Dacia Duster review
The Dacia Duster is a very affordable SUV that offers more space than most alternatives, but it’s not exactly sophisticated or stylish.
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The Dacia Duster is a back-to-basics small SUV that doesn’t try to wow you with gimmicks. If all you want is fuss-free family transport and a bit of off-road ability, it’s brilliantly fit-for-purpose.
It’s a bit like buying your kids’ clothes from Primark: yes, there are more fashionable and higher quality alternatives, but if you aren’t bothered about the name on the label and your kids will just make a mess of their clothes anyway, why pay more?
The Duster has been given a handful updates for 2021. Not much has changed on the outside but there are some tweaks; namely new headlights, wheel designs and a lightly altered grille, while minor changes to improve fuel economy also feature. It’s a little more drastic inside however, where there is a redesigned centre console and improved infotainment.
In its entry-level form, the Duster is basically the fork and knife of the automotive world – it’s pretty easy to get your head around. It’s much cheaper than any comparable SUV alternative, and while you do now get air-con, a DAB radio and cruise control, it’s not exactly laden with tech. The model you actually want is the Comfort, and then you get a reasonably-equipped Duster for at a well-valued price.
Sure, there are still plenty of hard, scratchy plastics dotted about the cabin, but at least you get some flashier chrome trims, more supportive front seats and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with built-in sat nav, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Not bad for such an affordable SUV.
Also winning the Dacia Duster some brownie points is its fairly spacious cabin. There’s more than enough space for tall adults to get comfy in the front and you get driver’s seat height and lumbar adjustment in all but the most basic Essential models.
Space in the back is pretty generous, too – there’s enough room for three adults to sit side-by-side and the Dacia Duster’s large side windows mean it feels less claustrophobic in the back than more style-led models such as the Nissan Juke.
The Duster’s boxy body means you also get quite a good-sized boot. There’s room for plenty of suitcases with the back seats up and a bike will fit with room to spare if you fold them down. Unfortunately, there’s an awkward step in the boot floor that makes it a pain to load very heavy boxes.
Cheap and cheerful – that pretty much sums up the Dacia Duster. It's an honest, sensible and likeable car, although the high-spec models cost almost as much as more sophisticated rivals.
If you plan to pack your Dacia Duster’s boot to the brim on a regular basis – or do lots of long journeys – go for the 1.5-litre diesel engine. It’ll return more than 50mpg in normal driving conditions and feels perky even at motorway speeds, but it’s a bit noisy at times.
There are also three turbo petrols that are great around town with the pick being the 130hp one, giving you decent acceleration with low running costs. If you plan on frequently going off road, the only 4×4 model is the 115hp diesel, which is a shame.
Dacia also offers a bi-fuel model that mixes petrol with LPG (basically natural gas that’s about a quarter of the price of petrol). This is based on the 1.0-litre, but it gets more power and (as of 2021) a 50-litre second tank, which is 50% larger than the old bi-fuel Duster. It’s still pretty slow, but when running on LPG it delivers more low-down urge and feels a bit perkier than the base engine.
If traipsing from school to supermarket sounds more like your thing, fear not. The Duster’s a doddle to drive thanks to its light controls, fairly comfortable suspension and the good visibility afforded by the large windows and raised driving position. Mid-range Comfort models even come with cruise control to help make long motorway journeys as relaxing as possible.
But even top-spec cars don’t come with as much safety kit as many other small family SUVs. For example, automatic emergency braking to help prevent avoidable collisions is noticeably absent from the Dacia Duster’s equipment list. As a result, it scored a poor three stars out of five when it was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2017. The 2021 update doesn’t change that.
So, the Dacia Duster makes a good budget buy if you’re after something practical and relatively cheap to run, but if safety and upmarket features are high on your list of priorities then you might want to look elsewhere. The Renault Captur, for example, costs just a few thousand pounds more (or less with a significant carwow saving) but comes with significantly more equipment across the range.
Still, check out the latest offers and head over to our Dacia Duster deals section.
There’s plenty of room in the Dacia Duster’s front and back seats for tall adults to get comfy and the boot’s pretty generous, but it isn’t particularly easy to load very heavy luggage.
The Dacia Duster definitely delivers bang-for-your-bucks when it comes to passenger space – no other equally cheap car can match the room you get in this bargain SUV
Put simply, the Dacia Duster packs more space into its boxy body than any equally affordable family car. There’s plenty of room in the front for you to get fairly comfortable – even if you’re very tall – and all but entry-level cars come with driver’s seat-height adjustment to make sure you get a clear view out. In Essential models and above you can also move the steering wheel in and out as well as up and down to find a comfortable driving position – something you couldn’t do in the old Duster.
The 2021 update has brought in a new seat design, which isn’t just more comfortable than before, it also improves front visibility for rear passengers. Sadly, it’s not all good news – your front-seat passenger doesn’t get a height-adjustable seat, while adjustable lumbar support isn’t offered on the Essential model.
The Duster claws back some points with its roomy back seats, however. There’s more head and legroom than you get in any other equally affordable family car so two six-foot-tall passengers will have plenty of space to get comfortable.
Knee room is just about OK, however, but the Dacia Duster’s fairly wide cabin means there’s space for three adults to sit side-by-side in the back without fighting over shoulder room. The central seat is reasonably well padded – if a bit narrow – and there’s no annoying lump in the rear floor to get in the way of your passengers’ feet.
The Dacia Duster’s large side windows mean it doesn’t feel cramped in the back like some smaller family cars and the wide door openings make it a doddle to lift in a large child seat.
Unfortunately, the Isofix point markers don’t quite match up to the anchor points behind the seat padding so it’ll take a few blind stabs before the seat base clicks into position.
