From £17,310
More than great value, is the new model simply a great SUV? We found out over five months

Why we ran it: To find out if Dacia's new Duster offer a few little luxuries to overtake more expensive rivals, while still being a practical workhorse

Month 5 - Month 4Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Prices and Specs

Dacia hello 1871a

Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 5

The less you pay for a car, the more things to complain about, right? Not if the past five months are anything to go by - 12th June 2019

What I’ve found perhaps most surprising about my time in this second-generation Dacia Duster is simply the amount of attention it receives. This morning, in fact, an IT manager in our office was more interested in discussing the Duster than my afternoon trip to Maranello to shoot an Autocar YouTube feature.

Previously, a local logistics worker flat-out ignored a Honda Integra Type R that I was filming, in favour of talking about the Duster’s footwells. Security guards, B&B owners, mining analysts… people of all demographics have wanted to know one thing: can such a cheap SUV really be any good? Well, I’ve had little under half a year and just over 7000 miles to find out.

Throughout those five months, the Duster’s primary role has been camel-like, in lugging the Autocar video team’s cameras and associated garb over Tarmac, dirt and snow. When the aforementioned corporate computer consultant stopped me earlier today, I was heaving another couple of camera cases into the rear. As I demonstrated to him, luggage space has at no point been found wanting. Nor has the ride quality been compromised by such heavy loads on short trips to the airport or even long schleps to Wales. That’s largely thanks to the buxom sidewalls on the tyres specified on our car.

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One of the quirkier tasks often undertaken by long-term test cars on our fleet is car-to-car filming. The requirements of a good ‘tracking car’, as we call them, are a large, flat load bay with decent harnessing points, easily foldable rear seats and a lack of short-frequency vibrations coming through the suspension. The Dacia ticked these boxes time and again.

If you watch our Mercedes-AMG GT 63 group test video on YouTube, you’ll find reels of smooth car-to-car shots from the back of the Duster. Additionally, the junior videographer who shot these was particularly pleased that he even had enough head room to keep his quiff in place after a few laps of our habitual test track, while sat in the boot.

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But it hasn’t been all work and no play. The Duster proved its credentials as a family wagon over the Easter bank holiday when three lanky mates and I ventured to Snowdonia in search of high-gradient hillside thrills. Without a squeak of discomfort from the rear passengers, we barrelled over 500 miles with bags, biscuits and bikes on board, albeit via a towbar-mounted rack. Morris, our baritone B&B bloke, was positively taken aback by how much kit shuttled out of our doors and into his.

These longer journeys have shown up a couple of the minor interior design niggles, however. A scratchy plastic armrest on the driver’s door does grate over that sort of distance, but it’s probably the only glaring sign of the car’s gobsmacking price tag. That ‘Type R-snubbing’ logistics worker seemed concerned by the lack of rest room for a left boot beside the clutch pedal. Although it peeves, the ergonomics are good enough to keep the driving environment comfy.

Compared with the previous-generation Duster, actually, the ergonomics have improved significantly. Not only is the driving position better but, in the old car, the infotainment screen was situated too low on the dashboard, meaning the driver’s eyes were off the road for arguably too long when following the satellite navigation system. The screen has now moved higher and the sat-nav proved invaluable on our Easter trip to Wales, offering traffic-avoiding advice on one of the busiest days of the year for the UK road network.

Bluetooth connectivity also kept the troops entertained all the way from Surrey to Snowdon. It felt like Steve Winwood’s Higher Love was stuck on repeat, but that was just my better half’s Spotify curation, rather than any fault of the Dacia.

Steering accuracy is the other area in which there’s been a step change over the previous-generation model. The new electrically assisted rack is a game changer, in my mind. Before, the car’s handling perhaps pointed subtly towards its head-scrambling RRP, albeit without undermining its great value for money. But now, the steering is markedly more accurate and makes it much easier to say ‘yes’ when anyone asks if such a cheap SUV really can be any good.

