The Nissan Juke and Dacia Duster are, in a way, unlikely rivals. The Duster’s main selling point is that it’s the cheapest SUV on sale in the UK, whereas the Juke trades on eye-grabbing style and costs some £3,000 more for the cheapest version.
However, if you buy your Juke through carwow you could save up to £1,000 on the cheapest model – enough to make it a tempting proposition if your budget previously restricted you to the Dacia. So which of these two is the best proposition? Can the Dacia really compete against a more upmarket Nissan?
Let’s put them head-to-head to find out.
When the Juke was first launched, it’s fair to say that its styling was divisive. Although some commentators considered it as something of a breath of fresh air and made a nice change to the homogenous look of most SUVs, many thought it was just downright ugly.
As time has gone by, we’ve all probably got a lot more used to its bulbous and bug-eyed look, and it’s been accepted by thousands of UK buyers over the past few years.
The Dacia Duster, on the other hand, has a slightly utilitarian, Eastern European look about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s ugly by any means. It’s not going to win any beauty contests, but it’s not as polarising as the Juke and it does have a sort of simplistic appeal. Base models are only available in white and steel wheels are the order of the day. It’s not going to turn many heads, but what do you want from a brand new SUV costing less than ten grand?
The Juke is more overt and shouts quality more than the Duster does, but the Dacia’s styling could be easier to live with unless you really do love the Nissan’s unique look.
The Juke’s interior feels more functional than luxurious, but does have some quirky touches such as the buttons on the centre console which change function and colour depending on whether you’ve pressed the climate control or driving-mode buttons. There are some cheap feeling plastics, and the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach either, which means it can be difficult for some drivers to get a comfortable driving position.
You do have the option of a performance Nismo RS version of the Juke though, which adds some Nismo badging and lots of soft-touch Alcantara trimmings for the steering wheel and sports seats. It’s not exactly Audi quality, but it’s a step up if you’re prepared to pay the price.
Because of its price, it would probably be safe to say that most people won’t be expecting too much from the Duster’s interior, but don’t write it off too soon. OK, if you go for the basic Access model you’ll even have to pay extra for a radio, but the build quality, styling and materials are a lot better than many might expect at this price point.
There are the odd pieces of switchgear that give away the Duster’s Renault roots, but it’s actually pretty smart inside and certainly doesn’t look bargain-basement if you ignore the lack of features in basic models.
The Nissan probably isn’t as nice inside as we’d want and the Dacia is far better than we have any right to expect at the price. When everything is taken into consideration, it’s probably a draw between the two as far as interiors are concerned.
There are quite a few engine options open to you if you fancy a Juke, but you’d probably be wise to ignore the lacklustre 1.6-litre 93bhp non-turbocharged petrol. Instead, you really should check out the new 1.2-litre turbo that’s more powerful and more efficient than the smallest of the 1.6 petrols. If you want more power but without going as far as the RS Nismo, the 187bhp DIG-T 1.6 turbo is worth a look if you don’t want to go down the diesel route.
If you do want a diesel, the only choice is a 108bhp 1.5-litre dCi unit. It’s probably not as refined as we’ve come to expect from modern diesels, but it’s probably the best all-round choice if you want a mix of fuel economy and performance – its claimed economy is an impressive 71mpg.
Choosing an engine for the Dacia Duster is easy because it’s a straight fight between a 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre diesel. Both are available in all trim levels and with either two or four-wheel drive. Base models come with a five-speed manual gear box while most of the range comes with a six-speed manual. If you want automatic though, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
The petrol is certainly powerful to keep up with motorway traffic, but it’s not particularly economical, returning a claimed 39.8mpg. The diesel is the only engine available in Ambiance and Laureate models, and it’s quick enough and reasonably efficient, returning 56.5mpg in two-wheel-driver versions or 53.3mpg in the four-wheel-drive models. It is rather noisy, however.
The Nissan Juke offers buyers more choice, and its engines are more refined than the Duster’s, so it wins here.
Being a crossover, the Juke is taller than similar-sized cars such as the Ford Fiesta, which means you would expect it to lean more in corners than a regular hatchback. However, Nissan has done a good job of making it stay fairly flat during cornering and it’s still pretty nimble and gives a good account of itself both around town and on the open road. It also has light steering which makes it a doddle to manoeuvre around town.
One trick the Juke has up its sleeve that few rivals can hope to match is the moderately mental RS Nismo performance model. It’s about as fast as a Golf GTI, and can corner impressively fast for an SUV. Thankfully, it comes with race-style Recaro bucket seats to keep you clamped in place as you do so.
The way the Dacia Duster drives is an area that does give away its budget credentials. While it’s a long way from terrible, it does suffer from an unpleasant degree of body roll and the diesel engine can be very noisy at motorway speeds.
The Duster does offer a fairly comfortable ride with suspension that soaks-up bumps and potholes reasonably well. If you want a brand new 4×4 for very little money, nothing else matches the Dacia in that regard. But if you’re expecting Land Rover off-road capability you’ll be sadly disappointed.
When it comes to driving these two vehicles, there’s little doubt that the Nissan is the winner. If you go for the RS Nismo version of the Juke, it isn’t even a contest until you consider the price difference – it starts at £21,995. You could have two Dusters for that money!
One of the main reasons for choosing a crossover over a regular hatchback is the added practicality delivered by the extra size. However, the Juke’s unique styling means there isn’t a great deal of room in the back seats or the boot as a result of that sloping roof. Boot capacity really was the Nissan’s achilles heel compared to its rivals until its 2014 update, but now front-wheel drive models enjoy a 40% increase with 345 litres of available room in the boot – four-wheel-drive models have smaller boots. You also have a false floor in there for additional cargo space that makes a good place to store valuables completely out of sight.
When it comes to practicality-per-pound, the Dacia Duster is out there on its own at the head of the class and probably as good or better than any new car currently on the market. The boot is much bigger than the Nissan’s with an impressive 475 litres, although only Ambiance and Laureate models offer 60:40 split folding back seats. Access models come with a single rear bench arrangement. The Duster is one of those rare models in this segment where three adults don’t have to shudder at the thought of sitting side-by-side in the back.
The Duster is the clear winner between these two in terms of practicality, especially if you ignore the Access models and go for an Ambiance and Laureate trim.
While the most fuel-efficient Juke will give you figures that are around 5mpg better than the Dacia Duster, that won’t offset the difference in price unless you are travelling to the moon and back every year.
Price isn’t necessarily everything, and although the headline of being under £10,000 makes a compelling argument for the Duster, you do see where economies have been made. You can add considerably to the spec of your Dacia and it still remains a real bargain. The Nissan Juke, however, is the tenth best-selling car in the UK at the time of writing, which proves it must be doing plenty right.
If you compared the Duster with something more expensive than the Juke it would probably be easier to make the case for the Dacia on value for money alone. However, unless you really are on a strict budget and you need the extra practicality of the Duster, the Nissan Juke probably just shades it; unless of course you are one of those who simply cannot get on with the look.
Now you know all about it, configure your Juke and see how much the UK’s best Nissan dealer can save you.