As cars get safer, faster, and more comfortable they also get more expensive, heavier, and harder to repair. This is automotive Darwinism, and is, like evolution, impossible to reverse.
Or is it?
Dacia is setting out to change the way we buy our cars by offering no-frills cars at bargain basement prices – and no model does this more convincingly than the Duster. For a start its cheap with prices starting at just 8,995. Yes, thats right. The Dacia Duster range starts at well under ten grand – and thats not a bait n switch version, either. Its a proper model that youd be proud to have on your drive.
Its light as well as cheap with the two-wheel-drive version tipping the scales at just 1,160kgs, making it easier to steer, brake, and accelerate than its bloated competitors. And, while it doesnt do as much for the Dusters fuel efficiency as you might hope or expect, youll still get between 35 and 56 mpg depending on spec and engine.
But weve been here before, havent we? The Lada Niva was also cheap, light, and had four-wheel-drive, but that was really quite awful. So what makes the Dacia Duster different?
Well, for a start, its rather good. I drove the 1.6-litre, 16V 105 petrol engined four-wheel-drive version as well as the dCi 110 two-wheel-drive and found them both rather engaging. They both feel immediate, connected, and analogue with none of the drivers inputs fogged and filtered by electronics. You know, like cars used to.
The four-wheel-drive petrol Access version (the most basic model, available only in white, so referred to as UN spec throughout the day) costs just 10,995, which is astonishingly little given the breadth of its abilities. It goes well, stops well, steers well, and, if reports are to be believed, is pretty handy off-road too.
The seats are comfortable (if a little flat), the driving position is fine (although the steering wheel only adjusts for height and seemed a bit far away to me), and the equipment levels are, well, adequate. The boot is large, the seats fold, and you wont mind throwing kids, dogs, and the rubbish the council wont take in it either because itll all wipe clean pretty easily.
Price comparisons are hard to judge, because if you step up to the Ambiance trim level you gain different steel wheels, body-coloured bumpers, some satin interior trim, different seat material, height-adjustable front seat belts, front fog lights, a height-adjustable drivers seat, a split rear seat, and a stereo none of which you need.
You also gain the diesel engine (yes, thats right; your engine choice is defined by your trim level), all for another 2,500, which seems a lot to pay for an oil-burning engine – because you dont actually need any of the extra trim, do you?
To make things worse, the real-world performance (acceleration, top speed, lugging ability) is pretty much indistinguishable between the two fuel types. The petrol engine is nippy but a bit rough above 5,000rpm while the diesel is more torquey but doesnt much like to rev. High-mileage drivers will probably be better off with the diesel, but two-and-a-half grand buys a lot of fuel
The top-of-the-range Laureate (diesel, of course) gains alloys, satin chrome on the outside and piano black trim on the inside, a leather steering wheel, and some fancy stitching on the seats. The front seat belts gain pre-tensioners (which could be very useful), air-con (ditto), electric rear windows (manual windows arent a problem for the driver/buyer, are they?), and a six-function trip computer (please). There might be more, but you get the picture.
So, should you buy one? Yes, of course. I know of half-a-dozen motoring journalists who are doing so, which is high-praise indeed.
Which model should you plump for? Well, its a cheap car, so buy a cheap one. A white petrol-engined Access with two- or four-wheel-drive, depending on your needs will meet anyones needs. Throw in another 395 to extend the three-year warranty to five years, or 850 to boost that to a whopping seven if youre feeling flush and/or risk adverse, and you have the greatest automotive bargain available today.
Dont be ashamed to have chosen wisely. Revel in the Dusters poverty-spec steel wheels, black bumpers, and wind-the-windows-down air conditioning and boast to your neighbours about how little it cost you; in these stricken times inconspicuous consumption is all the rage but you might as well be as conspicuous about it as possible, hadnt you?
For more information, check out our full summary of the Dacia Duster alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos.