Dacia Duster Review
The Dacia Duster is an exceptionally affordable SUV that’s more spacious than most alternatives but entry-level models come with barely any equipment at all.
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The Dacia Duster is a simple small SUV with pretty rugged looks and a spacious, if spartan, interior. It’s the ideal choice if you have a strict budget and want a fuss-free family transport.
At entry level, the Duster is basically the fork and knife of the automotive world – it’s pretty easy to get your head around. It’s considerably cheaper than any similarly priced SUV alternative but that’s because you barely get any equipment as standard – there’s no radio or air-conditioning in the Access model. The model you actually want is the Comfort (skipping the spartan Essential version) and then you get a well-equipped Duster for a still-reasonable amount of money.
Sure, there are still plenty of hard, scratchy plastics dotted about the cabin, but at least you get some flashy chrome trims, more supportive front seats and a 7-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 adjustment in all but the most basic Access models.
Space in the back is fairly generous, too – there’s enough room for three adults to sit side-by-side and the Dacia Duster’s large side windows mean it doesn’t feel cramped or claustrophobic in the back like a 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. However, you get what you pay for so well-equipped models are not much cheaper than similar alternatives, negating the point of the Duster.
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.
There are also a couple of 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 models are the 115hp diesel and the 115hp petrol, the latter is best avoided – it’s slow and thirsty.
Dacia also offers an LPG-fuelled version, which has a 1.0-litre petrol engine up front and offers access to cheap fuel.
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.
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 Kadjar, 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.
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.
Sadly, it’s not all good news – your front-seat passenger doesn’t get a height-adjustable seat and you can’t get the Dacia Duster with adjustable lumbar support to help reduce backache on long drives.
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.
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 folding back seats, but entry-level Access versions come with a single-piece folding rear bench that means you can’t carry long luggage poking through from the boot and a back-seat passenger at once. Go for an Essential car or above, however, and you get 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 raised ride height means it’s easy to see out of and a doddle to drive around town, but its petrol and the diesel engines both feel pretty slow.
The most affordable engine option is the 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol with 100hp. It’s pretty slow. Dacia claims it’ll return 46.3mpg, but you can expect to see a figure in the high thirties in normal driving conditions.
There’s also an LPG version of this engine, called Bi-Fuel, which is fractionally less economical but offers access to cheap LPG fuel.
A much better bet is to go for a Duster with the 1.3-litre 130hp engine. You don’t need to rev it hard to keep up with traffic and as a result, you still get a decent 42.8mpg. There’s also a 150hp version of the same 1.3-litre which is more than powerful enough but makes the Duster too pricey to recommend.
If you tend to do lots of long motorway journeys, the 1.5-litre diesel model with 115hp will be the best choice. It’s no faster than the entry-level petrol on paper, but it feels punchier on the road and returns better fuel economy. Go easy on the accelerator and it’ll return around 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.
Whichever engine you choose, you get a manual gearbox as standard – five-speed in front-wheel-drive Dusters and six-speed in four-wheel-drive versions. Both are relatively easy to use, but you’ll wish Dacia offered an automatic if you spend lots of time in rush hour traffic.
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 your 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, but it does mean you’ll feel the Dacia’s body lean much more than many SUVs on a twisty country lane. As a result, your passengers in the back might start to feel a little carsick on long backroad journeys.
They won’t have much to complain about on the motorway, however, because the latest Duster comes with more sound insulation to help muffle wind and tyre noise at speed than the old car. It’s still not quite as relaxing to drive as many other family cars, but at least you get cruise control as standard in Comfort models and above to help make long drives reasonably stress-free.
Unfortunately, you can’t get the Dacia Duster with any kind of automatic emergency braking or lane-departure warning to help prevent avoidable collisions. As a result, it scored a modest three-star safety rating when it was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2017. If you’re on the lookout for a safe small SUV, then, you might want to consider some of the Dacia’s more expensive alternatives.
The Dacia Duster’s rugged cabin feels reasonably durable, but there’s no hiding the numerous cheap, scratchy plastic trims and lack of equipment in basic Access models.