Dacia Duster 2018 has received a much needed design upgrade
Renault’s stake in Dacia (steadily increased since 1998) has underpinned much of that success and it’s easy to see why.
At a time when crossovers are all the rage, when proper workhorse 4x4s are growing in rarity and more people are watching their bank balances, the Duster offers a tempting combination of all three in its line-up.
Our mid-range Comfort model starts from £13,195, a price tag normally worn by superminis.
Even better news is that this secondgeneration Duster is unquestionably more stylish and far better looking than before.
It looks a lot less utilitarian, boosting its appeal to lifestyle buyers.
What will help that appeal is some vastly improved build quality. The Duster’s low price tag was always appealing but you pay for this elsewhere, most notably with the materials and plastics inside.
But more of that later. Only two engines are available under the Duster’s bonnet: either a 1.5-litre turbo-diesel or, in our test car, a 1.5-litre petrol.
Both have 115bhp but the petrol also comes with a choice of two or four-wheel drive. In the former, it manages 0 to 60mph in 11.9 seconds and has a 107mph top speed that is leisurely, whichever way you look at it.
The Duster can cost from as little as £9,999
It also manages only 43.5mpg average fuel economy and produces 149g/km emissions – not as impressive as rivals. It’s the same story on the road, too.
As well as having minimal straight-line performance the engine has very little grunt, so it needs to be worked hard for you to get any kind of pace from it.
That’s not helped by the five-speed gearbox, which finds you holding onto gears even longer than you might normally.
This exposes another of the Duster’s weaknesses: it becomes quite loud with a lot of engine noise in the cabin at higher revs and a reasonably high level of road and wind noise, which is certainly not what you’d call a refined or relaxing driving experience.
That’s further exacerbated by the excessive body roll through corners and the fact that the steering is vague and lacks any kind of feel about what the car is doing beneath you.
What’s without question is how much Dacia has improved the interior of this Duster
Yes the ride quality is good but, unless you’re after a workhorse and little else, there’s no doubt in your mind about where the Duster’s savings have been made in order to afford that reduced price tag.
No other mainstream car manufacturer would, or could, introduce a new car at this kind of level; but then, no other manufacturer has a car like this at this price tag.
Inside, it’s much the same story. What’s without question is how much Dacia has improved the interior of this Duster compared to its predecessor.
The build quality and styling is much better and there’s reach and height adjustment for the steering wheel as well as height adjustment for the driver’s seat.
But it’s still not without fault and some of the materials used are obviously below what many modern drivers might be used to, with no soft-touch plastics to be seen.
Even the armrest on the door is hard plastic, which you soon learn to avoid when on the move.
Our mid-range Comfort model starts from £13,195, a price tag normally worn by superminis
The seats aren’t especially comfortable either. Space-wise there’s good headroom in the back seats – even if legroom will be a little cosy for taller adults – and the boot is a good size with a decent length.
Despite its appeal as a workhorse, though, you still have to pay an extra £150 for a space saver spare wheel and, very oddly, a further £90 for Western European mapping on the sat nav.
As ever, any verdict of the Duster depends on how you view it as a whole. On one side, it’s providing a decent-sized SUV with potential 4×4 capability at a knock-down price, so you should expect some shortcomings.
On the other, however, that knockdown price is all too obvious at almost every turn – something that many modern drivers might find a sacrifice too far. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for.
The cabin becomes quite loud with a lot of engine noise in the cabin at higher revs
Price range: £9,995-£16,395
Engines: Petrol – 1.5-litre; Turbo-diesel – 1.5-litre
Power: 0 to 60mph in 11.9 seconds, 107mph top speed
Average fuel economy: 43.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 115-158g/km
Rivals: Skoda Rapid, Suzuki Jimny, a hairshirt