Dacia Duster Comfort review
Should you pick two or four-wheel drive for the Dacia Duster?
Even though the Dacia Duster was thoroughly redesigned in 2018, it’s still the UK’s cheapest SUV. The Access model starts at under £11,000 and offers a spec so spartan that you might be surprised it’s on sale in this form in the year 2019; air-conditioning, wheel covers, roof bars and even a radio are all absent.
Here, though, we’re testing the Comfort spec, which sits above Access and Essential but below top-spec Premium and limited-edition Techroad. This car has the diesel engine and four-wheel drive but do you really need them - especially when the car is approaching £18,000?
All Duster models get hill-start assistance, a speed limiter, emergency braking, electric front windows and auto-high beam assistance. Essential includes Bluetooth, a DAB radio body-coloured bumpers, fog lights and air conditioning, while Comfort adds a trip computer, cruise control, alloy wheels, electric rear windows and a seven-inch touchscreen. The screen includes sat nav, traffic updates, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and the display for the reversing camera. Being four-wheel drive, the model we’re testing also has hill descent control and a 4x4 monitor.
If recent winters are still fresh in your mind, you might think you need the extra security of the four-wheel-drive model. But unless you live somewhere that gets frequent bad weather, or you’re planning to tow with your Duster, we’d recommend avoiding it. The similarly affordable Suzuki Jimny is better off-road, and four-wheel drive will reduce your fuel economy - plus it makes the car more expensive to buy in the first place.
The difference between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive is £2,000 across the range, which suddenly makes this budget SUV much less affordable. You’ll be going to the filling station more often too, as the front-drive diesel manages 57.6mpg and the four-wheel-drive returns 48.7mpg. With 0-62mph taking 12.1 seconds, acceleration isn’t a reason to buy the four-wheel-drive version either. For company-car drivers, the four-wheel-drive car also has a higher Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) rating than the front-drive model.
Unless you do a lot of miles, you might be better off in one of the two turbocharged petrol engines. The TCe 130 and the new TCe 100 engines are £1,000 and £2,000 cheaper than the two-wheel-drive diesel - meaning you could save up to £4,000 compared to the four-wheel-drive diesel model. It’s worth noting that you’ll only manage around 40mpg, but the money you save on the purchase price offsets this. We’d suggest avoiding the entry-level non-turbocharged SCe 115 petrol engine, as it’s not very efficient and may struggle at motorway speeds.
While the Duster is hardly the best-driving SUV available, the four-wheel-drive models aren’t particularly enjoyable to drive. The gear ratios are very short, to help with towing and low-speed traction, and sixth gear is asked for at 40mph. Should you want to accelerate from this position, the Duster will take its time building speed. For the majority of the time, the Duster will automatically run in two-wheel-drive mode, but there is a ‘Lock’ setting for when the going gets tough.
Elsewhere, the Duster’s qualities still apply. It’s still a no-nonsense SUV that’s rugged, tough and practical.
Verdict - 3/5
The cheapest Dacia Duster models make the most sense because the car is aimed at the budget-conscious, but the Comfort model is good if you can stretch to it. It adds plenty of essentials and luxuries, and it’s affordable without being too obvious about its low price. Top-spec Premium and Techroad models aren’t worth the extra money but Comfort seems to strike a fine balance, unless you opt for this four-wheel-drive diesel model. You can only have four-wheel-drive with the diesel engine, and it’s too expensive for a budget model. Unless you really need it, the two-wheel-drive models are much easier to recommend.