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Dacia Duster — long-term review
Farewell, TG's long-term Dacia Duster
There’s a feeling here that I might just be reflecting mass experience back at anyone who’s reading this, seeing as though every fourth car I see on the roads seems to be a Duster, but here’s the lowdown.
My name is Tom Ford, and I have genuinely enjoyed having a Dacia Duster as my daily driver. I don’t know why, but a fair few people scoff at that, thinking that I’m somehow kidding myself. I’m not. In a world of complexity, Dacia’s pitch isn’t that hard to understand - and it’s the kind of get-the-job-done workhorsiness that various brands have adopted and then abandoned as they reach up and away for premium margins. There’s an easy - albeit subjective - measure for this one. I’ve seen Dusters being adopted by people who live up mountains, utilities companies, farmers and trades. Previously pickup people. People who work for a living. And also people for whom image isn’t a thing, but price and value-for-money is.
So no, the product isn’t going to impress people down the pub. It’s an SUV for the price of a Fiesta (14-ish grand), a jacked-up parts-bin Renault derivative built to hit a price point. There are no gadgets to show off (and then ignore), no party tricks, no particularly shiny options. It’s not an emotional purchase, it’s a practical one. But damn, is it practical. There’s space for five and kit. The options that there are are reasonably-priced, and bits and bobs are simple and therefore easy to repair and maintain. Yes, it’s a bit shocking to take a look underneath and not even see a wheelarch liner (especially in salty UK), drum brakes aren’t exactly cutting-edge and the suspension is less posh than some of my mate’s mountain bikes, but it does the job.
Same goes for the hardware. The 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol has 130bhp. It’s strong and frugal (mid-40s mpg), but not fast. The six-speed manual is light and easy to use, but long in throw and you can hear it snap the clutch plates shut if you drive with the windows open. It can be a bit jerky if you aren’t deliberate. The Comfort spec isn’t exactly lavish, but there’s enough to keep you going (Carplay, bluetooth, electric windows), and again, you can pick holes in the puzzle-pieces of carpet (it’s generally made up of unlinked sections rather than a fitted one-piece), or even the inside of the fuel filler, where the neck is bolted into the back of the flap without even a plastic cover for modesty. But it works. You never fear curbing a wheel - mainly because it’s nearly impossible with the 215-section tyres ballooning past the actual rim - and there’s precisely no fear that it’ll get nicked.
There are niggles, and I’m not going to shy away from them. After more than 10k in 10 months, there are some squeaks. Interior plastics are harder than marble, noise reflective and uncomfortable - especially on the driver’s door card/handle where you tend to rest your elbow on a longer drive. The standard Comfort seats aren’t actually hugely comfortable, and - on this car at least - have dropped noticeably on the far-right bolster (it’s where you sit up into the car and slide your bum across), leading to uneven buttocks and a sore back after a couple of hours. That last one is significant - because it’s really annoying.
Yes, I would have probably preferred a 4x4 version equipped with a set of mud tyres for full farm-car points, but there’s nothing wrong with the general idea. In fact, that’s probably where I’d see a Duster in the theoretical garage: a slightly beaten-up example with 4x4, mudders and a lightbar, used for when you just need to get where you’re going with the minimum of fuss. I’ve been to Romania where these things are built, and there’s plenty of that. And yes, I’ve also seen the traditional Alpine Fiat Panda 4x4 replaced by Duster shapes. More space-per-pound, the same mountain goat philosophy. As a side-note, on an idle trawl I found plenty of previous-gen Dusters for sale for around the 4-5k mark with 50-70-thousand miles on the clock. The 2018 model is nicer, but that’s one hell of a saving. A decent service and you’d be onto a winner.
So would I recommend one? Well, it obviously depends what you’re looking for. If admiring glances and social uplift are things you aspire to, this isn’t the car for you. But if you want an honest, value-for-the-cash vehicle that does what it says on the tin, you can’t go wrong with a mid-spec Duster. It’s cheap (ish) and cheerful, and no less valid for that.