- Cheap to buy and good to look at
- Efficient engines with lots of trim choice
- Practical and spacious SUV with option of 4WD
- Poor Euro NCAP safety rating
- Lots of hard plastic
- Cup holders are pointless – too small and shallow
The Dacia Duster is a budget-priced five-door SUV that is big on value and is very well equipped too.
Customers can choose from trim levels called Essential, Comfort and Prestige with the arrival of a limited edition Extreme model planned for 2022.
The Romanian carmaker, which has very strong links with Renault, has just given the second generation Duster a facelift with some styling tweaks, along with improved lighting and a fresh-looking interior.
Customers can choose between 2WD or 4WD, manual or auto gearboxes plus a good range of petrol, diesel and bi-fuel engines that have been upgraded to reduce carbon emissions without compromising performance.
On The Road
We opted for the Dacia Duster 1.3-litre TCe petrol model with a six-speed automatic gearbox. It was supplied in mid-trim Comfort level and featured 2WD.
With 110hp and 250Nm of torque, this Duster could complete the 0-62mph dash in 9.7 seconds and maxed out at 124mph. But it’s the manner in which this gimmick-free car goes about its business that really impresses.
There are no bells and whistles – what you see is what you get and I like that. It reminds me of the advert claiming: “it does exactly what it says on the tin” and that’s what the Duster is all about.
The acceleration is smooth enough through the dual clutch automatic gearbox and although there are no paddles, the driver can change gear manually via the gear shift lever.
An Eco mode will help with efficiency along the way, but don’t expect to find Sport or Dynamic modes anywhere.
The car is nicely balanced on the open road with good grip through the quieter country lanes. Tighter bends need to be given a degree of respect to avoid any body sway, but generally the Duster is nicely refined with well-weighted steering and a good, punchy petrol powertrain delivering plenty of zip.
The second-gen Dacia Duster was launched with an improved electric power steering system that reduced the effort required to turn the wheel by 35 per cent. Now Dacia has recalibrated it to provide even more reassurance at speeds above 43mph.
In busy town centres, the steering feel is nice and light which is great for weaving through the congestion and for parking. But when faced with the open road there is additional weight and precision.
The uneven road surfaces are smoothed out by the MacPherson suspension system but if you do hit an unexpected pothole you will feel a judder through the car. Our vehicle was riding on 16-inch wheels which were ideal for a car the size of the Duster.
All Duster models feature a new type of tyre and on the 2WD version such as our test model, there has been a 10 per cent reduction in rolling resistance.
The cabin is surprisingly refined for a model costing sub-£20k. You can expect to hear a little road rumble and wind noise on faster dual carriageways, but generally occupants are well protected from outside sounds.
Although the car was 2WD, previous ventures in 4WD versions highlighted how accomplished the Duster is across boggy grass tracks and wading through shallow water. This is why it has proved such a popular choice with farmers and builders over the years.
Dacia has given its Duster model a sharper fresh look for 2021 with a new 3D chromed radiator grille and signature Y-shaped daytime running lights giving the car more of an identity. There are new-look wheels, a rear spoiler that improves efficiency, plus rear lights that also feature the Y-shaping.
The introduction of the rear spoiler and new 16 or 17-inch alloy rims were put to the test in a wind tunnel and the reduction in drag results in a drop in carbon emissions of up to 6g/km, as well as improved fuel economy.
Black roof rails, front fog lights and black side mirrors complete the athletic styling of the latest Duster.
Moving inside, Dacia claims to have listened to customer feedback to deliver exactly what they wanted. For example, all the cruise control settings are now on the front of the steering wheel for ease of use, there is an improved sat nav system, full Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity along with upgraded seat upholstery and new headrests.
Another new feature is a 1.1-litre central cubby box beneath a sliding armrest. This also features two USB ports so back seat passengers can plug in their devices.
In The Car
Behind the Wheel
With ample manual seat and steering wheel adjustment, it’s simple to get a good driving position inside the latest Duster and the elevated seating results in excellent all-round visibility, which is vital for a vehicle that will likely feature on the school run.
Our vehicle was fitted with the larger 8-inch multimedia display touchscreen with DAB radio, wi-fi with smartphone link-up, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system.
A rear camera, along with rear parking sensors and light steering make parking a doddle. Move up to range-topping Prestige and you also gain a Multiview camera with images from the front, rear and also the side mirrors to generate a complete picture of the car’s surroundings. This would be ideal if driving along rougher terrain where hidden rocks or tree roots may be jutting out.
