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First Look

It's the brand-new Dacia Duster!

The third-generation of a Top Gear favourite has definitely grown up - should we be worried?

Published: 29 Nov 2023

Although we’re big fans of the Dacia Duster here at TopGear.com, there’s a slight feeling of unease surrounding this all-new third generation. Why? Well, it looks a bit… too good, bluntly. A bit plush. A little too much equipment and swagger for what is supposed to be a cheap, no-nonsense, working hero. But before we do the usual and jump headlong to conclusions, it’s probably worth a little delve into what we’re looking at.

For a start, this is a properly new Duster. It’s based on the Renault/Nissan CMF-B platform (common module family) that underpins the Jogger and new Sandero as well as the Clio and forthcoming Renault 5, so bang up to date on that front. It’s an architecture that’ll take a variety of drivetrains (including full EV), but the new Duster is going hybrid-ish and techy from the start. So there’ll be three drivetrains on offer, as well as  front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive options. Already, we raise our collective eyebrow. But bear with us.

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There’s the Hybrid 140, which comprises a 1.6-litre, 94bhp petrol engine with a 49bhp electric motor - plus a big starter-generator. It’s a clutchless auto, has re-gen braking and a little 1.2kWh battery - so not much all-electric range - but it is properly efficient if driven sympathetically. Then there’s the TCe 130 mild-hybrid, which gets a three-cylinder, 1.2-litre turbocharged motor with a 48-volt electric bit bolted to it to support. It’s only got a 0.9kWh battery, so no electric range, but the electric bit helps the combustion motor when starting and accelerating - so it’s a bit more responsive - and 10 per cent more efficient than the equivalent power ICE. That one comes with a six-speed manual in either front or 4x4 versions.

Lastly there’s the Duster TCe 100 Bi-fuel, and that does what it says on the tin. It’s a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo that can run on either one of its two 50-litre tanks of either LPG or petrol. You can only have it as front-wheel drive - the LPG tank is under the boot floor where the 4x4 bits would go - but it gives you 10 per cent less CO2 than a straight petrol, and a possible 1,300km - that’s over 800-miles - of range. Best for those that live near a convenient LPG outlet though.

Still, that’s a modern-looking list of powertrain options to go with a fairly thorough re-work. And it looks good. There’s a bluff grille, new windowline and chunky stance that seem to complement the idea of what a Duster is supposed to be. David Durand, Dacia’s Design Director, said: “We wanted to make the new Duster’s design more attractive than ever, by making the style even more quintessentially Duster and Dacia, by vigorously and proudly reasserting our values: ‘Robust and Outdoor’, ‘Essential but Cool’, and ‘Eco-Smart’.”

Which might give off marketing soundbite vibes, but actually has some depth. ‘Robust and Outdoor’? Well, there’s a big beltline of plastic that surrounds the car from bumper to wheelarch to side skirt… all the way around. Handy for the usual dings, and it’s made from a new Dacia material called Starkle that’s 20 per cent recycled. The front and rear bash plates are also dyed ‘in the mass’ meaning they’re the same colour all the way through - you’ll still get that scratch, but it won’t really show up. In fact, 20 per cent of all the plastics in the new Duster are recycled, from floormats to bits of trim, there’s no chrome or leather - neither of which are environmentally brilliant - and even the owner’s manual uses less paper. The detailed version is online if you need to get parts numbers and codes.

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There’s also a new interior, with a 10.1-inch screen and a seven-inch configurable driver’s display, with four trims starting at base Essential (which gets a phone mount and app for extra controls), through Expression (nicer 17-inch wheels, more kit) and on to the Extreme and Journey which are the same price, but offer different feels. Extreme is a bit more outdoorsy with rubber mats and smaller wheels, Journey has 18s and more comfort-oriented specs. But New Duster is also bigger for occupants and there’s a big, square boot - 427-litres under the load cover, litre fans.

More interestingly, on the higher specification levels, you get proper, plush-car advanced driver-assistance systems; fancy modern sensors like automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and speeding alert, rear parking assist, emergency stop signal, lane departure warning, over-the-air updates, lane keep assist, driver attention alert, and emergency calls. As well as all the usual airbags, cruise control and the like. But Dacia seems to have realised those systems aren’t always perfect, so you can set up a button called ‘MySafety’ which you just press to switch them on or off according to what you need. Now that is useful. The 4x4 gets Terrain Control modes, too - so you can bait Land Rovers off-road.

There are also some decent lifestyley additions - the YouClip system is fun - basically a modular system that you buy as an option. So you can get a tablet stand, a storage pouch, a smartphone stand with an induction charger, or a “3 in 1” (cupholder, bag hook and movable light). A small thing, but useful and fun. There’s also an official roof rack which can hold up to 80kg and drops onto the roof bars with no fuss, and there’s a thing called the ‘Sleep Pack’ which we’ve seen on the Jogger, but which now applies to Duster. Now that’s a removable 3-in-1 box that contains a fold-out double bed, a table and storage that drops into the back of the car. Handy for little camping trips - as long as you’ve got a garage to put it in when you’re not using it. Phew.

Sounds like a lot of change; the Duster has definitely grown-up. This new version doesn’t feel like a budget brand any more. But even though prices haven’t been announced as yet, Dacia insists that the Duster will continue to offer supreme value for money - and that it’ll be the most affordable car in the segment. Just how affordable is still up for grabs, but if it’s cheap enough, it’ll be a no-brainer. Just keep those prices down Dacia, OK?

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