£11,995 - £15,995 Price range
53 - 56 MPG
The Dacia Duster is a cheap SUV that gives off-road capability for supermini money. It’s the cheapest SUV on the market, undercutting competitors such as the Hyundai ix35, Nissan Juke and Suzuki SX4 S-Cross.
The choice of engines is limited, however: you can only choose from a 1.6-litre petrol or 1.5-litre diesel. It’s never going to be sporty to drive, and the petrol doesn’t feel powerful enough, but the diesel pulls well and would be ideal for towing a boat or caravan, especially when mated to the Duster’s optional four-wheel drive system.
Space inside is good with enough room (thanks to the tall roof) to seat four adults comfortably, and enough boot space to fit two suitcases or, if you have one, a Labrador. This is a budget model though, so you also get cheap-looking (but easy-to-clean) plastics on the inside.
Equipment wise, the Duster is fairly basic – you even have to pay extra for a stereo for the entry-level model. Mid-range Ambiance trim is worth paying a little extra for – it gets a sound system, a Bluetooth phone connection, rear seats that split 60:40 and front fog lights.
Cheapest to buy: 1.6 Access petrol
Cheapest to run: 1.5 Laureate diesel
Fastest model: 1.6 Ambiance petrol
Most popular model: 1.5 Laureate diesel
Although the Duster’s cabin is ok, its hard plastics reflect that this is a cheap car. It does all seem built to last, though, and although 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. Take a look at the Duster dimensions and colour guides to see if it’ll fit in with your lifestyle.
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 (to more than 1,600 litres) when the rear seats are folded down. However, it’s worth pointing out that the load bay isn’t completely flat once the seat 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 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.
Nevertheless, 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 family vehicle, the critics who have taken it off the tarmac agree the Duster is accomplished off-road.
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.
Dacia Duster petrol engine
The 1.6 petrol is, by some margin, the cheapest of the two to buy, but it also has the highest running costs. Fuel economy of 39.8mpg isn’t that great, when you consider a petrol Volkswagen Polo can return more than 60mpg, but it’s not terrible for a small SUV. Road tax is pretty pricy though – specify the petrol model with four-wheel drive and the 185g/km CO2 emissions it produces means you’ll be looking at an annual road-tax bill of £225.
Dacia Duster diesel engine
As a result, the diesel model is the one we would recommend. It not only feels quicker than the petrol during everyday driving, it can also return more than 50mpg, even when fitted with four-wheel drive. It’ll also never cost more than £130 to tax a year.
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.
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.
Although when last tested by Euro NCAP the Duster 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.
The Duster is by quite some margin one of the current mainstream bargains. It may be the size of a Skoda Yeti, but it undercuts it considerably on price.
If you plump for the more expensive models, you get equipment such as 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!
For more information, take a look at our Dacia Duster options guide to see what optional extras we think are worth paying for, and which to avoid.
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. 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. Visit the Dacia Duster model page, to buy it via carwow.