arch mouldings, orange trim upholstery and burnt orange air vent surrounds.
You can add more premium features to the Duster, such as leather upholstery for around £500, but cloth trim and a slightly more pared-back kit list better suit the Dacia’s honest, down-to-earth character. Items such as climate control or keyless go aren’t even available as options, but the Laureate model offers enough gear to make it usable at an accessible price. That’s why with the well proven 1.5 dCi engine it’s the pick of the range.
Although it’s cheap, the Duster has plenty of appeal for drivers who aren’t badge snobs. Dacia is part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, and so many of its mechanical components are tried and tested from other group models.
The Dacia Duster seats five comfortably, and will even take you some way off-road if you opt for the 4x4 option. Most people will choose front-wheel drive, though, and both drive systems can be mated to a 109bhp 1.5 dCi diesel, a 114bhp petrol 1.6 (but only in the entry model), and a 124bhp 1.2-litre turbo petrol on top-spec Laureate and Prestige models. If you buy a front-wheel-drive diesel, Duster, there's also the option of a twin-clutch EDC auto gearbox on Laureate and Prestige models.
The Duster was updated in 2016, but the changes were limited to new alloy wheels, a tweaked front grille and new colours. The minor updates will be difficult to spot, yet the car’s charms in 4x4 spec mean it blends on-road comfort with grip and stability in slippery conditions at an incredibly affordable price. Performance is only adequate, but with decent efficiency, plenty of room and a good kit list in Laureate trim, the Duster is still a great compact off-roader for the money.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe Dacia Duster offers the space and practicality of a Nissan Qashqai, but for the price of a Micra
- 2Engines, performance and driveA simple engine choice and a straightforward drive: the best engine is the diesel, and Dacia’s trim line-up reflects this
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsDiesel fuel economy is average compared to rivals but the petrol is uncompetitive
- 4Interior, design and technologyThe Duster isn’t the most stylish or high-tech machine inside, but space and practicality more than compensate
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceRoomy, practical and with a big boot, the Duster takes some beating in the usability stakes
- 6Reliability and SafetySimple, straightforward and well proven, although safety is middling and early cars suffered a few issues with rust