Matt Saunders
27 April 2010

What is it?

The new Dacia Duster is the car with which Renault will relaunch its meteoric Romanian car brand in the UK market in 2012. As such, it’s a vitally important model; the Duster must be good enough to impress some of the most discerning customers in Europe – us Brits.

Based on the same platform that underpins the current Logan saloon, the new Duster is a compact crossover 4x4 that, at roughly 4.3-metres long and 1.8-metres wide, takes up about as much roadspace as a Golf-sized family hatchback. As such, it’s aimed squarely at someone who might be tempted by a Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 3008 or Skoda Yeti.

But it won’t be priced like a Qashqai – or even like the Skoda, come to mention it. Because it’s built on a platform recycled, in part, from Renault’s last-generation Clio, and in a factory in low-cost Eastern Europe, the Duster should start from less than £11,000 when it goes on sale in Britain in a couple of years’ time.

Right now, £11k won’t even buy you a boggo Ford Fiesta – and the Duster is a rugged, roomy and reasonably attractive new quasi-offroader from the class above that. Doesn’t take a genius to see why Renault suspects this car, and its immediate siblings, could be quite popular in post-credit-crunch Britain, does it?

What’s it like?

Damned hard to criticise. Alright, so the Duster isn’t going to win any awards for originality or meticulous build quality, but to these eyes it’s a stout, handsome and distinctive car, and certainly doesn’t look as if it’s been designed on a shoestring.

The Duster’s cabin looks a little more obviously ‘no-frills’ than its exterior. We drove a range-topping model fitted with body-coloured fascia trims, but they did little to jazz up the interior. Plastics are hard to the touch in places, flimsy and coarsely finished in others, and instruments and switchgear look and feel out of date here and there. At least it’s all hard-wearing.

There are three powertrain options: a 1.6-litre petrol engine with 114bhp, or a 1.5-litre dCi commonrail turbodiesel with either 84- or 108bhp. The 84bhp diesel is only available with front-wheel drive and a five-speed manual ‘box; the two more powerful options are offered with a switchable four-wheel drive system that works via an electronically actuated torque converter.

The 108bhp oil-burner is arguably the most capable option in the range, coming with a six-speed ‘box with an extra-short first gear ratio for use offroad. Dacia opted not to fit a low range transfer ‘box to the Duster on the grounds that it would add weight, cost and complexity. As it is, the range-topping Duster tips the scales at 1250kg, making it quite agile over very challenging terrain.

Independent suspension all-round helps the all-wheel driven Dusters keep four wheels on the ground over steep tumps and through troughs, while the front-driven ones have an H-shaped torsion bar suspension system at the rear.

The latter makes them marginally less capable off road, but also allows for more boot space. And yet with approach and departure angles of better than 30 degrees, more than 200mm of ground clearance, and a chassis and underbody that’s been reinforced in case it should come into contact with passing topography, even the two-wheel driven Dusters are capable of clambering much further offroad that you’d think.

The Duster we drove on the road – a 1.5-litre, 84bhp, front-driven dCi – had decent enough performance for everyday use. Ride quality, rolling refinement and ‘NVH’ were a little below class standards, just as you might expect from a car that costs £4000 less than the, err, class standard.

The seats were a little short on support too, and the absence of reach adjustment on the steering column could be significant for taller drivers.

Still, the Duster steered fluently and accurately and gripped the tarmac well on its hybrid offroad tyres.

Should I buy one?

Depends how you feel about austerity. This car isn’t a work of engineering brilliance, for sure: at times it would feel noisy, dated and cheap compared to more expensively engineered small 4x4s.

But at other times – most of the time, probably – we suspect you’d feel rather pleased with your decision to buy a Dacia Duster. This is a car with surprising offroad credentials; more than adequate on-road abilities; as much passenger and luggage space as a small estate car; and that your can buy for £4k less than the cheapest Skoda Yeti.

As such, it’s a compact offroader for people who didn’t think they could afford one. And as such, it’s an incredible amount of car for your money: a bargain of the kind that rarely comes along in the market for new cars.

The Duster’s equally rare because it’s a car with a simple and uncompromised character. So often, the makers of budget cars spend what limited development purses they have trying (almost always in vain) to make them look and feel more expensive; the Duster, by contrast, is a car designed to be cheap to buy, cheap to own, practical, capable and long-lasting.

