The Dacia Duster is a small, entry-level crossover that costs the same as some superminis, but adds plenty of off-road ability and practicality. Starting at £9,495, you’d be forgiven to think that you have yourself a great deal, however look a bit closer and your opinion might be swayed. The Romanian Renault sub-brand has one primary aim – budget. That covers the cost of purchase as well as the cost of running, which is why all models come as standard with an ECO mode, stop/start and a gearshift indicator.
Entry-level Access models come with 16-inch steel wheels, central locking, manually adjustable door mirrors and pre-wiring for an audio system. It’s possible that the type of buyer of this Access model fits the bill of a rugged farmer that needs a reliable car to get from A to B, and nothing else.
Step up to mid-spec Ambiance for an audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel controls and front fog lights. You also get things that you’d expect to have on every model, such as body-coloured bumpers and 60:40 split folding rear seats. There is, of course, the Ambiance Prime special edition which throws in scarcely more than a new paint job and set of 16-inch alloy wheels.
It’s Lauréate that will more than likely take most of the orders, with necessities like air conditioning, cruise control, a trip computer, electrically adjustable door mirrors and electric rear windows. This is the first model to get alloy wheels, which measure 16 inches. If you’re still left looking for more, Prestige models get a touchscreen satellite navigation unit with a reversing camera and rear parking sensors. Nevertheless, depending on your engine choice, you can have this model for a little under £14,000.
Engine choice isn’t extensive, however what Dacia offers makes sense. There’s a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol (SCe 115), a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol (TCe 125) and a 1.5-litre turbodiesel (dCi 110), all of which can be had with front- or all-wheel-drive. Both petrol engines promise to return between 41.5 and 46.3 mpg, with the diesel claiming up to 64.2 mpg. The petrols models will cost between £130 and £185 a year in road tax, with the diesel costing £30 in front-wheel-drive guise (or £110 for the 4×4).
We tested both the TCe 125 4×2 and the dCi 110 4×4. Both were finished in Lauréate trim with additional extras including the 7-inch navigation touchscreen (£450) and a rear parking camera (£400) which isn’t totally necessary thanks to the adequate all-round visibility. We noted that, despite there being plenty of room to get comfortable behind the wheel, there was not enough space for the driver’s clutch foot to rest, having to brush the pedal every time. There was also a lot of travel in the brake pedal before any action started happening which is something to get used to.
In terms of true MPG, we averaged in the early 40s for the dCi 110 4×4 (60.1 mpg claimed), however with ECO mode enabled, we managed to nurture the figure up to 60. Don’t forget, fuel economy is highly dependent on countless conditions. The TCe 125 4×2 returned in the early 30s under realistic driving, however we managed to reach the late 40s in ECO mode and a light right foot (46.3 mpg claimed). Unfortunately, we haven’t had a personal experience with the SCe 115, however owners claim to be receiving around 33 mpg.
We were particularly impressed with the in-gear pull. Following the gearshift indicator, we ended up changing up at abnormally low revs, however the turbocharged engines were not at all phased by steep hills in excessively high gears. Unfortunately, the diesel engine was course under acceleration, which is why we would recommend the TCe 125 engine. In fact, this turbo-petrol was rewarding and fun to drive, begging to be pushed. Thanks to the 215/65R16 tyres, the ride is not excessively harsh or bumpy.
In terms of off-road ability, the Dacia Duster can wade to depths of 35 cm. Its ground clearance is 20.5 cm (21 cm for 4×4 models). It also packs a generously sized boot, with between 408-475 litres available depending on the model, and up to 1,636 with the rear seats down. All models can tow up to 1,500 kg (braked), or 580-695 kg (unbraked).
Rivals for the Dacia Duster include the Suzuki Vitara and Skoda Yeti, and this is where the Duster starts to show its real appeal. The most expensive Duster configurable comes in at just below £17,000. The cheapest Yeti? £17,210. Ok, the Duster is not that exciting, but we definitely wouldn’t turn our noses up at it, and would even recommend it to those in the market of a practical, affordable workhorse.