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More than great value, is the new model simply a great SUV? We aim to find out

Our Verdict

Dacia Duster 2018 road test review hero front

Romania’s value champion compact crossover enters a second model generation. It still might not be as refined as other SUVs, but the Duster is very much in a class of its own

Why we’re running it: To find out if Dacia's new Duster offer a few little luxuries to overtake more expensive rivals, while still being a practical workhorse

Month 4Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 4

Four adults and their kit, including three bikes, head for Snowdon. Then, 30 miles in… - 15th May 2019

In rock climbing circles, the concept of fun is categorised in three different ways. Bear with.

‘Type 1 fun’ is enjoyable the whole time that you’re doing the activity in question. At no point do you think: ‘This sucks. When will it end?’ Examples might be: eating doughnuts, skiing a freshly bashed piste, having a beer at sunset, driving a Caterham Seven around a dry Donington Park.

‘Type 2 fun’ sucks while you’re doing it, but you’re excited to boast about it at the pub that night, or you look back on the experience as character-forming. It’s retrospective fun. Examples are: doing an Ironman, driving a Mustang in the rain, cycling a Tour de France stage.

‘Type 3’ is an activity you anticipate to be fun, but the reality of it involves a lot of expletives, before you vouch never to do that again. Over the Easter weekend, I headed to the UK’s rock climbing capital, Snowdonia, with three of my closest compadres. My ‘sensible’ better half would go hiking in sunny weather that made it undoubtedly ‘Type 1 fun’. Meanwhile, we three, ‘less sensible’ lads would opt for ‘Type 2 fun’ in the form of two stupidly mountainous 50-mile bike rides.

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The plan was to cycle a full lap of Snowdon itself over the spectacular Pen-y-Pass, as well as ride some of Autocar’s favourite mountain roads around Bala. But before I get ahead of myself, we had to get there. And that should have been a relatively simple 245-mile task for our Dacia Duster.

Our first challenge was to precisely pack four adults, three road bikes, all the associated Lycra, helmets, locks and pumps, as well as a pot of plain Pringles, into the SUV. Ours has a towbar, allowing me to attach a bike rack. The Thule EuroRide 2 7-Pin is a delightfully simple and logical bit of kit. It’s a two-bike, heavy-duty rack that needs no instructions to quickly mount and unmount on a whim.

The fourth member of our cavalcade was not on the initial invite list, you see. He’d been doing training for an Ironman (see above: ‘Type 2 fun’) and therefore was classed as too fit to ride with the other two of us fat blokes. He twisted my arm, though. And, as such, we had to take the wheels and saddle off the third bike to fit it into the boot. I was astonished to see its frame slide on top of our luggage with little fuss. Two six-footplus lads slotted neatly onto the rear bench and off we went.

Within the first 30 miles, though, our journey quickly slipped away from being ‘Type 1 fun’. I was needlessly nervous about the bike rack carrying many thousands of pounds of MAMIL’s carbonfibre. But that panging nag faded into insignificance as two warning messages popped up on the Dacia’s dashboard: ‘Check Injection’ and ‘Check Anti-Pollution System’. Thankfully, this wasn’t the first time in my five months with the Duster. Last time, both my local dealer and the AA had told me it was okay to continue. Not wanting to ruin an Easter weekend for four fitness-frenzied millennials, we pressed on, assuming it was the same sensor issue as before.

And for the next 200 miles, as well as another 250 on the return leg, the Dacia performed admirably, in spite of the warning lights. We achieved more than 51mpg fully loaded. All four occupants were comfortable. Indeed, the six-foot Norse triathlon god slept in the back for most of it. Admittedly, his knees felt a bit like lumbar support, and my right elbow was sore on the plastic armrest, but the ride quality and space were very agreeable. To boot, the front-seat DJ delighted at the Bluetooth connectivity of her carefully curated records for the five-and-a-half-hour schlep.

