Romanian automaker, Dacia, is a relative newcomer to the UK market, but the Renault owned company has quickly gained a reputation for offering customers exceptional value for money.
The Duster SUV arrived on our shores in 2012 and has since become Dacia’s bestselling car in the UK.
The Duster comes with a choice of two engines – a 1.6-litre petrol and the same 1.5-litre diesel you can also find under the bonnet of a Renault Clio. Both engines provide adequate performance for a car in this class, but both also happen to be rather noisy.
The diesel is the better pick here, as it just feels more at home in an SUV than a petrol engine. You will also benefit from a low annual road tax rate of just £30, and fuel economy figures of over 50mpg.
The low-down pull of the diesel engine also makes the Duster feel a little bit quicker, even though performance figures are actually not that different to the petrol.
There is no automatic gearbox option to be found, all Duster’s will come equipped with either a five or six-speed manual.
Ride and handling
Unsurprisingly, the Dacia Duster is not a car to enjoy driving briskly. There is plenty of body roll in the corners and the steering itself provides very little feedback to the driver. It does however provide a very comfortable ride thanks to its soft suspension.
The cabin is a rather noisy space to spend time in. The engines are loud and, as the soundproofing is nothing to write home about, you’ll also be hearing a lot of wind and road roar, too.
Because of this, passengers may well have to raise their voices a little more than usual in order to be heard. Safety is an area in which Dacia really needs to improve. The Duster scored only three stars in Euro NCAP testing and in an era where many cars are now scoring the maximum five stars. Despite this rating, it did, however, score well for occupant protection.
Being a car constructed to a strict budget, interior quality is where the Dacia Duster really falls behind its rivals. The materials are relatively low quality and may well begin to show wear and tear quickly.
However, seating and space for occupants is very good, with plenty of head and knee room to be found in the back. As far as practicality is concerned, the Duster is at least punching above its weight with 475 litres of luggage space.
If you’ve opted for the 4x4 with a spare wheel, this drops to 408 litres, but overall load space is still impressive and the low boot lip makes loading heavier goods easier. With the rear seats folded down, room increases to 1,636 litres so you can relax when it comes time to raid IKEA for some new furniture.
Equipment levels on anything other than the top-spec ‘Laureate’ are scarce. In fact, it’s only the Laureate that gets air conditioning and, as a result, it’s the one we’d recommend.
As an example of how basic the Duster is, in entry level ‘Access’ guise a radio was not even standard equipment.
What to know before you buy
Dacia hasn’t been selling cars in the UK for very long and so it’s very hard to appraise the long-term reliability of its creations. With parent company, Renault, providing many parts and technology, mechanical issues shouldn’t be of a major concern and owners are vocal over their satisfaction with the Duster’s reliability.
Produced for harsher conditions in eastern European countries – the Duster is hugely popular in Russia – buyers should expect this tough little SUV to hold up well over time.
A four-wheel drive model should only really be chosen if you are likely to have to go off road, as the Duster is perfectly capable on road with its two-wheel drive layout and - as with all such systems – four-wheel drive decreases efficiency.
The Duster is by no means the class of its field. The Nissan Qashqai has it beaten in multiple areas, including efficiency, boot space, interior quality, style, and safety.
Meanwhile the MINI Countryman drives better and holds its value better over time - even if it isn’t as practical. Skoda’s ever popular Yeti may look smaller but, thanks to removable rear seating, it actually has more space. Those unusual looks may not be to everyone’s taste though.
Going in the favour of the Duster though is that extraordinary price. It can easily be found for several thousand pounds less than any of its competition, and with a 4x4 equipped model you have genuine off-road capability – something the Nissan Qashqai certainly cannot claim.
Dacia’s Duster is by quite some distance the cheapest way into SUV ownership – but there is a price. Overall quality is low, and in anything but the top specification so are equipment levels.
If luxury isn’t your priority and you’re looking for a spacious and comfortable SUV with off-road capability, then it’s difficult to go wrong with the Dacia Duster.
However, if you’re stepping down from a manufacturer with more prestige then you may well be left disappointed.