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
You can get the Dacia Duster with one petrol and one diesel engine and with either two- or four-wheel drive.
The more affordable option is the 1.6-litre petrol with 115hp. It’s not the quietest engine around and tends to drone loudly when you accelerate, but at least it’s reasonably economical at slow speeds – such as when you’re driving around town. Dacia claims it’ll return 43.5mpg, but you can expect to see a figure in the high thirties in normal driving conditions.
Unfortunately, it’s deathly slow – accelerating from 0-62mph takes a very leisurely 11 seconds and it barely has enough puff to overtake slow-moving traffic. Go for a four-wheel drive model and it takes almost a second longer to reach 62mph from rest – yawn.
This grippier four-wheel-drive version makes lighter work of rutted farm tracks, but costs more to buy and is slightly thirstier than the standard front-wheel-drive model. As a result, it’s only worth considering if you’re absolutely certain you’ll take your Duster off-road.
Driving the Duster feels like motoring around in a hammock – it’s surprisingly comfortable but has a tendency to lean considerably at times
If you tend to do lots of long motorway journeys, the 1.5-litre diesel model with 115hp will be a better bet. It’s no faster than the petrol on paper, but it feels punchier on the road and even returns better fuel economy. Go easy on the accelerator and it’ll return around more than 50mpg compared with Dacia’s claimed 64.2mpg figure.
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.
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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.