The Dacia Duster is comfortable in town and has a couple of decent engines, but doesn’t feel brilliant in corners and is noisy on the motorway
The Dacia Duster is available with three engines, but it’s best if you avoid the basic 115hp 1.6-litre petrol. It needs to be worked hard to get the best from it and the noises coming from under the bonnet suggest it’s not overly enjoying the experience. It only comes with a five-speed gearbox so the engine constantly drones at motorway speeds and it has the worst fuel economy in the range.
You’re much better off going for the 1.2-litre petrol. It might sound like a downgrade, but the wonders of turbocharging mean it produces 125hp, making it the fastest Duster in the range – it can get from 0-62mph in 10.4 seconds. The extra get up and go means you don’t have to constantly change gear just to keep it on the boil and it sounds enthusiastic. As with the diesel, it comes with a sixth gear that makes cruising less frenetic and fuel economy of up to 46.3mpg possible.
In town, you can fly over potholes and speed humps and the Duster just soaks them up
That leaves the 110hp 1.5-litre diesel engine that feels punchy and spritely. It’s the best bet if you cover a lot of miles because it returns best-in-range fuel economy of 64.2mpg if you go for a two-wheel-drive model. It has no problem keeping up with traffic on the roads and even has a little overtaking power if you need it. It’s also the engine to go for if you plan to use the Duster off-road because it has enough low down urge to pull you out of tricky situations.
The Dacia feels perfectly at home in town. You get a brilliant view out of the front of the car and a pretty good view out the back too, although the thick pillar around the windscreen can obscure your view pulling out of junctions. The ends of the car are simple to judge, which makes parking easier. All-round parking sensors are a £400 option or you can have a rear-view camera for £400.
The tall suspension also helps in the city – allowing you to sail over big bumps and speed humps without having to worry about damaging the bottom of the car.
Unfortunately, the Dacia feels like a car from the ‘90s at higher speeds – the suspension fidgets and if you hit big, sudden bumps you’ll feel them vibrating through the steering wheel and into the cabin. The constant drone of wind and road noise only confirms that the Duster’s not the perfect car for long motorway jaunts.
It’s not great in corners either. Huge inputs on the steering wheel are rewarded with very little in the way of an actual direction change and when the car does turn, the soft suspension means it feels like it’ll fall over. It isn’t really a car that you’ll want to drive quickly.
That could well turn out to be its best safety feature, because its three-star NCAP rating certainly isn’t something to write home about. Since the 2011 test all models now come with stability control that should stop the car spinning off the road. It also gets ABS brakes and four airbags, but there’s no high-tech kit such as active cruise control or automatic emergency brakes.