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The only blot on its copybook in that regard has been a couple of sensor failures. Both injection sensor and AdBlue sensor warning lights blinked vigorously at me on the dashboard during my tenure. When a dealership hinted that I should carry on despite them, I took that as gospel the following time it happened and, mechanically, the car didn’t bat an eyelid. I’m happy to assume that our car was an anomaly in this case, and I don’t for one minute think sensor failures are consigned to this end of the car market. But no matter how little money I’d paid for an SUV, I would rather not be spending time in car dealerships, even if the work is carried out under a decent warranty.

So, what’s the answer? Can such a cheap SUV actually be any good? Well, yes. Of course it can. This generation of Duster has some really commendable traits, particularly in this diesel form: a huge range of more than 500 miles, unrivalled practicality in this category and, of course, that mind-boggling headline figure, to name a few. With such an alluring concoction of ingredients, you can see why onlookers from all quarters have wanted to find out exactly what it’s like.

Second Opinion

To me, the Duster isn’t just about paying a low price for a machine with plenty of functionality, though that’s a lot of its appeal. It makes a virtue of simplicity in an age of complexity, matching much pricier cars for the things that matter – economy, comfort, accommodation, road noise – without its driver needing a degree in control logic. Best of all, it’s simple fun to drive. I’m sorry it’s going.

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Steve Cropley

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Love it:

Great range At more than 500 miles, such an impressive range is an underrated treat in modern motoring.

Reversing camera Having a reversing camera at this price point is a luxury that drivers will take advantage of every day.

Boot space Boot space touching 450 litres was plenty for us, even with all that camera equipment.

Loathe it:

Getting wet Be warned: with the windows wound down, there is a tendency for the screenwash to flood the cabin.

Hard surfaces While the Duster’s comfy elsewhere, a plastic door card results in a sore elbow over longer journeys.

Final mileage: 7125

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Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 4

Four adults and their kit, including three bikes, head for Snowdon. Then, 30 miles in… - 15th May 2019

In rock climbing circles, the concept of fun is categorised in three different ways. Bear with.

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‘Type 1 fun’ is enjoyable the whole time that you’re doing the activity in question. At no point do you think: ‘This sucks. When will it end?’ Examples might be: eating doughnuts, skiing a freshly bashed piste, having a beer at sunset, driving a Caterham Seven around a dry Donington Park.

‘Type 2 fun’ sucks while you’re doing it, but you’re excited to boast about it at the pub that night, or you look back on the experience as character-forming. It’s retrospective fun. Examples are: doing an Ironman, driving a Mustang in the rain, cycling a Tour de France stage.

‘Type 3’ is an activity you anticipate to be fun, but the reality of it involves a lot of expletives, before you vouch never to do that again. Over the Easter weekend, I headed to the UK’s rock climbing capital, Snowdonia, with three of my closest compadres. My ‘sensible’ better half would go hiking in sunny weather that made it undoubtedly ‘Type 1 fun’. Meanwhile, we three, ‘less sensible’ lads would opt for ‘Type 2 fun’ in the form of two stupidly mountainous 50-mile bike rides.

The plan was to cycle a full lap of Snowdon itself over the spectacular Pen-y-Pass, as well as ride some of Autocar’s favourite mountain roads around Bala. But before I get ahead of myself, we had to get there. And that should have been a relatively simple 245-mile task for our Dacia Duster.

Our first challenge was to precisely pack four adults, three road bikes, all the associated Lycra, helmets, locks and pumps, as well as a pot of plain Pringles, into the SUV. Ours has a towbar, allowing me to attach a bike rack. The Thule EuroRide 2 7-Pin is a delightfully simple and logical bit of kit. It’s a two-bike, heavy-duty rack that needs no instructions to quickly mount and unmount on a whim.

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The fourth member of our cavalcade was not on the initial invite list, you see. He’d been doing training for an Ironman (see above: ‘Type 2 fun’) and therefore was classed as too fit to ride with the other two of us fat blokes. He twisted my arm, though. And, as such, we had to take the wheels and saddle off the third bike to fit it into the boot. I was astonished to see its frame slide on top of our luggage with little fuss. Two six-footplus lads slotted neatly onto the rear bench and off we went.

