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- Outdated petrol engine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
Verdict - Is the Dacia Duster a good car?
The Dacia Duster is one of the best value SUVs on sale, with a starting price of just over £17,000 that's at odds with its chunky styling and practicality. Thanks to its relatively light weight, the Duster is even rather fun to drive and frugal, no matter if you go for one of its petrol or diesel engines. Its interior isn't the last word in luxury, but a facelift in 2021 helped to keep things up to date and the latest Extreme trim gets copper trim accents for a fresh look. With four-wheel drive available as an option for the diesel engine, the Duster can even cope with slippery roads and mild off-roading.
Dacia Duster models, specs and alternatives
Since first appearing in the UK in 2013, Dacia built a reputation based on exceptional value for money. That’s especially true of the Dacia Duster, an SUV that almost matches the Nissan Qashqai for size but with a price that undercuts most superminis – and has running costs to match.
The latest generation is just as strong for 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 no-nonsense roots at a time when SUVs have never been more fashionable – the Skoda Karoq, SEAT Arona, Renault Captur and Ford Puma are just some of a rapidly growing list of rivals. A Bi-Fuel model capable of running on LPG and petrol was introduced in 2020, giving the Duster a unique powertrain option that’s not available in any of its rivals.
The Duster appeals thanks to its chunky styling and raised driving position, but we’d have to say that the new Dacia Jogger offers even more value for money. It gets seven seats and lots of practical touches, again for less than a basic supermini, although you do have to overlook its lack of high-tech safety features and its correspondingly poor safety result.
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. Originally introduced in 2018, the current Duster’s shape, proportions and character barely changed from the previous model. Only the finer details and lines have been updated to keep the latest model looking fresh.
The latest Duster wears a wider front grille that’s flanked by headlamps with a more 3D 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 wheel arches front and rear.
A facelift in late 2021 added several minor cosmetic changes to the Duster including a redesigned radiator grille, a range of updated alloy wheel designs and additional paint colours, and a new van-like commercial model. The biggest difference is the adoption of the brand’s ‘Y-Shaped’ light design for the headlights and tail lights, a signature already seen on the latest Dacia Sandero range. The brand also added new fabrics for the interior, along with a new centre console that adds extra storage space.
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 in top Extreme trims. The 99bhp TCe 100 Bi-Fuel is offered alongside the 89bhp entry-level TCe 90 petrol engine, allowing the driver to switch between petrol or LPG fuel, which is typically around half the price. Both of these engines come with a six-speed manual gearbox.
A pair of more powerful petrol models are also available, badged TCe 130 and TCe 150. Both are powered by the same 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine, with the 128bhp version getting a six-speed manual gearbox and the range-topping 148bhp variant coming with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The 113bhp 1.5-litre Blue dCi 115 diesel engine is only available on the top Extreme trim, and can be specified on both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models. The two-wheel-drive version is slightly more economical and cheaper to buy, so it would be our recommendation for most drivers.
In true Dacia style, the range was previously opened by a no-frills Access edition, but this has been discontinued. Many of the niceties that SUV buyers take for granted were 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 ensured the Access wasn't altogether uncivilised.
Many will be happier with the entry-level 'Essential' model, though, which introduces air-conditioning, cruise control and speed limiter, a DAB-equipped stereo with Bluetooth and USB connectivity and a smartened-up exterior with front fog lights – and all without breaking the bank. Further upmarket, Expression adds a rear-view camera, an eight-inch infotainment screen, sat nav, alloy wheels and an on-board computer. On balance, this is probably the pick of the range for value and equipment.
Range-topping Journey cars also get 17-inch alloy wheels, with the addition of plusher upholstery, climate control, a 'Multiview' camera, wireless smartphone connectivity and keyless entry, while still undercutting the majority of rivals on price.
In 2022 a new Extreme SE trim was added to the Duster lineup, and this was adopted as the Extreme trim in 2023. It’s the most expensive model yet, but still costs from around £20,000 with a petrol engine – a serious price saving over rivals like the Renault Captur and Skoda Karoq. The Extreme carries over all of the equipment from the Prestige trim, and gets contrasting black and copper trim and black alloy wheels. The interior also receives an extra dash of colour with copper trim dotted throughout and matching stitching on the seats and door cards. It’s fairly subtle, but the changes make the Duster stand out visually and lift the interior feel, while the small price increase over Prestige makes the Extreme an appealing option if you’re considering a high-spec model.
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.
The Duster is even a fairly enjoyable car to drive – it doesn't have reflexes as sharp as the SEAT Arona or Ford Puma, but it's stable, grippy and doesn't lean too heavily in corners.
It's disappointing, though, that 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 three-star safety rating.
The Dacia Duster's 14th-place finish out of 75 models in our 2022 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey is encouraging, especially its strong scores for reliability and running costs. The latest Duster certainly has a lot to offer – it's a big step forward from the Dacias of old where design and desirability are concerned, with a lack of sophisticated safety equipment being the only real blot on its copybook.