It’s a ‘no-nonsense’ sort of machine that wears its bargain basement price tag like a badge of honour. And we can’t help really liking it for that.

Join the debate

Comments
26

Re: Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 85 4x2

4 years 20 weeks ago

Its completely Fab and i want one right now, why do we have to wait until 2012?

Re: Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 85 4x2

4 years 20 weeks ago

I have to say this looks bang on. Given the expected price tag etc. a total bargain...... Have Renault out Skodered Skoda?

Re: Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 85 4x2

4 years 20 weeks ago

I had the chance to test drive the 1.6i Duster recently here in Germany. I must say I was impressed. Great looks, very good levels of comfort and lots of space. Prices here start at 11.900,- € (about 10.300,- in pounds) with very basic levels of equipment. But a decent pertol Duster with a/c, stereo, electric windows, remote central locking, leather seats and alloy wheels costs 14.400,- € (about 12.500,- in pounds) . A real bargain! 4-wheel drive is optional at 1.800,- € (about 1.500,- in pounds) The 110 HP Diesel is 2.000,- € more (about 1.700,- in pounds) Yes, noise levels are slightly higher and there are no fashionable soft touch plastics, but who cares... Sales of the Duster started on april 17th here and there is already a wait list until the end of the year for certain versions... I'm not surprised!

Re: Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 85 4x2

4 years 20 weeks ago

I was going to comment on would it compare to a Fiat Sedici, but I notice Fiat UK have stopped selling them - I think I've only ever seen 1 on the road. But I guess the comparison still works with its sister the Suzuki SX4 that starts at £11750.

Re: Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 85 4x2

4 years 20 weeks ago

If that comes into the UK at around £11k I'll eat my own earwax.

And we all know how horrible that tastes - right, kids?

Copyright Rick in The Young Ones

Re: Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 85 4x2

4 years 20 weeks ago

Will it carry a family of 4/5, a dog and camping stuff if needed? - Yes

Does it look half decent? - Undeniably yes

Would you rather have one than a second/third hand Astra Estate? - Most probably

Does it go as well as a Golf and have soft plastics? - Does it matter? Most prob not.

Will it sell in UK? - Yes certainly at the sort of prices quoted.

Audi A3 2.0TDi S-Line / Subaru Legacy Tourer

Re: Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 85 4x2

4 years 20 weeks ago

Sounds like it might be good enough off-road to replace the legions of ancient SJ's and Vitara's treading the rough-stuff!

Re: Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 85 4x2

4 years 20 weeks ago

Did you know that in 1Q of 2010 Dacia Sandero was 5th best-selling car in France? In March alone it even came second (if you count new-shape and old-shape Clios separately)!

Although I quite like the Duster and its appearance on the market is quite refreshing, I must say it qualifies as a bargain only if you can accept poorly-equipped versions. I made a quick comparison with Kia Soul CRDi with 1.6, 128 PS diesel engine, 6 airbags, ESP, aircon, 16-inch alloys, USB/MP3 radio with wheel-mounted controls, 4 electric windows (...) and if you tried to spec the Duster to this level you'd end up with a much pricier and slower car. And the Soul is an surprisingly large inside. A

Admittedly, the Dacia has a 4x4 option, which is a strong argument in its favour.

Re: Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 85 4x2

4 years 20 weeks ago

This no-nonsense softroader is the perfect vehicle for developing countries, where poor roads and limited access to vehicles (so all the family has to fit in it) and income are the norm. Over here it still makes sense for those into adventure sports and outdoorsy-types of any kind who don't want to spend more than necessary on their transport (priorities elsewhere).

It might not be best in class, but it sure beats a Lada Niva and similar products from Mahindra and the Chinese.

Very nice move indeed, Renault.

Re: Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 85 4x2

4 years 20 weeks ago

Ektor wrote:
the perfect vehicle for developing countries, where poor roads

Perfect for the UK then, especially after the snow this winter - holes everywhere.

It looks great - love the huge arches and looks good on steel wheels.

I moved to Sweden recently and it's proced at 134900SEK over here (with VAT at 25%), so £11k in UK, looks likely. Me and the Mrs will be needing a new car soon - was thinking of a Yeti, so I'll definitely be taking a look at this.

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Our Verdict

Dacia Duster

The Dacia Duster is a no-nonsense machine that wears its bargain price tag like a badge of honour. And we can’t help liking it for that.

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