Within the first 30 miles, though, our journey quickly slipped away from being ‘Type 1 fun’. I was needlessly nervous about the bike rack carrying many thousands of pounds of MAMIL’s carbonfibre. But that panging nag faded into insignificance as two warning messages popped up on the Dacia’s dashboard: ‘Check Injection’ and ‘Check Anti-Pollution System’. Thankfully, this wasn’t the first time in my five months with the Duster. Last time, both my local dealer and the AA had told me it was okay to continue. Not wanting to ruin an Easter weekend for four fitness-frenzied millennials, we pressed on, assuming it was the same sensor issue as before.

And for the next 200 miles, as well as another 250 on the return leg, the Dacia performed admirably, in spite of the warning lights. We achieved more than 51mpg fully loaded. All four occupants were comfortable. Indeed, the six-foot Norse triathlon god slept in the back for most of it. Admittedly, his knees felt a bit like lumbar support, and my right elbow was sore on the plastic armrest, but the ride quality and space were very agreeable. To boot, the front-seat DJ delighted at the Bluetooth connectivity of her carefully curated records for the five-and-a-half-hour schlep.

So, as we rolled along the final section of A5, a stunning stretch of road in any car, we concurred that our trip was situated heavily in the ‘Type 2 fun’ camp. Not just because the cycling was to be beautifully brutal, but also because I would later brag, both in the pub and on this page, about perilously driving a Dacia 500 miles with two warning lights on through some of Britain’s most stunning scenery.

Love it:

Jam-busting sat-nav The sat-nav cleverly avoided real-time bank holiday traffic.

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Loathe it:

My left foot There’s no space to rest your clutch foot on long journeys.

Mileage: 6153

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Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 3

Practical as you like - 24th April 2019

A modern family’s motoring needs extend not only to short-limbed toddlers but also an ageing population of grandparents. Having safely and simply stowed both octogenarian and nonagenarian in our Duster’s front seat at various times, I see the appeal of wide-opening doors, high seats and good seat adjustability.

Mileage: 4072

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“Of course we can explain the person in the boot, officer” - 10th April 2019

"I'm thinking of buying one for my wife. What’s it like?” asked the security guard. I was entering our habitual proving grounds for a day of filming some super-GTs for an Autocar YouTube feature.

I’ve been surprised how much attention the Duster has received from the general public. That’s to say this wasn’t the first time I’ve been accosted by Joe Public asking for a bite-sized review when in the company of some premium metal that itself gets totally ignored.

I guess that’s testament to both the accessibility of the car and the marketing campaign that has backed up Dacia’s launch of its facelifted SUV. What they’re really asking me is: ‘Can it really be that cheap and simultaneously any good whatsoever?’

Well, my answer to the security guard went as follows: “Apart from giving me a bit of a sore elbow from the scratchy plastics on the door, it does represent great value. It’s as practical as it gets for the money, but make sure you test drive the diesel as well as the petrol, as the gearbox and fuel economy are quite different.”

It has far more merit than that, though. The driving experience itself doesn’t feel particularly cheap. The steering accuracy in the pre-facelift car perhaps gave away its price tag, but this facet has been greatly improved with this generation.

And the practicality that I told the security guard of was on full show at the time. We had loaded up tripods and camera cases and sliders and spare clothing and traffic cones and three lattes and you get the picture. Later that day, we even put a videographer in the boot. Autocar film-maker Oli Kosbab noted the comfort levels when we did some car-to-car filming in the controlled environment that we work in. For us videographers, what we call ‘tracking shots’ are always a good ride test.

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As Oli was sat in the boot, tripod in hand, he commented on how few vibrations came through the camera compared with a lot of cars. My money is on our Duster’s abundantly side-walled tyres having a major role in that. In the tighter corners, the car does pitch a little on its suspension, but you’d have to be filming out the back of it for that to be a problem. Additionally, the large load lip and multiple harness points make it a safe place in which to be filming one car from the boot of another.

