Imagine being able to buy a family-friendly SUV for the price of a small hatchback. That’s precisely what Dacia offers with its Duster, which costs from only £9,495.
Petrol and diesel engines, plus two- and four-wheel-drive versions, are available, as is a model with an automatic gearbox. Combine this with the amount of space on offer and the fact many parts come from parent company Renault, and the Duster might start to look like a tempting option.
Big, but rear seats could be more flexible
Six-footers will find they have plenty of space in both the front and the back of the Duster, and it’s also possible to fit three people side-by-side in the back. That said, the boot has a high loading lip to negotiate and although the rear seats fold to increase storage for large items, they don’t go completely flat – and if you opt for the cheapest version of the Duster they don’t even fold in two separate pieces.
There aren’t many storage cubbies in the front of the car, either.
Limited adjustment; good at soaking up bumps
Some people will struggle to find a comfortable driving position in the Duster, because its steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, meaning you can end up driving with your arms stretched almost straight to reach the wheel. The cheapest “Access” version also misses out on seat-height adjustment, and the seats in all models would benefit from more support.
Fortunately, the soft suspension is good at disguising lumps and bumps in the road surface.
Of the three engines, the turbocharged 1.25-litre petrol is by far the smoothest, while at the other end of the spectrum the 1.5-litre diesel is noisy and sends vibrations through the pedals and steering, and the 1.6-litre petrol lacks oomph. All Dusters let in a lot of wind and road noise on the motorway, too.
Dashboard layout 5/10
Fiddly stereo and plastics feel cheap
Although upgraded for 2017, the Duster’s dashboard still feels distinctly dated, both in its design and the quality of materials. However, this does at least mean the heater controls are as easy to operate as those from a car built in the 1980s, with large graphics and chunky dials being the order of the day.
It’s also worth noting that while the standard stereo has too many fiddly buttons, top-spec Prestige models feature a seven-inch touchscreen that is marginally easier to use, albeit mounted far too low in the dash.
Easy to drive 6/10
Let down by slow steering
You sit high in the Duster, which gives you an excellent forward view. Unfortunately, parking is trickier than it should be because the rear windows are small and it takes a lot of turns of the steering wheel to get the wheels to turn from extreme right to extreme left. Parking sensors and a reversing camera are also reserved for top-spec models, or must be bought as optional extras.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine struggles to pull the car when there are several people on board, but the 1.25-litre petrol and the diesel make it much easier to get up to motorway speeds.
The diesel is also available with a six-speed automatic gearbox, which is smooth enough, if slow to respond at times, and all engines can be ordered with two- or four-wheel drive, adding to the car’s off-roading credentials (although if you want the automatic gearbox you’ll have to stick with a front-wheel-drive Duster).
Fun to drive 2/10
Vague steering and little grip
The Duster’s soft suspension might make it comfortable over bumpy roads, but it also means it leans over dramatically when you turn into a bend, and can feel unsettled when driven above 50mph on country roads.
Once up to speed the steering also feels vague, and presents the driver with noticeable kickback, and the front tyres run out of grip sooner than they do on most other SUVs.
Based on cars with a below average record
Dacia didn’t fare at all well in the 2016 JD Power Vehicle Dependability survey, finishing 23rd out of 24 manufacturers. That said many of the components (including the engines) are based on proven Renault units, and while some early Dusters suffered from rust problems this appears to have been rectified for later cars.
Fuel economy 5/10
Disappoints in normal driving conditions
The most efficient version of the Duster is the front-wheel-drive diesel, which returns an official average of 64.2mpg, compared with the four-wheel-drive diesel’s 56.5mpg. In the real world you can expect to get high-40s out of the front-wheel-drive diesel Duster and low-40s out of the four-wheel-drive diesel or one fitted with the automatic gearbox.
Of the petrol engines it is the 1.25-litre that is marginally more economical, although you’ll still struggle to get much more than 35mpg out of it.
Can’t fault the pricing
True, you don’t get a lot with the entry level Access spec, but at £9,495 it represents a big car for a small price. Even the most expensive Duster costs less than £17,000, which is thousands cheaper than most rivals with four-wheel drive.
Servicing and insurance costs are also low, and you shouldn’t lose a huge amount in depreciation, simply because the Duster is so cheap to start with.
Performed poorly in crash tests
Front seat occupants are protected by front and side airbags. However, the Duster doesn’t come with the window airbags that are standard in most rivals, and it was awarded just three stars out of five when it was crash tested by car safety specialists Euro NCAP.
True, the Duster did score quite well for child occupant safety, but many rivals offer the driver greater protection, and the Duster was rated poorly for pedestrian protection.
There’s also no version of the Duster offered with an autonomous emergency braking system to intervene if the driver fails to react to a potential front-into-rear crash. Again, such a system is offered on many of its rivals.
Standard spec 3/10
Basic model doesn't even get a stereo
The cheapest version of the Duster is the Access, which comes with remote door locking and electric front windows, but little else; the only colour available is white, and you don’t even get a stereo unless you upgrade to the Ambiance model.
The Ambiance also brings a stereo with DAB and Bluetooth hands-free phone connection, a height adjustable driver’s seat and front fog lights. However, you have to go for the range-topping Laureate if you want alloy wheels, cruise control, electrically adjustable door mirrors, electric rear windows and air-conditioning, while satnav is restricted to top-spec Prestige trim.
Four-wheel-drive versions of the Duster come with a space saver spare wheel, whereas two-wheel-drive models make do with a tyre repair kit.
Our favourite version
TCe 1.25 Laureate, list price £14,495
Options you should add: Metallic paint (£495), rear parking sensors (£200) and emergency spare wheel (£150)
The verdict 5/10
The Dacia Duster gives you a lot of space for little money. However, it’s easy to see why it’s much cheaper than a Skoda Yeti or Nissan Qashqai because it has a budget interior, agricultural driving manners and a poor crash-test rating.
Book a free test drive now to see if you like the Dacia Duster
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