It was a bitterly cold winter’s day when the Dacia Duster arrived on my driveway. With snow imminent, I was hoping it would be the “Extreme” dCi diesel version – the only one that comes with all four wheels driven.
However, it turned out to be a petrol TCe 90, which is strictly 2WD only. Shame. No matter, it did look rather snazzy in Arizona Orange (£650 option) and “Journey” trim.
But let’s cut to the chase and talk about money. Because anyone considering a Dacia of any kind is probably doing so because of the savings that can be had over buying, er . . . shall we call it “mainstream”? You know, the likes of the Ford Puma, SEAT Ateca and VW T-Roc, to name just a handful of the many small SUVs swamping the market today.
The Duster starts at just £17,295 for the “Essential”, rising to £18,295 for the “Expression” and then £19,795 for the “Journey”. The range-topping “Extreme” starts from £20,295. So, you can see the appeal for someone who wants a rugged-looking SUV that has plenty of space for a family. I reckon the Duster is close to being a mid-sized SUV, with the amount of space available. It certainly seems to have more than the Suzuki Vitara.
The 3-cylinder TCe 100 Bi-fuel engine is available even in the entry-level Essential model and costs no more than the 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder TCe 90. The Expression version adds the choice of a 1.3-litre, 4-cylinder TCe 130 engine with 240 Nm of torque, while Journey trim adds the TCe 150 engine mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox. The range-topping Extreme is available with all the above or a dCi 115 diesel unit mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox, driving all four wheels.
Unusually these days, there is no mild hybrid available, but the option of Bi-Fuel gives you a second fuel tank that can be filled with cheap LPG. Cheap fuel in a cheap car that together can save you a bob or two.
But does the Duster feel too cheap to consider, even at these prices? Well, no. You’re getting a lot of car for your money. If you can see past the scratchy plastics on the interior, or the lack of safety features such as lane-keep-assist, then the Duster begins to look just like what it has always been, since its launch in 2010 – a genuine bargain.
This second-gen version was introduced in 2018 and has had a few minor facelifts in the last couple of years, including a dual-clutch auto version being added and some smart new badging. The infotainment system has had a minor overhaul too.
The Dacia Duster remains a rugged-looking, high-riding, no-frills SUV that looks the part and delivers a decent driving experience too – especially the 4×4 diesel that has genuine off-road capability.
My 90 PS Journey model looked a little sparse inside but when you dig deeper you find the likes of heated front seats, a multi-view camera, blind-spot warning, hill start assist, keyless entry and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It all appeared to be very well screwed together too, no complaints on that front.
Yes, the view through the chunky steering wheel is bog basic – speedo, rev-counter and a small, configurable LED this is probably best left as a fuel gauge. But the seats are comfortable enough, the visibility is better than a lot of other SUVs and the stuff you need to touch and twiddle are all easy to hand and simple to use, including the large rotary dials for climate control.
The 8-inch infotainment screen may have gained an inch in the facelift, but it still looks dated. However, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available, who cares? Google Maps takes care of the sat nav, while Spotify provides the tunes. The sound system wasn’t too bad either – a little thin when turned up, but certainly good enough for most.
All four doors open wide so getting the child seats in and out of the rear should be a doddle. Rear space is very good indeed with the high roofline providing plenty of headroom for adults, while legroom is very good too with plenty of space to tuck your feet under the seat in front.
The ISOFIX points for child seats weren’t too easy to find. A little fiddly, but once you’ve done it a few times it shouldn’t be a problem. I was surprised to see a couple of USB charging points on the rear of the centre console, matching the 2 for front-seat passengers. Bonus.
If the cost of cubic inch per £ is floating your boat right now, then the boot space could seal the deal. Much larger than your average mid-sized hatchback, it comes in at 478 litres (11 more than the 4×4 version) and is a good shape too, making it easy to get larger objects in and out of.
Due to the poor weather conditions during the week, I had the Dacia Duster, I didn’t manage any long trips. However, I did manage to visit the Christmas Markets in Edinburgh.
The 70-odd, mile trip was mostly dual-carriageway which had been cleared of the white stuff and I didn’t find the Duster wanting in any way.
I had been worried that the turbo-charged 89 bhp unit wouldn’t be up to the job of hauling this decent-sized SUV around, but it cruised steadily at 70mph and even overtaking wasn’t a problem. With 4 adults in and some luggage, it may be a different story, but for the 2 of us, it was fine.
Ride quality is as good as any family hatchback when on decent roads and probably a little better when on rougher stuff, thanks to the high-profile tyre choice for the Duster.
It does bob around a little on undulating B-roads but generally, you’ll find the Duster handles pot-holes and speed-humps admirably. You’re never going to feel like Colin McRae but I doubt that Dacia buyers are buying for those kinds of thrills.
The electric power steering is a little on the light side but is progressive and won’t cause you any problems on any surface. Around town you’ll find it comes into its own, making the Duster feel sharp enough around town while the reversing camera and lightness of steering make it easy-peasy to park.
Overall, it’s no surprise that the Dacia Duster took the prize for Small Car/SUV of the Year at last week’s Scottish Car of the Year awards.
Alisdair Suttie, Association of Scottish Motoring Writers President said: “The Dacia Duster is a previous winner at Scottish Car of the Year and this new 2023 model builds on everything that made that car a hit with our panel. The latest version brings a real step up in design and quality for this compact yet practical family vehicle while still offering the unrivalled value for money that has made it such a success for Dacia. Despite some fierce competition, it is a worthy winner of the title of Scottish Small Car / SUV of the Year.”
Luke Broad, Dacia Brand Director for the UK, said: “We have just revealed a brand-new Duster that will launch in 2024, but this award proves that the current model is still incredibly competitive in its ever-expanding sector. Especially pleasing is that the judges have recognised its design and quality as well as its value, proving once again that Dacia not only builds highly affordable cars but also robust ones that are innovatively engineered and built to last.”
I’ve seen pics of the 2024 model Duster and it looks like the future of this incredibly affordable SUV is assured. It also means there may be some further bargains to be had on this current model . . . I’d get down to the dealership, sharpish.
AT A GLANCE:
Dacia Duster Journey TCe 90 4×2
OTR Price: £19,975
Engine: 1.0 turbo petrol
Power: 90 bhp
Transmission: 6-speed Manual
0-62mph: 13.1 secs
Top Speed: 103 mph
WLTP Combined Economy: 45.6 mpg
WLTP C02: 140 g/km