On a separate note, to follow up on my 20 March report, the car is now once again free of warning lights. The Duster had a temperature sensor fail, and warned me to ‘check injection’ as I was cruising down the M3 in the remaining 50mph zone. Both Dacia Assist and the dealership I took the Duster to said that as the warning light was orange, not red, it would be okay to continue driving the car for a while if proceeding with caution.

This was fortunate as the group that runs some of my nearest Dacia dealerships was busy with new registrations and wouldn’t have been able to see the car for 12 days.

The sensor was cleaned and returned, but here’s hoping the rest of my tenancy is engine-management-light-free after the previous diesel emissions system sensor failure, which has also now been righted.

Love it:

No missing seatbelts The lever to fold the rear seats holds the seatbelt in position whether they are up or down.

Loathe it:

Or AdBlue information The on-board computer ought to give more detail on AdBlue levels and range.

Mileage: 3210

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Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 2 

An unexpected warning light - 20th March 2019

What do you mean ‘check injection’? The operator from Dacia Assist, run in partnership the RAC, told me to follow the 50:50 protocol. No, I didn’t know what it meant either. Apparently, because the warning light is orange, not red, I can drive the car for 50 miles, up to 50mph, to get it to a dealership. Find out next time if I make it.

Mileage: 2226

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Faulty sensor means a spell in a different Duster - 6th March 2019

"Petrol or diesel?” You know when you’re in the pub and that drunk bloke stooping at the end of the bar knows you’re into cars and keeps asking you the same generic question? Yeah, that’s not what I’m doing here. And no, I’m not about to settle decades of over-regulated red tape that has been the publicity plaything of politicians and policy makers alike.

Rather, I want to talk specifically about the engine options in the 2019-model-year Dacia Duster. That’s right: buckle up. But seriously, the dynamic differences between the two are significant. And unfortunately, it’s a question I’m answering rather sooner than I hoped.

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During my tenure of the budget SUV, I’m running the Blue dCi 115 Comfort 4x2, which in plain English is the front-wheel-drive diesel. In terms of refinement, the engine is pretty good for any price point, let alone this bargain one. It pulls nicely from low revs, doesn’t make all that much noise and, my oh my, the range.

I don’t know why a decent range feels like such a luxury in 2019, but it’s a lovely feeling to not have to stop at a fuel station for weeks at a time. Over the festive period, I managed the annual London-to-Manchester-in-laws-odyssey and back on one tank, as well as a good chunk of local pootling in the north-west. I know there are a fair few rangey diesels out there but I am loving it.

It’s a decent cruiser on such journeys. It accelerates briskly enough and sits well at motorway speed, floating around the 50mpg mark on cruise control.

“This will be just perfect for me (the Autocar cameraman) and my load-lugging miles”, I thought, until… the dreaded warning light. After a month with the car, a little orange cloud popped up on the dashboard with the message ‘Check AntiPollution System’. How, I wondered? When the magnifying glass and a hammer didn’t get me anywhere, Dacia kindly and quickly reset the AdBlue sensor that was playing up and returned the car to me.

Dacia duster long term review   anti pollution warning

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Those couple of days when I sent the car back gave me the opportunity to try the SCe 115 Comfort 4x2, which in plain English is the lower-powered front-wheel-drive petrol version.

What you immediately notice is the significant difference in torque. The petrol peaks at 115lb ft at 4000rpm compared with the 192lb ft that the diesel pulls on from just 1750rpm. This means you have to stamp on the throttle like an arachnophobe dispatching of a tarantula to make any progress in the petrol variant. The other main difference in the drivetrain is the gearbox, as the petrol has a five-speed rather than the diesel’s six. The five-speed simply doesn’t have as much length, so you have to fizz along using noticeably more revs on the motorway.

