Dacia Duster (2009-2017) review

The Dacia Duster offers the space and practicality of a Nissan Qashqai, but for the price of a Micra

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

£13,425 to £20,275
  • Fantastic value for money, spacious interior, pleasant to drive
  • Basic entry-level Access model, noisy diesel, poor safety score

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.

New 2017 Dacia Duster first drive review

Fans of East European budget cars will remember the Dacia name from the 80s and 90s, most notably the Renault 12-based Denem and the original Duster.

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.

Best crossovers and small SUVs on sale

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.

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