What is it?
Shockingly affordable, says Dacia. How shocking? This compact crossover-style machine costs from £8,995, or 45 per cent less than the price of a base Nissan Qashqai. The Duster is bigger inside, too and has the same 1.6-litre engine under the bonnet. That’s shocking. As is the standard kit count, mind: not even a radio on the base model.
Indeed, it should be no surprise to find there are compromises to saving money when buying a Dacia. It’s just that the proven Renault bits beneath mean it shouldn’t break or fall to bits. A new brand in the UK, Dacia is here to offer new cars for used car money, to buyers who want something sturdy, fuss-free and shiny-new. What a shockingly sensible approach.
There’s an old Renault Clio platform deep down underneath here, one that’s been enlarged and updated to become Qashqai-sized. The engine choice is simple – a single petrol or a diesel – and both motors, like the mechanicals, have been well proven in millions of Renaults and Nissans. The 1.6-litre petrol is a bit slow though, so go for the 1.5-litre dCi. The Duster is an easy, fussless car to drive, with a decent ride, OK handling and no great pretentions to try any funny business.
Unless you buy one of the 4x4 versions, that is. Complementing the sturdy looks, an all-wheel drive setup is available on the Duster. It doesn’t turn it into a Land Rover but does add extra ability on muddy fields. The country set, those that, oddly, once took to the old Lada Niva in such droves, will love it.
On the inside
Like those French hotels at the side of autoroutes, it’s a bit stark inside. But, at the same time, perfectly solid, sensible and workmanlike. There aren’t many buttons so it’s easy to use, and what equipment is there does its job without needing owner’s manual consultation. Clarity is excellent here. Space is ample – all round and in the boot.
But the basic ones really are basic. Whether you can accept the Duster becoming that bit less shockingly affordable in order to get the equipment you enjoy on other more expensive models is up to you. We’d rather eat into those savings over rivals and get some of the bits that will ensure it truly is family-friendly. Such as air con. Oh yes, and a stereo.
It’s both simple and based on extremely well-proven (read: middle-aged) mechanicals from Renault. We thus expect reliability to be pretty much spot-on. It’s not as economical nor as low-emission as many newer alternatives, but it’s still OK – and remember just how much less this costs than the rest. Very cheap new car motoring and then some.