When it comes to counting the pennies in your pocket, the diesel has an initial £2000 mark-up over the 115bhp petrol engine. However, the 51.3mpg claimed for the diesel unit on the WLTP cycle trumps 35.3mpg for the petrol. Both of these are actually fairly achievable in my experience. It would take about 40,000 miles to recoup the steeper outlay based on current fuel prices. Although Vehicle Excise Duty is the same for both in two-wheel-drive form, it’s worth noting that it’s £310 a year more if you pair this petrol unit with four-wheel drive.

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Finally, we can’t ignore the TCE 130 4x2, which in plain English is a more powerful unleaded variant, offering both more muscle and more economy for a £1000 premium over lower-powered petrol.

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All of this cost-scraping aside, the diesel experience is a much more enjoyable one because of its fuel range, performance and refinement. It’s surprising, then, that only around 25% of Dusters sold will be oil-burners, but such is the sway of public opinion at the moment. I, in plain English, am happy in the two-wheel-drive diesel for as long as the sensors are functioning.

Love it:

Cruising range More than 500 miles of range on a single tank of diesel.

Loathe it:

Plastic trim The cheap plastics in the car do feel cheap but, hey, the car is cheap.

Mileage: 1867

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Quality mismatch inside the cabin - 6th February 2019

I’m no good at Rollerblading, but I could do with digging out an old elbow pad. Just the one. Dacia’s interior now includes a leather steering wheel, the seats are better and there’s a comfy driver’s armrest for my left arm. But the door panel remains a hard and scratchy plastic that has your right elbow calling for protection.

Mileage: 1250

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Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 1

Welcoming the Duster to the fleet - 23rd January 2019

Forgive me for being sceptical, but when the first-generation Dacia Duster arrived in the UK, I wasn’t sure. It seemed counter-intuitive that a SUV could be desirable when costing so little.

But then I drove it. I drove it from London to John O’Groats and back. I drove it as part of a 4x4 mega-test against the off-roading old guard for Autocar’s YouTube channel – think Wranglers, Land Rover Discoverys and Arctic Trucks Isuzus.

Sure, it had flaws: the steering was vague, the interior quality was visibly outdated, the ground clearance was lower than bigger dirt-displacing rivals. But the plucky Duster was more capable and comfortable across all terrains than I imagined it ever possibly could have been. And at every stage, you can’t help but remember just how bloody cheap it is. I was convinced.

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Seemingly, I wasn’t the only one. These days, a Duster runs off the production line every 56 seconds. Now there’s a new one. This latest model addresses many of the criticisms that could be levelled at the last one.

The infotainment touchscreen has been raised by 74mm, which is a huge amount. That means you have to look away from the road much less. It also gets electric power steering, vastly improving the accuracy with which you can place the car or position yourself on a motorway cruise.

So we’re running the Duster to see if these improvements help the car cope with a workhorse lifestyle while affording luxuries that seem almost unthinkable at the penny-pinching cost. That’s why it’s been given to me – the video bloke, a job for which you are carrying lots of gear and need something solid, dependable, yet not too parsimonious in how it feels.

It’s also why we’ve specced it thus. As many of its miles will be munching up motorways, we picked the diesel-powered Blue dCi 115 engine for its frugal approach. On the WLTP cycle, the new Duster is claiming mpg in the mid-50s. Here’s hoping this two-wheel-drive variant will be as economical as the figures suggest.

Dacia hello 1887q

Currently, the diesel powertrain represents just 25% of sales for the new Duster, despite much better fuel economy than its petrol counterpart. Clearly, that’s to do with the swell of public opinion away from the fuel type in general. In the first thousand or so miles of driving the Dacia, I’m already loving having a range of more than 500 miles.

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Arguably another reason to pick the diesel is its partnership with a six-speed gearbox. As you may have read in the Autocar road test, the five-speed ’box paired with the petrol options perhaps leaves a little to be desired at the top of the range for motorway work. We’ll be sure to report on drivetrain comparisons throughout our tenure.

