Winner of our Best Value New Car two years on the trot in 2019 and 2020 and from the manufacturer that won Best Value Brand in the 2021 Auto Trader New Car Awards, the Dacia Duster is an established favourite among cost conscious buyers. But there’s more to it than just affordability, the chunky SUV styling and general sense of knockabout functionality all making it perfect for anything a family can throw at it. For those who need it the all-wheel drive version is impressively handy in the rough stuff, too. Now updated with new infotainment tech, an automatic gearbox option and with improved safety and driver assistance features this refreshed Duster is more appealing than ever.
“The option of a ‘Bi-Fuel’ version able to run on LPG (liquified petroleum gas) means you can in theory go for over 700 miles between fills”
Dacia always impresses with how far it makes your money go, its finance offers always competitive with low deposits and affordable monthly payments. It also keeps things very simple for buyers, with just three trim levels, an easy to understand range structure and ‘everything included’ policy that leaves metallic paint and a spare wheel as the only potential additional costs. With no hybrid option and relatively high Benefit In Kind across the range the Duster won’t appeal to company drivers so much but for private owners running costs look very appealing, and the option of a Bi-Fuel version able to run on LPG (liquified petroleum gas) means you can in theory go for over 700 miles between fills thanks to a bigger tank on this updated model. The LPG network varies depending on where you live but, given it can cost half as much as petrol, can offer big savings if you’re able to run your Duster on it. The rest of the time you can just drive it on petrol as normal, the car switching automatically if the LPG tank runs out.
Expert rating: 5/5
Reliability of a Dacia Duster
“The Duster’s inherent simplicity counts in its favour”
Dacia is owned by Renault and the Duster shares foundations, engines and various other bits with others in the family like the Clio and Captur. That’s a good thing as Renault, like the other French brands, has worked hard to overturn lazy stereotypes about flaky reliability and now builds dependable cars. The Duster’s inherent simplicity counts in its favour here, too and Dacias typically score well on owner satisfaction and reliability studies.
Expert rating: 4/5
Safety for a Dacia Duster
“This updated Duster now has the safety features and driver assistance functions customers expect”
In our test of the previous Duster we marked it down for its lack of safety gear and, unfortunately, because this is just an update and not an entirely new car that unfavourable NCAP score remains in place. Good news? While we’d still like to see airbags in the back this updated Duster now has the safety features and driver assistance functions customers expect, and regulations demand. Emergency braking assistance is now standard across the range, along with a combined speed limiter and cruise control function. Mid-level Comfort trim adds Hill Descent Control on all-wheel drive versions, along with a rear-view camera and parking sensors, while the top Prestige model gains blind spot alerts and multi-view cameras handy for judging your distance from the kerb.
Expert rating: 3/5
How comfortable is the Dacia Duster
“Dacia sensibly plays to the strengths of the format by setting the Duster up for maximum bump swallowing comfort”
Where many manufacturers fall into the trap of trying to make their high-riding SUVs and crossovers corner like regular hatchbacks Dacia sensibly plays to the strengths of the format by setting the Duster up for maximum bump swallowing comfort. Sure, that means it feels a bit wallowy sometimes and your passengers won’t thank you if you try and throw it around but the flipside is speedbumps and potholes leave it unruffled and, on narrow country lanes, if you have to grab a bit of verge to make room for an oncoming tractor you won’t think twice about dipping the wheels into the rough stuff. Most Dusters are only front-wheel drive but if you need proper off-road capability the all-wheel drive one is properly handy, and also gets more sophisticated rear suspension as an added bonus.
Inside the seats get new fabric upholstery as part of this update and slimline headrests up front to improve forward visibility for those in the back – handy for staving off car sickness in younger passengers. The front seats are perhaps a little bit soft and unsupportive for racking up serious mileages but you do at least now get a proper arm rest between them and an extra stowage bin beneath it. For a relatively small car the rear bench is viable for three passengers for shorter journeys and the boot is both decently large and usefully shaped, so should swallow tons of kit. This and the no-frills functionality are among the reasons the Duster makes such a great family car, the fact it doesn’t cost the earth meaning you’ll be less worried about the wear and tear life with the little terrors can inflict.
Expert rating: 4/5
Features of the Dacia Duster
“The vast majority of Duster buyers opt for the more generously equipped Comfort and Prestige models”
Those looking to keep costs to a minimum are served by the very basic feeling Essential trim, the steel wheels and unpainted door handles contributing to a very utilitarian look that actually suits the Duster rather well. You only get a basic stereo with a CD player (remember them?) aux-in and USB, though you can at least connect your phone via Bluetooth and control it from the steering wheel. The vast majority of Duster buyers opt for the more generously equipped Comfort and Prestige models, both getting a new infotainment cluster based around an 8.0-inch touch-screen. This can run CarPlay or Android Auto and on the Comfort you’ll be using your phone apps for finding your way, Prestige getting increased functionality including built-in nav. The interface is a little fiddly and slow to use but it does bring the Duster up to date and looks a lot better than the smaller screen on the previous car. Opting for this top trim adds further luxuries like heated seats and climate control, which seemed well up to cooling the car on a baking hot day in the 30-degree heat we tested it in. Even in this form it still looks competitively priced against basic superminis, too!
Expert rating: 3/5
Power for a Dacia Duster
“On the Bi-Fuel version a simple button lets you manually switch between petrol and LPG”
Petrol versions use the TCe model designation and kick off with the basic 1.0-litre engine with 90 horsepower in its standard form or 100 horsepower if you go for the Bi-Fuel one with its additional LPG tank. In both versions the boosty power delivery gets you off the line smartly enough but quickly runs out of puff at higher speeds, though this is fine on the basis slow and steady suits the Duster’s image. On the Bi-Fuel version a simple button lets you manually switch between petrol and LPG, though once the gas runs out it defaults back to petrol power. The bigger 1.3-litre petrol is available in 130 horsepower and 150 horsepower options, the latter now available with the option of an automatic gearbox (known as EDC) off the back of customer demand. It’s the same as found on various Renaults and operates as smoothly and unobtrusively as you’d hope, this and the extra power helping the Duster find its feet somewhat.
If you want all-wheel drive on your Duster you can only have it with the 115 horsepower diesel, which makes for the most expensive combination in the range. In this context it makes for a great, affordable mini off-roader, as we enjoyed over the lumps, bumps and inclines of the special course Dacia laid out for us to try it on. Most buyers will be fine with the front-wheel drive ones but for those who live out in the sticks it’s a great option to have.