So, as we rolled along the final section of A5, a stunning stretch of road in any car, we concurred that our trip was situated heavily in the ‘Type 2 fun’ camp. Not just because the cycling was to be beautifully brutal, but also because I would later brag, both in the pub and on this page, about perilously driving a Dacia 500 miles with two warning lights on through some of Britain’s most stunning scenery.

Love it:

Jam-busting sat-nav The sat-nav cleverly avoided real-time bank holiday traffic.

Loathe it:

My left foot There’s no space to rest your clutch foot on long journeys.

Mileage: 6153

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Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 3

Practical as you like - 24th April 2019

A modern family’s motoring needs extend not only to short-limbed toddlers but also an ageing population of grandparents. Having safely and simply stowed both octogenarian and nonagenarian in our Duster’s front seat at various times, I see the appeal of wide-opening doors, high seats and good seat adjustability.

Mileage: 4072

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“Of course we can explain the person in the boot, officer” - 10th April 2019

"I'm thinking of buying one for my wife. What’s it like?” asked the security guard. I was entering our habitual proving grounds for a day of filming some super-GTs for an Autocar YouTube feature.

I’ve been surprised how much attention the Duster has received from the general public. That’s to say this wasn’t the first time I’ve been accosted by Joe Public asking for a bite-sized review when in the company of some premium metal that itself gets totally ignored.

I guess that’s testament to both the accessibility of the car and the marketing campaign that has backed up Dacia’s launch of its facelifted SUV. What they’re really asking me is: ‘Can it really be that cheap and simultaneously any good whatsoever?’

Well, my answer to the security guard went as follows: “Apart from giving me a bit of a sore elbow from the scratchy plastics on the door, it does represent great value. It’s as practical as it gets for the money, but make sure you test drive the diesel as well as the petrol, as the gearbox and fuel economy are quite different.”

It has far more merit than that, though. The driving experience itself doesn’t feel particularly cheap. The steering accuracy in the pre-facelift car perhaps gave away its price tag, but this facet has been greatly improved with this generation.

And the practicality that I told the security guard of was on full show at the time. We had loaded up tripods and camera cases and sliders and spare clothing and traffic cones and three lattes and you get the picture. Later that day, we even put a videographer in the boot. Autocar film-maker Oli Kosbab noted the comfort levels when we did some car-to-car filming in the controlled environment that we work in. For us videographers, what we call ‘tracking shots’ are always a good ride test.

As Oli was sat in the boot, tripod in hand, he commented on how few vibrations came through the camera compared with a lot of cars. My money is on our Duster’s abundantly side-walled tyres having a major role in that. In the tighter corners, the car does pitch a little on its suspension, but you’d have to be filming out the back of it for that to be a problem. Additionally, the large load lip and multiple harness points make it a safe place in which to be filming one car from the boot of another.

On a separate note, to follow up on my 20 March report, the car is now once again free of warning lights. The Duster had a temperature sensor fail, and warned me to ‘check injection’ as I was cruising down the M3 in the remaining 50mph zone. Both Dacia Assist and the dealership I took the Duster to said that as the warning light was orange, not red, it would be okay to continue driving the car for a while if proceeding with caution.

This was fortunate as the group that runs some of my nearest Dacia dealerships was busy with new registrations and wouldn’t have been able to see the car for 12 days.

The sensor was cleaned and returned, but here’s hoping the rest of my tenancy is engine-management-light-free after the previous diesel emissions system sensor failure, which has also now been righted.

Love it:

No missing seatbelts The lever to fold the rear seats holds the seatbelt in position whether they are up or down.

Loathe it:

Or AdBlue information The on-board computer ought to give more detail on AdBlue levels and range.

Mileage: 3210

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Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 2 

An unexpected warning light - 20th March 2019

What do you mean ‘check injection’? The operator from Dacia Assist, run in partnership the RAC, told me to follow the 50:50 protocol. No, I didn’t know what it meant either. Apparently, because the warning light is orange, not red, I can drive the car for 50 miles, up to 50mph, to get it to a dealership. Find out next time if I make it.

