Dacia Duster SUV review
"The great-value Dacia Duster will have you asking why other SUV models are so pricey"
- Fantastic value
- Spacious interior
- Appealing style
- Average economy
- Outdated petrol engine
- 3-star safety rating
Since appearing in the UK in 2013, Dacia built a reputation based on exceptional value for money. No model exemplifies this more than the Dacia Duster, an SUV that almost matches the Nissan Qashqai for size but with a price that undercuts the Nissan Micra supermini – and has running costs to match.
The latest generation is just as strong on value as its predecessor – its starting price is a little higher, but so is its level of standard safety equipment. It's reassuring that Dacia has stuck to its non-nonsense roots at a time when SUVs have never been more fashionable – the Skoda Karoq, SEAT Arona and Renault Captur are just some of a rapidly growing list of rivals. In 2019, new petrol engines were introduced in an attempt to keep the Duster up to speed with the competition.
With the Duster having become such a well loved and widely recognised machine, you can't blame Dacia for wanting the latest model to closely resemble the original. Indeed, although Renault's Romanian sister company boasts that the Duster's sheet-metal was all-new for 2018, the shape, proportions and character barely changed from before.
Look closer, though, and you'll find many new details. The Duster wears Dacia's latest corporate style: the grille – wider than before – is flanked by headlamps with a more three-dimensional look. The window line is slightly raised compared to before, too, for a tougher look, and the impression of strength is further expressed by boldly flared wheelarches front and rear. Park the first and second-generation Dusters next to each other, and today's model is a more desirable-looking machine.
There are five different power options for the Duster, including three standard petrols, a Bi-Fuel model that uses petrol and LPG, and one diesel. New for 2020, the 99bhp TCe 100 Bi-Fuel is offered alongside the entry-level TCe 100 petrol engine. This engine is only available on front-wheel-drive Dusters across the Essential, Comfort, SE Twenty and Prestige trim levels.
A pair of more powerful petrol models are also available, badged TCe 130 and TCe 150. These have the same 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine offered with 128bhp and 148bhp respectively. As before, front and four-wheel-drive versions are offered but no automatic gearbox is yet available.
The 113bhp 1.5-litre Blue dCi 115 diesel engine is available on the Essential model and upwards and can be specified on both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models. The two-wheel-drive version is quicker by 1.6 seconds to 62mph, as well as slightly more economical.
In true Dacia style, the range is opened by a no-frills Access edition that betrays the secret to the Duster's bargain price – many of the niceties that SUV buyers take for granted are absent on this price-leading model. That means no radio and no air-conditioning, but standard electric windows, remote-control central locking and LED daytime running lights mean the Access isn't altogether uncivilised.
Many will be happier with the 'Essential' model, though, which introduces air-conditioning, a DAB-equipped stereo with Bluetooth connectivity and a smartened-up exterior with front foglights – and all without breaking the £12,000 barrier. Further upmarket, the Comfort adds sat nav, alloy wheels, cruise control and an on-board computer.
The special edition SE Twenty spec adds unique styling and interior features over the Comfort trim, including ‘diamond-cut’ 17-inch alloy wheels, unique ‘SE Twenty’ graphics and blue accents to both the exterior and interior. It also adds blind-spot warning, and an all-round camera.
Range-topping Prestige cars also get 17-inch alloy wheels, with the addition of plusher upholstery, climate control and keyless entry.
While the additional kit of the last two models has appeal, we recommend that you pair your sat-nav-equipped smartphone with the value-packed 1.0-litre petrol TCe Essential for a fantastic value SUV with rugged looks and all the space you could need. There's loads of space inside for a growing family and the interior is smartly designed, even if the materials aren't all from the top drawer. It's even a fairly enjoyable car to drive – it doesn't have reflexes as sharp as the SEAT Arona's, but it's stable, grippy and doesn't lean too heavily in corners.
It's disappointing, though, that the extra safety kit of the range-topping Prestige can't be added to other models as an option – and features like autonomous emergency braking and active cruise control are conspicuously absent. Given the Duster's attractive pricing, we wouldn't expect them to be necessarily standard, but it seems an oversight that they're not available at all. As a result of this independent crash-test experts Euro NCAP gave the latest Duster an undistinguished 3-star safety rating.
Dacia's last-place finish in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey doesn't inspire confidence, either, but the results largely refer to the Duster's even cheaper Dacia Sandero stablemate. The latest Duster certainly has a lot to offer – it's a big step forward from its predecessor where design and desirability are concerned and a lack of sophisticated safety equipment is the only real blot on its copybook.