Dacia Duster (2014-2017) Review
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
What's not so good
Dacia Duster (2014-2017): what would you like to read next?
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.
The Duster has a reasonably roomy cabin and a much larger boot than most small cheap cars, but there aren’t many storage bins dotted around its basic interior
It’s not just the cabin that feels like it’s been subject to some style rationing – the boot’s devoid of any clever storage features. There’s no 12V socket or shopping hooks, for example
The Duster’s tall body means you get a great view out the front of the car, but you might find it tricky getting the perfect driving position because the steering wheel adjusts for height but not reach. The driver’s seat can also be raised and the car’s tall roofline means both front passengers get plenty of headroom, although the seats aren’t very supportive in corners.
Space in the back is good for a car of this price. The high roofline means your rear-seat passengers get plenty of headroom and they’ll only find their knees brushing off the backs of the front seats if they have really long legs. The flat back seat doesn’t hold passengers in place around corners, but it does mean the middle-seat passenger can sit in rather than on the seat. Your passengers will feel short of shoulder room three up, but the small hump in the floor means there’s plenty of space for everyone’s feet and the big windows mean it feels pretty airy.
The Dacia’s height makes it easy to slide in and out of – even if you have creaking old bones – and also helps when fitting a child seat. You don’t have to bend your back when slotting the base into place but the hidden Isofix points can make it a little fiddly to get the base located.
Storage space is comparable to that of a supermini, not a small family car. There are a few cupholders and the door pockets are small. There’s also a rectangular cubby hole on the centre console, but unless you’re a miniature Rubik’s cube enthusiast, there’s not a lot else you can carry in there.
The Duster’s boot is its trump card. Its 475-litre capacity is huge – a VW Up has a 251 litre capacity and the much pricier Golf 380 litres. The Duster’s capacity drops to 408 litres if you spec four-wheel drive, but that’s still pretty good.
The loadbay is a no-frills affair with minimal features. The bare metal load lip will scratch easily, you get no hooks for securing your luggage or shopping, there’s no 12V power socket and you can forget about having an adjustable boot floor to help with loading.
The basics are there, though, and the boxy shape combined with the car’s tall body means you can load the boot without having to stoop. You’ll have no problem getting a baby stroller in there with a couple of soft bags, and a set of golf clubs isn’t a squeeze either. In fact, the Duster can swallow two large and two small suitcases without you even having to remove the parcel shelf.
With the 60:40 split-folding back seats flipped down you get a 1,636-litre load bay big enough for a bike with both its wheels attached, although you’ll have to negotiate it in over the boot lip and a large step in the middle of the floor. Packed to the max, though, the Duster can carry more boxes than a Mini Countryman and is only a couple of suitcases off what a much larger (and massively more expensive) Audi Q5 can carry.
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
In town, you can fly over potholes and speed humps and the Duster just soaks them up
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.
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.
The Dacia Duster’s interior has lots of room for a car of this price, but that’s about all there is positive to say about it – it looks cheap, feels cheap and packs stone age technology