Mileage: 2226

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Faulty sensor means a spell in a different Duster - 6th March 2019

"Petrol or diesel?” You know when you’re in the pub and that drunk bloke stooping at the end of the bar knows you’re into cars and keeps asking you the same generic question? Yeah, that’s not what I’m doing here. And no, I’m not about to settle decades of over-regulated red tape that has been the publicity plaything of politicians and policy makers alike.

Rather, I want to talk specifically about the engine options in the 2019-model-year Dacia Duster. That’s right: buckle up. But seriously, the dynamic differences between the two are significant. And unfortunately, it’s a question I’m answering rather sooner than I hoped.

During my tenure of the budget SUV, I’m running the Blue dCi 115 Comfort 4x2, which in plain English is the front-wheel-drive diesel. In terms of refinement, the engine is pretty good for any price point, let alone this bargain one. It pulls nicely from low revs, doesn’t make all that much noise and, my oh my, the range.

I don’t know why a decent range feels like such a luxury in 2019, but it’s a lovely feeling to not have to stop at a fuel station for weeks at a time. Over the festive period, I managed the annual London-to-Manchester-in-laws-odyssey and back on one tank, as well as a good chunk of local pootling in the north-west. I know there are a fair few rangey diesels out there but I am loving it.

It’s a decent cruiser on such journeys. It accelerates briskly enough and sits well at motorway speed, floating around the 50mpg mark on cruise control.

“This will be just perfect for me (the Autocar cameraman) and my load-lugging miles”, I thought, until… the dreaded warning light. After a month with the car, a little orange cloud popped up on the dashboard with the message ‘Check AntiPollution System’. How, I wondered? When the magnifying glass and a hammer didn’t get me anywhere, Dacia kindly and quickly reset the AdBlue sensor that was playing up and returned the car to me.

Those couple of days when I sent the car back gave me the opportunity to try the SCe 115 Comfort 4x2, which in plain English is the lower-powered front-wheel-drive petrol version.

What you immediately notice is the significant difference in torque. The petrol peaks at 115lb ft at 4000rpm compared with the 192lb ft that the diesel pulls on from just 1750rpm. This means you have to stamp on the throttle like an arachnophobe dispatching of a tarantula to make any progress in the petrol variant. The other main difference in the drivetrain is the gearbox, as the petrol has a five-speed rather than the diesel’s six. The five-speed simply doesn’t have as much length, so you have to fizz along using noticeably more revs on the motorway.

When it comes to counting the pennies in your pocket, the diesel has an initial £2000 mark-up over the 115bhp petrol engine. However, the 51.3mpg claimed for the diesel unit on the WLTP cycle trumps 35.3mpg for the petrol. Both of these are actually fairly achievable in my experience. It would take about 40,000 miles to recoup the steeper outlay based on current fuel prices. Although Vehicle Excise Duty is the same for both in two-wheel-drive form, it’s worth noting that it’s £310 a year more if you pair this petrol unit with four-wheel drive.

Finally, we can’t ignore the TCE 130 4x2, which in plain English is a more powerful unleaded variant, offering both more muscle and more economy for a £1000 premium over lower-powered petrol.

All of this cost-scraping aside, the diesel experience is a much more enjoyable one because of its fuel range, performance and refinement. It’s surprising, then, that only around 25% of Dusters sold will be oil-burners, but such is the sway of public opinion at the moment. I, in plain English, am happy in the two-wheel-drive diesel for as long as the sensors are functioning.

Love it:

Cruising range More than 500 miles of range on a single tank of diesel.

Loathe it:

Plastic trim The cheap plastics in the car do feel cheap but, hey, the car is cheap.

Mileage: 1867

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Quality mismatch inside the cabin - 6th February 2019

I’m no good at Rollerblading, but I could do with digging out an old elbow pad. Just the one. Dacia’s interior now includes a leather steering wheel, the seats are better and there’s a comfy driver’s armrest for my left arm. But the door panel remains a hard and scratchy plastic that has your right elbow calling for protection.

