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- Outdated petrol engine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. That’s especially true of 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, 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 for 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. 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, 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 available on the Comfort 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 being slightly more economical.
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, the Comfort 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 Prestige 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 early 2022 a new Extreme SE trim was added to the Duster lineup. It’s the most expensive model yet, but still costs less than £20,000 - a serious price saving over rivals like the Renault Captur and Skoda Karoq. The Extreme SE carries over all of the equipment from the Prestige trim, and is available in a new Urban Grey paint shade that’s contrasted with black and orange trim and black alloy wheels. The interior also receives an extra dash of colour with orange 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 SE 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.
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 27th place finish in our 2021 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey is a slight improvement over the brand’s last place finish the year before, but doesn't exactly inspire confidence, either. It’s worth noting that the results largely refer to the previous Dacia Sandero, which has now been replaced with an all-new model. 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.