It isn’t just passengers that the Dacia Duster can carry with ease, it also comes with a few handy storage bins to help you hideaway an assortment of family bits and bobs. All four door bins are big enough to hold a large 1.5-litre bottle – just – and the glovebox is large enough to tuck away a few bulky valuables such as a camera.
For the 2021 model, Dacia has also redesigned the centre console, adding a handy sliding armrest with a 1.1-litre storage cubby underneath. There’s also additional USB ports for charging phones and suchlike – although Dacia has elected not to fit the latest USB-Cs anywhere.
There’s an extra storage shelf above the glovebox along with two slots in the centre console that’ll comfortably carry a phone each. Comfort models and above also come with a useful tray under the front passenger’s seat that’s just about big enough to hold a small road atlas.
There’s space in the Dacia Duster’s 478-litre boot (467 litres of you pick a four-wheel-drive model) for two large and two small suitcases and a few soft bags – and that’s all without removing the parcel shelf.
Unfortunately, if you need to remove the shelf to carry bulkier luggage, there’s nowhere to store it under the Duster’s cheap-feeling boot floor. You do get a few tether points and a shopping hook to stop smaller bags rolling around, however, and Comfort models and above come with a 12V socket in the boot – perfect for plugging in a small portable vacuum cleaner.
Every Dacia Duster comes with a two-way split (60:40) rear bench with some neat slots to hold the rear seat belt buckles out of the way and stop them getting caught when you flip the seats down.
With the back seats folded, the Dacia Duster’s boot grows to 1,623 litres in two-wheel-drive models and 1,614 litres in four-wheel-drive versions. That’s easily big enough to carry a bike with both its wheels attached, but the back seats don’t fold completely flat which makes it difficult to push heavy boxes right up behind the front seats. You can’t get the Dacia Duster with an adjustable boot floor either, and the rather tall lip by the boot opening makes it slightly tricky to load very bulky luggage.
The Dacia Duster’s raisd ride height means it’s easy to see out of and effortless to drive around town, but it’s not suitable for enthusiastic drivers
The Dacia Duster’s engine range doesn’t change an awful lot for its 2021 update. The top-spec 150hp 1.3-litre petrol engine does come mated with a new six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, however.
It’s a decent gearbox, offering up reasonably smooth and quick changes and (because it’s a dual-clutch system) respectable efficiency. But there are no paddles on the wheel to easily override the changes, while the extra cost takes away from the Duster’s great value. It’s only really worth paying out for it if you must simply have an automatic.
For those happy with the six-speed manual gearbox, the 130hp 1.3 petrol will be your best bet. Its performance isn’t far off that of the 150hp version, meaning it has enough pace as long as you’re not expecting to out-drag hot hatchbacks away from the lights.
We’d avoid the entry-level 90hp 1.0-litre engine. Frankly, it’s a bit too sluggish even when there’s just a driver at the wheel, so load it up with luggage and passengers and it’ll feel akin to riding a snail on long journeys.
The 100hp bi-fuel LPG model is a touch perkier, with an extra 10hp and a more responsive feel low-down. It’s only adequate, though, and again we suspect it would struggle when loaded up. At least it has the added benefit of being powered by far cheaper LPG (natural gas sourced as a byproduct from making petrol), meaning even if you have to thrash it to keep up with traffic your running costs will be low. The 2021 update sees it get a larger LPG tank, too, improving the range.
If you tend to do lots of long motorway journeys, the 1.5-litre diesel model with 115hp is also a great choice. It’s no faster than the entry-level petrol on paper, but it feels punchier on the road thanks to its extra torque and returns better fuel economy. Go easy on the accelerator and it’ll return more than 50mpg.
For extra winter grip, you can get a four-wheel-drive system fitted to the 1.5-litre diesel. It makes lighter work of rutted farm tracks, but costs more to buy and is slightly thirstier than front-wheel-drive models. As a result, it’s only worth considering if you’re absolutely certain you’ll take your Duster off-road.
The Dacia Duster’s raised ride height and large windows make it a doddle to drive around town. The pillars between the front doors and the windscreen aren’t particularly thick so you can easily spot traffic approaching at junctions and the light steering means your arms won’t start to ache as you manoeuvre it through tight city streets.
It’s even relatively easy to park, too – especially if you go for a Comfort model or above. These come with a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, while top-spec Prestige cars get three extra cameras that project a bird’s eye view of the car on the infotainment screen to help you avoid low-speed bumps.
Speaking of bumps, the Duster’s soft suspension helps it iron out potholes pretty well around town, and makes it good at rolling along rough farm tracks, too. The trade off is that it doesn’t handle as well as pricier alternatives, with steering that lacks precision and lots of body lean. If you have passengers that get car sick, you won’t want to drive too quickly.
They won’t have much to complain about on the motorway, however, because the latest Duster is more insulated than you might expect given its price. It’s still not quite as relaxing to drive as many other family cars, but at least you get cruise control as standard to help make long drives reasonably stress-free.
It’s a shame that only the diesel version can be had with four-wheel drive, because Dacia has added a few neat features to improve its off-road ability. This includes adaptive hill descent control, while the other – particularly impressive at this price point – is a four-camera system which can show the front wheels on the screen if you can’t see forwards on a steep incline.
What’s disappointing is that, despite the latest update bring tech such as park assist, there still isn’t any kind of automatic emergency braking or lane departure warning to prevent avoidable collisions. That means the Duster’s mediocre three-start Euro NCAP rating is unlikely to improve. If safety is a priority for you, then more expensive small SUVs such as the Renault Captur are a better bet.
The Dacia Duster’s cabin is durable and simple, but it’s pretty far from luxurious. The touchscreen is improved for 2021, though.
Dacia Duster colours
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