The Dacia Duster offers amazing value for money, lots of space for the price and genuine off-road ability, but it feels like a budget model and drives like it was designed in the 1990s
The Dacia Duster has a back-to-basics-style that makes a brick look avantgarde, but it’s cheap to buy, relatively spacious for the price and does reasonably well off-road if you spec it right. The Duster went on sale in 2012, and was revised ever so slightly in 2017 with some new colour options and a smarter front grille.
Changes or not, the Dacia still looks like a budget model, but when you realise you can have it for the price of a basic – much smaller – Volkswagen Up that might not bother you so much. With a big square boot and space for four people it’s more practical than an Up-sized car could ever hope to be.
Sat inside, though, it’s blindingly obvious where the money has been saved. Plastics resemble those used for milk cartons and the dashboard’s designer didn’t set their ambitions much higher than basic white goods. All the controls are pretty easy to use, though, with big knobs for the stereo and ventilation system.
You get useful storage spaces like the trough on top of the dashboard. But cupholders hidden below the centre console and mirror controls that you can’t use when the hand brake’s released highlight the interior’s ergonomic failings.
You’ll have to go for the top-of-the-range model to get satellite navigation as standard, but it’s okay for the money – it’s just a shame it’s mounted really low on the dashboard. Using it on the move is nearly impossible because you have to take your eyes a long way off the road.
The Dacia Duster is a large SUV that costs the same as a tiny city car
In town, the Dacia’s raised height means you get a great view out and the burly suspension and fat tyres absorb speed humps and potholes without complaint. Things unravel as the speeds rise, though – the cabin is noisy and the unsupportive seats are a pain in the back after 100 miles or so.
‘Handling’ isn’t really a word that appears in the Dacia’s rather limited vocabulary. Aggressive flicks of the steering wheel translate into minuscule body movements and it barrels into corners at an angle that makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like a triumph of engineering.
Probably for the best, then, that none of the Dacia’s engines offers much in the way of performance. Avoid the basic 1.6-litre petrol model and they’re not bad, though. The 1.2-litre petrol has zippy performance, while the 1.5-litre diesel’s mid-range punch and better fuel economy makes it the better choice if you drive a lot of miles each year.
A three-star Euro NCAP rating from 2011 may have you running for the hills faster than the Duster can climb them, but stability control now comes as standard, so you could expect it to perform better were it tested again.
Barebones, then, just about covers it. There’s no getting around the fact that the Dacia Duster is a budget SUV that puts style and luxury at the bottom of its agenda. But if you want a spacious, rugged and utilitarian car then you might just have the last laugh – without breaking the bank.