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Dacia Duster 4×4 (2012 – ) expert review

By Andy Goodwin and Dan Tye, 27th September 2012

The verdict

Don’t think you can afford a new 4x4? The Dacia Duster changes all that. It’s a practical workhorse for the price of a supermini, with a certain amount of charm thrown in for good measure.

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Expert rating:

3.3

Pros

  • Segment-busting price
  • Reliable and robust
  • Hugely practical

Cons

  • Access trim level re-invents ‘basic’
  • Only top trim gets air-con
  • Utilitarian character won’t suit everyone

Full Review

1. Exterior

With short overhangs, pumped up wheelarches and a wide grille, the Dacia Duster is a good-looking small 4×4. The entry-level £8,995 Access model might look utilitarian with steel wheels and black plastic bumpers, but we think the Duster has a certain farm charm in this guise. Top Laureate versions have painted exterior trim, chrome roof rails, alloy wheels and fog lights.

Our rating: 3

2. Interior

Considering the Duster is a complete bargain, the quality of the interior is passable. However, if you want a car with the best materials and latest gadgets, you’ve stumbled onto the wrong review. Instead, the Duster is comfortable, functional and robust, although the still-affordable top trim offers upmarket additions like piano black interior trim and leather for the steering wheel.

Our rating: 2

3. Practicality

This is where the Duster sends shockwaves through the industry. With a supermini budget, you can plonk a 4×4 on your shopping list. With all five seats in place, the boot offers 475 litres – a commodious 180 litres more than a similarly priced Ford Fiesta. It even beats the Nissan Qashqai (410 litres) and Skoda Yeti (416 litres), and the boot space can be extended to 1,636 litres with the rear seats folded down. The car’s extra ground clearance and four-wheel drive also make it usefully capable for getting around in awkward conditions. Its low price (yes, we’ve mentioned it again), big bumpers and chunky tyres should also mean small knocks won’t ruin your month.

Our rating: 5

4. Ride and handling

The Duster is designed to soak up the bumps – it’s a rugged 4×4 after all – but the driving experience is more enjoyable than you’d expect. The soft suspension means you’ll notice a small amount of body roll when turning, but grip levels are good. The steering feels light, and it’s not that direct slightly either side of the straight ahead, but it soon tightens up when the steering wheel is moved further round. Choose the four-wheel drive version if you plan to go off-road, otherwise we’d recommend the front-wheel drive model as it’s a little cheaper to buy and run.

Our rating: 3

5. Performance

There’s either a 105bhp petrol or a 110bhp Renault-derived diesel with two- or four-wheel drive. Acceleration from zero to 62mph takes between 11.5 and 12.5 seconds, with top speeds just above 100mph. Both engines provide adequate pace for keeping up with traffic, but it’s worth spending the extra for the diesel, as the petrol has to be worked harder and suffers from poor refinement.

Our rating: 2

6. Running costs

Again, the diesel is the one to plump for, with claimed economy of 56.5mpg (53.3 with four-wheel drive) and emissions of 130g/km of CO2 (or 137g/km). By contrast, the petrol can only manage 39.8mpg and emits 185g/km of CO2. Insurance groups of between 7 and 10 are respectably low.Servicing is required once each year, or every 12,000 miles – whichever comes first.

Our rating: 4

7. Reliability

The Duster has been built using tried and tested technology (it shares its basic underpinnings with the Qashqai, and uses Renault engines) to a relatively simple specification. It seems to be a good recipe for reliability, as Dacia was voted Europe’s most reliable car brand in 2012 in a survey of 30,000 customers.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

Sadly, one area where costs have been cut is safety. There are four airbags as standard, but no curtain airbags even as an option. Euro NCAP gave the Duster a poor three-star score, in part because many versions do not come with ESP as standard.

Our rating: 2

9. Equipment

There are three trim levels to choose from: ‘Access’, ‘Ambiente’ and ‘Laureate’. While the first is tantalisingly cheap, few are expected to sign on the dotted line, as it’s less well-equipped than a new tractor. There’s no stereo, just electric front windows. The next rung brings a radio/CD player with Bluetooth and inputs for your ‘phone, body-coloured bumpers, 60/40 folding rear seats, front fog lights and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. The top dog – and expected best-seller – has fripperies including the likes of air-con, alloy wheels and a trip computer.

Our rating: 3

10. Why buy?

For the price, there is nothing else like the Duster. You can buy a new 4×4, with a full warranty, for the cost of a used model. And, while it’s the price which steals headlines, the Duster itself is also a likeable 4×4, which is already finding fans fast.

Our rating: 5

Expert review 3.3stars

  • Exterior3
  • Interior2
  • Practicality5
  • Ride and handling3
  • Performance2
  • Running costs4
  • Reliability4
  • Safety2
  • Equipment3
  • Why buy?5

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:

Duster 1.6 Access

This might be more basic than some vans, but we like its simple charms

Best-seller:

Duster 1.5 dCi Laureate

We like toys in the UK, so the top spec is a popular choice

Blow the budget:

Duster 1.5 dCi 4×4 Laureate

The best engine, comfort and all-weather ability

With a supermini budget, you can now plonk a 4×4 on your shopping list