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Car Review

Dacia Duster (2017-2024) review

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Published: 11 Sep 2023
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A proper Top Gear hero. Seriously overdelivers on the underpromising price...

Good stuff

Cheap, but also still good value for money. Looks good. Is very capable

Bad stuff

Lacks safety kit, some are so slow that this might not actually matter

Overview

What is it?

"Dacia's Porsche 911", as the design boss put it to TG a little while ago. The Duster launched in 2010, priced under £10,000 and picking up the ‘cheap but actually quite good’ baton dropped by Skoda as it rushed upmarket. It was actually one of a small handful of small SUVs on offer then – the Nissan Juke was only just out – but the fact that it’s steadfastly retained a brutalist approach to looks and interior layout (as the rest of the genre’s gone berserk) is admirable.

Every visible panel of this second-gen Duster was new when it arrived in 2018, but the spirit of the original still remained. It looks similar to the first gen, and most important of all it’s still cheap, starting at £17,295 or a piffling £211 a month. You then wonder how it is that sister company Renault has the sheer brass neck to charge over £10k extra for the Arkana.

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They must've cut some corners somewhere?

Start to dig deeper and you see where the cost has been chiselled out of the Duster. Some of those savings are really clever and don’t affect the end result. But you might decide others actually do – the plastics might offend anyone coming from the cocoon of a car better described as a ‘crossover’ than an SUV. There’s an unashamed hardiness to the Duster that surely lets it repel such flimsy categorisation.

We’re now nearing the end of this generation’s time on Earth, and an obligatory facelift in 2021 simply saw the lights tweaked and a dual-clutch automatic gearbox added to the range, suggesting that Dacia’s tame approach to reinvention was warranted. In 2022 however, Dacia underwent a bit of a brand refresh with a new badge and a family face for all of its cars (looks smart too, we reckon), so the Duster was treated to another minor update for the second time in as many years.

Guess you shouldn't change a winning formula...

There are other reasons for the design not changing much over the generations. The second-gen Duster re-uses the former car's platform. That itself was a derivative of a Clio several generations old, which is one significant way of making it so cheap. Renault was one of the first companies to aim at five-star NCAP back then, so this platform is surprisingly safe, albeit a three-star NCAP rating pegs it behind almost all of its rivals now.

A significant reason for that is there’s no auto emergency braking or lane departure system, though every model gets six airbags including curtains. You can read more about Dacia’s approach to safety by clicking here.

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In line with the heavy recycling of obsolete Renault parts, the cabin even smells like a new Mégane of a decade ago. How very Proustian. But it looks modern. Compared with the first-gen Duster, the second gets an all-new dash, all-new seats, a better infotainment system, and more. It's also quieter than before, thanks to thicker glass, more sound deadening and stiffer sheetmetal in the engine bay.

Are the engines up to scratch?

There are a fair few, so we’ll run through them quickly here. There’s a 113bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel option, which is the one you want if you require your Duster for off-road endeavours. It’s front-wheel drive as standard, but an extra £2,300 makes it 4x4.

Even the 4x2 Duster retains good underbody clearance though, so if the surface isn't too greasy and the tyres are well-treaded it'll tackle fairly rugged scenery. And it's got more space inside than say a Jeep Renegade or Suzuki Vitara, the closest off-roadable rivals.

The several petrol options are all 2WD only. They’re all turbocharged, and split between an 89bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder or a 1.3-litre four-cylinder in 128 and 148bhp tunes, the latter your sole automatic option and the only way you’ll get a 0-62mph time of under 10 seconds.

Dacia also now offers bi-fuel cars in Britain – and you can have a Duster that you fill with LPG gas like it’s the mid-2000s all over again. It comes with a 99bhp tune of three-cylinder petrol engine, and you can read more about its intricacies here.

You may have noticed that there's no mention of anything hybrid here. That's because Dacia as a brand is largely eschewing that kind of tech, believing it needs hybrids to get cheaper before going all-in on the whole electrification thing. Makes sense. If you really must have a eco-friendly (ish) Dacia, you need the Jogger; for the full EV experience, the Spring.

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

A far better car than it needs to be at the price, and we love it for that

The joy of the Duster is the way it seriously over-delivers on the under-promising price. Renault has been very disciplined in keeping Dacia's costs down. They're built in a low-cost country, using engines and platforms and electrics that have all been long-ago amortised by other cars, and integrating the dealerships with Renault rather than starting a separate network. The Duster cleverly shares body parts across the Dacia range and the number of available options is small.

Sure it's a bit slow, a tad unrefined, a little light on available active-safety features. But that's by the standards of rivals that are twice the price. The Duster isn't trying to kid anyone. It's not cheap in a way that insults your intelligence or makes you feel mean. It's a far better car than it strictly needs to be at the price, and we love it for that.

The Rivals

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