The next all-important option picked is the colour. Desert Orange paint costs £495 and is the most expensive extra on our car. Some call it brown, others gold, but either way this shimmering Saharan butterscotch hue has proved the most popular since launch. There are eight colours and all will cost you the same amount except for white.

Having been temporarily halted by a puncture in the far reaches of north-west Scotland in the previous Duster, the optional space-saving spare wheel also makes its way into the ticked boxes. That’s £150 worth spending, if you ask me.

Even in this specification, which includes Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, this bright brown bruiser only just knocks on the door of 16 grand. Okay, it’s a lot more than the headline figure of £9999 that gets shouted about in the catchy Dacia marketing spiel, but it’s still cheaper than rivals.

What are these rivals? The direct ones are probably the Suzuki Vitara and MG GS. Realistically, the Duster undercuts anything with comparable performance and practicality by a four-figure sum.

Louise O’Sullivan, head of Dacia UK and Ireland, meets us to hand over the keys and explains that they often find Nissan Qashqais in the basket of potential buyers. But that’s not the most premium badge mentioned.

The words Range and Rover seem to crop up in Louise’s vocabulary quite often too. Not that the Duster is aiming directly at the luxury marque – rather she tells of how Range Rover owners might purchase a Duster as the hack for their provincial pastures alongside the Vogue that’s perhaps used on less gruelling duties day to day. The other reason for mentioning the British brand in the same breath is that, in November, the Duster was the third-biggest-selling SUV in the UK, just 24 units behind the Evoque.

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Dacia hello 1873c

That’s where my original assumption on the first-gen Duster’s arrival to the UK was wrong. Making a shockingly affordable car is much more innovative than it first seems.

You see, outside of the walls of Autocar Towers, motoring is quite simply about mobility. The Duster offers more mobility to more people because it’s more affordable and more practical than anything that comes close to it. Being an SUV, it ought to carry around family members of all ages, as it’s easy for elder generations to climb in, while having space to fit all the clobber that comes with young ones.

Let’s press on and find out over the next six months if it can live up to such expectations.

Second Opinion

Previously, I ran an LPG Sandero which was as cheap to run as it was to buy. But inside it felt cheap, too. This second-generation Duster nudges in the right direction on perceived quality issues. There’s a fine line between cheap and good value, and this Dacia is on the right side of it.

Mark Tisshaw

Dacia hello 1884n

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Dacia Duster Comfort BLUEDCI 115 4X2 prices and specification

Prices: List price new £15,395 List price now £15,395 Price as tested £16,040 Dealer value now £14,200 Private value now £12,600 Trade value now £10,500 (part exchange)

Options:Metallic paint £495, emergency spare wheel £150

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 64.2mpg Fuel tank 50 litres Test average 49.1mpg Test best 51.5mpg Test worst 46.2mpg Real-world range 540 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 10.5sec Top speed 111mph Engine 4 cylinder, 1461, diesel Max power 113bhp at 3750rpm Max torque 191lb ft at 1750rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Boot capacity 445 litres Wheels 6.5Jx16in Tyres 215/65 R16 Kerb weight 1320kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £179 CO2 115g/km Service costs £30 Other costs none Fuel costs £887.94 Running costs inc fuel £917.92 Cost per mile 12.8 pence Depreciation £3440 Cost per mile inc dep’n 61.1 pence Faults Fuel injection sensor, pollution system sensor

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Dacia hello 1875e

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Join the debate

Add a comment…
5cylinderT 13 June 2019

The warning lights!!!

this is beyond a joke, how much times do warning lights want to show up on a new car. this does not sound reliable at all.

scotty5 13 June 2019

You choose the expletive.

Another example of type 3 fun:

You eagerly await a lift from your mate who's a motoring hack and drives many types of cars that we can only dream of,  and he turns up in a <expletive> Dacia.

5cylinderT 13 June 2019


you wouldnt have to give a crap about it you could crash it into a tree or fly over a humpback bridge it would be insane fun and also it is 4WD so it would be a fairly good off-roader.