The seats have been improved to offer extra comfort, which they do, and the car has a more upmarket interior design. However, there is still lots of hard black plastic trim throughout which will be prone to scratching over time.
Space & Practicality
The Duster is described as a five-seater, but in reality, a trio of rear seat passengers would only tolerate the space for a short time before the moaning started. It is however, ideal for a couple of rear occupants and adults can fit in provided the front seats are not pushed right back into their knees.
With practicality in mind, the boot can swallow 478 litres of kit (467 litres on 4x4 versions) increasing to 1,623 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat (1,614 litres on 4x4 models).
There are plenty of storage options scattered throughout the vehicle, including the new central cubby box that can hold 1.1 litres of goodies.
There is an illuminated glovebox, door bins, seat back pockets and a handy tray. On the downside, the two front cup holders are quite pointless. They are small and far too shallow. Any hot coffee cup would almost certainly topple over while negotiating the gentlest of manoeuvres.
The latest Duster maintains the same dimensions measuring 4.34 metres in length, 2.05 metres wide including door mirrors and 1.69 metres high with roof bars. It weighs in at 1.26 tonnes and has a turning circle of 10.72 metres making it nice and agile in busy town centres.
Value for money has been an area that Dacia has had overwhelming success in throughout the years and although the Duster no longer comes in at less than £10k, you do get a lot of car for your outlay.
The latest Duster range costs from £13,995 for the Essential TCe 90 4x2 and increases to £20,845 for the Prestige Blue dCi 115 4x4 version.
Dacia always sets out to deliver a simple buying process with few hidden extras being added to the final price-tag. And that is true of the new model too with just two options available across the range. They are a spare wheel for all but bi-fuel models and that costs £250 extra, along with metallic paint, including a striking new Arizona Orange colour shade, that adds £595 to the cost.
Our Duster Comfort TCe 150 4x2 automatic cost £18,845 although it featured both available options which saw the final price increase to £19,690.
When it comes to running costs, the car could deliver a combined 44.8mpg with carbon emissions of 142g/km. This CO2 output would result in a first-year road tax charge of £220 dropping to the standard fee of £155 after 12 months.
If fuel efficiency is a key factor and you cover long distances, then the diesel Blue dCi 115 model can deliver up to 53.8mpg with carbon emissions from 124g/km.
Our Duster test car sits in insurance group 21.
Quality & Reliability
Reliability seems to be an area that the Duster does score well in with the car often featuring surprisingly high in customer satisfaction surveys.
The latest generation Duster boasted upgrades throughout the cabin with improved fixtures and trimmings. And now Dacia has improved things once again.
The seat upholstery is nicer plus the fabric and shape of the headrests has been enhanced for improved ergonomics. The slimmer profile improves the visibility for back seat passengers looking forwards.
Costs for the car’s production have been kept as low as possible as more than 50 per cent of the new Duster components are shared with other Dacia and Renault vehicles.
The downside is the amount of hard plastic throughout the cabin. While it can be practical to wipe up spills, it also tends to look jaded and scratched after a while.
All new Dacia models are covered by a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty. However, there is the option of a Peace of Mind extended warranty that offers up to six years and 100,000 miles of cover.
The company also offers a range of simple Servicing Plans to stay on top of maintenance schedules and costs.
Safety & Security
While reliability may be a Dacia strength, safety unfortunately isn’t. The 2017 Duster was awarded three out of five stars when tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating, but the testing process has become stricter since then. Proof of that fact was the Duster’s sister model – the Sandero – being awarded just two stars recently.
New Duster will not need to be tested again, so carries over the same three-star rating. However, safety specifications have been upgraded on the car.
It features the latest electronic stability control, along with blind spot warning, park assist, hill start assist, adaptive hill descent control (4X4 versions), Isofix fittings on both outer rear seats, anti-lock brakes and emergency brake assist, plus a full suite of airbags.
However, there is no automatic emergency braking to help prevent forward collisions, which is a standard feature on many rivals and part of the reason the car was marked down by Euro NCAP, with just 37 per cent awarded for safety assist systems and 56 per cent for pedestrian safety.
Security is taken care of via a Thatcham-approved engine immobiliser.
Since launching in the UK back in 2013, the Duster has proved a trailblazer for the Dacia name delivering SUV practicality at city car prices. It has gone on to sell nearly two million models and these latest improvements raise the bar once again.