Mileage: 1250

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Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 1

Welcoming the Duster to the fleet - 23rd January 2019

Forgive me for being sceptical, but when the first-generation Dacia Duster arrived in the UK, I wasn’t sure. It seemed counter-intuitive that a SUV could be desirable when costing so little.

But then I drove it. I drove it from London to John O’Groats and back. I drove it as part of a 4x4 mega-test against the off-roading old guard for Autocar’s YouTube channel – think Wranglers, Discoverys and Arctic Trucks Isuzus.

Sure, it had flaws: the steering was vague, the interior quality was visibly outdated, the ground clearance was lower than bigger dirt-displacing rivals. But the plucky Duster was more capable and comfortable across all terrains than I imagined it ever possibly could have been. And at every stage, you can’t help but remember just how bloody cheap it is. I was convinced.

Seemingly, I wasn’t the only one. These days, a Duster runs off the production line every 56 seconds. Now there’s a new one. This latest model addresses many of the criticisms that could be levelled at the last one.

The infotainment touchscreen has been raised by 74mm, which is a huge amount. That means you have to look away from the road much less. It also gets electric power steering, vastly improving the accuracy with which you can place the car or position yourself on a motorway cruise.

So we’re running the Duster to see if these improvements help the car cope with a workhorse lifestyle while affording luxuries that seem almost unthinkable at the penny-pinching cost. That’s why it’s been given to me – the video bloke, a job for which you are carrying lots of gear and need something solid, dependable, yet not too parsimonious in how it feels.

It’s also why we’ve specced it thus. As many of its miles will be munching up motorways, we picked the diesel-powered Blue dCi 115 engine for its frugal approach. On the WLTP cycle, the new Duster is claiming mpg in the mid-50s. Here’s hoping this two-wheel-drive variant will be as economical as the figures suggest.

Currently, the diesel powertrain represents just 25% of sales for the new Duster, despite much better fuel economy than its petrol counterpart. Clearly, that’s to do with the swell of public opinion away from the fuel type in general. In the first thousand or so miles of driving the Dacia, I’m already loving having a range of more than 500 miles.

Arguably another reason to pick the diesel is its partnership with a six-speed gearbox. As you may have read in the Autocar road test, the five-speed ’box paired with the petrol options perhaps leaves a little to be desired at the top of the range for motorway work. We’ll be sure to report on drivetrain comparisons throughout our tenure.

The next all-important option picked is the colour. Desert Orange paint costs £495 and is the most expensive extra on our car. Some call it brown, others gold, but either way this shimmering Saharan butterscotch hue has proved the most popular since launch. There are eight colours and all will cost you the same amount except for white.

Having been temporarily halted by a puncture in the far reaches of north-west Scotland in the previous Duster, the optional space-saving spare wheel also makes its way into the ticked boxes. That’s £150 worth spending, if you ask me.

Even in this specification, which includes Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, this bright brown bruiser only just knocks on the door of 16 grand. Okay, it’s a lot more than the headline figure of £9999 that gets shouted about in the catchy Dacia marketing spiel, but it’s still cheaper than rivals.

What are these rivals? The direct ones are probably the Suzuki Vitara and MG GS. Realistically, the Duster undercuts anything with comparable performance and practicality by a four-figure sum.

Louise O’Sullivan, head of Dacia UK and Ireland, meets us to hand over the keys and explains that they often find Nissan Qashqais in the basket of potential buyers. But that’s not the most premium badge mentioned.

The words Range and Rover seem to crop up in Louise’s vocabulary quite often too. Not that the Duster is aiming directly at the luxury marque – rather she tells of how Range Rover owners might purchase a Duster as the hack for their provincial pastures alongside the Vogue that’s perhaps used on less gruelling duties day to day. The other reason for mentioning the British brand in the same breath is that, in November, the Duster was the third-biggest-selling SUV in the UK, just 24 units behind the Evoque.

