Dacia Duster

The cheapest 4x4 on sale impresses despite its basic nature

£9,495 - £15,495 Price range

5 Seats

35 - 56 MPG

7.6
wowscore
This is the average score given by leading car publications from 5 reviews
  • Great value for money
  • 7 year warranty an option
  • Decent off-road
  • Basic interior
  • Little kit as standard
  • Silly name

It may not be a car that most people will have heard of before, but Dacia is certainly setting the mainstream motoring world by storm with the Duster.

Not only is it practical, spacious inside and affordable to run, but it’s also, by some margin, the cheapest car in this class.

However, you may want to look elsewhere if you prioritise a plush cabin or plenty of creature comforts in a family-orientated crossover.

Although the Duster’s cabin is ok, don’t go thinking it’ll be a tactile, soft-touch galore fest in the Duster. It’s a cheap car, and as such the interior is all crafted out of hard plastics, and it’s not exactly what you’d call ‘stylish’.

It does all seems to be well screwed together, and whilst there’s not much adjustment in the driver’s seat (especially on the most basic Dusters), people can still get fairly comfy, thanks to the decent seats and impressive amount of head and legroom on offer.

Speaking of space, the Duster is also quite a practical proposition, despite the lack of clever storage spaces in the cabin. For two-wheel-drive models, the boot is a very cavernous 475 litres (this shrinks to a still rather impressive 400 for the four-wheel-drive variants), and is made even larger when the rear seats are folded down. However, it’s worth pointing out that the load bay isn’t completely flat once the bench backs have been stowed away.

In some areas, the Duster’s dynamics do betray its ‘cheap and cheerful’ roots. For instance, there’s a bit of body roll in corners, yet the ride isn’t particularly good on rougher surfaces, with a few testers stating that that a noticeable ‘thump’ can be heard when the suspension deals with rougher road surfaces. Other faults that were mentioned include a lack of refinement at higher speeds, and slightly ‘rubbery’ steering feel.

Contrary to the ‘problems’ it has, the critics all agree that it’s a decent car to drive in most situations, and in some areas is fairly impressive for something that was obviously built on a budget. At more moderate speeds on smoother surfaces, the ride is fine, and most of the controls are easy and much more pleasant to use than the steering.

Dacia is also keen to point out that the Duster is quite adept as an off-roader, especially in 4WD guise. It’s no Land Rover Defender, but considering it’s a cheap-as-chips family vehicle, the critics who have taken it off the tarmac agree that, for what it is, the Duster is a rather effective off-road tool.

There are two engines to choose from in the Duster: the 1.6 petrol that’s only available in the most basic ‘Access’ specification, and the 1.5 diesel that comes with the other two trim levels.

The 1.6 petrol is, by some margin, the cheapest of the two – even with 4WD, it’s a whisker under £11,000 – but all the critics so far reckon that, if your budget stretches far enough, the diesel is the better engine for the Duster. Not only is the oil-burner less ‘weedy’ than the petrol, but it’s also the cheaper of the two to run, with the 56mpg easily topping the petrol’s 39mpg.

Dacia expects nearly all Duster buyers to plump for this 1.5 dCi engine, and we don’t doubt that claim for a second. The critics agree that the diesel is a far better all-round engine than the 1.6 petrol and, unlike the petroleum powered four-pot, is available in the plushest of trim levels. All in all, if you’re interested in the Duster, this is the engine that’ll satisfy almost every buyer’s needs.

Though it’s by no means the smoothest of engines in the world – one tester stated it was a bit rattly at times – it’s still a dependable one (as you’d expect, from something that also resides under the bonnets of various Renaults) that shouldn’t be too expensive to run. After all, Dacia is claiming up to 56mpg is possible on the combined cycle, and road tax is £100 per year.

However, it’s worth pointing out these figures are for the 2WD version – plump for 4WD, and the increased emissions means the tax bill is now £120, whilst the fuel economy figure drops slightly to 53mpg.

If you want your Duster to have a more ‘zingy’ engine, then perhaps the 1.6 petrol is worth considering, but for all other people who are interested in the UK’s latest Dacia, it’s best served with diesel power. Sure, it’s a bit more expensive to buy than the petrol, but if these reviews are anything to go by, it seems it’ll be the better ownership proposition by quite some margin.

It seems that not all of the positive traits you can find in the diesel version are present in this one. Though the 1.6 is undoubtedly the cheaper of the two to buy, it’s only available with the most basic trim levels, and it’s not quite as ‘user-friendly’ as the oil-burner.

Though the motor itself isn’t a terrible one – it has, after all, been used in many different Renaults over the years – the critic reckons it hasn’t got much on the “more flexible and efficient” 1.5 dCi option. Not only do you have to work it quite hard should you need to get up to speed in a hurry, but the fuel consumption figures are quite poor in comparison with the diesel’s.

That said, it’s not an awful engine: there weren’t any complaints regarding foibles such as intrusive engine noise, and unless you rack up quite a few miles each year, the petrol may be cheaper to run during your ownership stint than the diesel.

However, we’d recommend you consider spending a bit more money on the 1.5 dCi models, especially the ones with more equipment and goodies as standard. Yes, they’re more expensive to buy in the first place, but we’re sure the bonus of having aircon, electric windows and a stereo as standard far outweigh the savings you’d make by picking the most basic Duster over the rest in the range.

Don’t assume that just because it’s a new car it will have the five-star level of safety that we have come to expect these days.

Although when last tested by Euro NCAP it gained only a three star rating, this reflects the weakest part of the car’s performance in the testing, which in the Dacia’s case was the ‘safety assist’ category. In every other way the Duster is pretty good and the addition of stability control would have earned it a four star rating.

By far and away the car’s biggest selling point, the Duster is by quite some margin one of the current mainstream bargains. It may be the size of a Skoda Yeti and Nissan Qashqai, but it undercuts both cars considerably. Even the flagship Duster is a few grand cheaper than the most basic Qashqai currently on sale!

If you plump for the more expensive models, it’s not like you’re sacrificing that much kit, with ABS, air-conditioning and central locking all coming as standard on the top spec, but still mostly affordable, models. And, as mentioned earlier, running costs shouldn’t be too bad, especially if you opt for the diesel.

However, the most basic Dusters don’t come with much equipment as standard – you don’t even get a stereo! – and some gadgets that could be seen as ‘essential’ for a family vehicle, such as stability control and curtain airbags, are either an optional extra or aren’t available at all! Residual values also aren’t expected to be that high.

Kia can no longer claim to be the only manufacturer to offer a seven year warranty, as Dacia offers an identical one for the Duster. However, this is strictly an ‘option’, along with the slightly cheaper five year one, though all cars come with a three year warranty as standard.

Conclusion

We’re not going to say the Dacia Duster is the greatest thing since sliced bread, because it isn’t. It’s a cheap car, and as such isn’t exactly the plushest car you’ll ever come across, nor is it the most relaxing or engaging car to drive.

Then again, you’ll have to fork out many more thousands of pounds if you want a new car that offers the same amount of space and practicality as the Duster, and by quite a few counts, the Dacia isn’t as bad as its ‘How low can you go?’ image suggests. In fact, it’s actually quite good overall.

Unless you really need to have a new car of this size that comes with better build quality and more kit as standard, we reckon the Duster is worth a close look if you’re searching for something in this sector of the market or at this price range. It’s not perfect, but if you’re looking for space and practicality on a budget, the new Dacia could be the car for you.

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