When a brand like Dacia is replacing a car priced like the Duster, it’s bound to be selective about the ways in which it attempts to improve the car’s various dynamic standards, old model to new. Before the hard work even starts, that means making savvy decisions about what budget crossover buyers really want.
That Dacia had the right priorities in mind with this second-generation Duster is immediately obvious when you move off in the car, however. The Duster’s atmospheric 1.6-litre petrol engine doesn’t produce the kind of accessible torque to make performance seem remotely urgent, nor even enough to make it possible to spin up the car’s hybrid on and off-road tyres in first gear, which is a rarity among modern cars.
But there’s enough performance here to make the Duster easy to spirit along very unobtrusively in the flow of modern urban and cross-country traffic. And of all the words in the preceding sentence, ‘unobtrusively’ may well be the one valued most highly by the engineers responsible for this car.
Because, while the last Duster was pretty rough and ready in terms of engine refinement, the new one settles to a surprisingly quiet idle, and cruises with very little ingress of engine noise. At motorway pace, the relatively high crank speeds obliged by the Duster’s five-speed gearbox combine with some pretty average wind noise suppression to take the edge off the car’s very creditable showing on cruise refinement elsewhere.
But overall, the new Duster should give people moving directly out of the old car plenty of cause to be impressed by its good cruising manners. Except for some unnecessary ‘stiction’ at the very bottom of an otherwise well-metered accelerator pedal’s travel and some bagginess in the shift quality of the manual gearchange, the car’s controls are entirely pleasant to use.
With respect to the former, it’s odd to have what feels like a kickdown switch at the extreme of travel of the accelerator in a car with a manual gearbox. And while you might not imagine you’d drive the Duster hard enough for it to annoy, this is actually the sort of car in which it’s necessary to work the engine to its maximum pretty regularly just to squeeze it into gaps in the traffic and generally to make decent progress in it.
When you do work it hard, that engine does feel a bit resonant at high revs, and has to work through one or two ‘flat spots’ in the rev range on its way to a 6200rpm redline that, oddly, isn’t marked on the tacho. Even so, the Duster is absolutely no chore to drive and, in most important ways, the car’s driving experience disguises its budget status quite well.