That’s where my original assumption on the first-gen Duster’s arrival to the UK was wrong. Making a shockingly affordable car is much more innovative than it first seems.

You see, outside of the walls of Autocar Towers, motoring is quite simply about mobility. The Duster offers more mobility to more people because it’s more affordable and more practical than anything that comes close to it. Being an SUV, it ought to carry around family members of all ages, as it’s easy for elder generations to climb in, while having space to fit all the clobber that comes with young ones.

Let’s press on and find out over the next six months if it can live up to such expectations.

Second Opinion

Previously, I ran an LPG Sandero which was as cheap to run as it was to buy. But inside it felt cheap, too. This second-generation Duster nudges in the right direction on perceived quality issues. There’s a fine line between cheap and good value, and this Dacia is on the right side of it.

Mark Tisshaw

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Dacia Duster Comfort BLUEDCI 115 4X2 specification

Specs: Price New £15,395 Price as tested £16,040 Options Metallic paint £495, Emergency spare wheel £150

Test Data: Engine 1461cc four-cylinder diesel Power 113bhp Torque 192lb ft at 1750rpm Kerb weight 1320kg Top speed 111mph 0-62mph 11.8sec Fuel economy 51.3-57.6mpg CO2 115g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Comments
20

3 March 2019
....but the cramped rear killed the deal.

My rugby playing sons were too squashed.

We bought a Honda Jazz instead which has much more rear leg room....

Steam cars are due a revival.

3 March 2019

From what I gather in articles regarding the above subjects, the Duster rating for reliability and safety are much below par. Certainly, safety is of much concern and it may explain the low price. 

3 March 2019

It seems outstanding value for money when you consider that underneath it is mechanically the same as the Mercedes A class, well at least the versions that use the 1461cc diesel engine. The small petrol engines fitted to the Merc A, Merc C class and the Dacia range are Renault clio units. Its all about economies of scale and cost savings. Which goes to prove that those people that buy the Mercs clearly disprove the theory that: "You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time". QED

3 March 2019

So far it appears that the automatic option offered on the diesel previous model has been dropped.  I'd be tempted if it were offered again.  Just as I revelled in the inverted snobbery of a Mk1 Skoda Octavia all those years ago, I admire the honest non-pretentious image of this car.

As for safety ratings, Dacia were open right from the start about their cars not getting higher ratings because it doesn't fit the plethora of (potentially unreliable) electronic "safety" aids that NCAP annoyingly (in my opinion) demands.  There's probably nothing wrong with the structural integrity of the bodyshell, which is the important thing.

4 March 2019
streaky wrote:

So far it appears that the automatic option offered on the diesel previous model has been dropped.  I'd be tempted if it were offered again.  Just as I revelled in the inverted snobbery of a Mk1 Skoda Octavia all those years ago, I admire the honest non-pretentious image of this car.

As for safety ratings, Dacia were open right from the start about their cars not getting higher ratings because it doesn't fit the plethora of (potentially unreliable) electronic "safety" aids that NCAP annoyingly (in my opinion) demands.  There's probably nothing wrong with the structural integrity of the bodyshell, which is the important thing.

I agree re ncap, these gadgets being the reason a formally 5star punto and 4star panda are now 0star cars, they should have to scores, one for actual crash test results and another for safety kit. As to this dacia, I'm sure you're probably right in suggesting that structurally and in the crash tests its better than its score suggests.

4 March 2019

Two scores!!!

4 March 2019

have a huge space to carry luggage in the car, nice car. Get rs 99 domain service for hosting details.

4 March 2019

Thanks for the complete review of the  tours paris Dacia Duster 2019 version. It really helps the readers to understand the condition and performance of the vehicle easily and completely. The site also helps the users to understand the hidden merits of the vehicle.

4 March 2019

reasonably shambolic looking car which is completely underated and has a the speed of a snail.

dw04

4 March 2019
DW04 wrote:

reasonably shambolic looking car which is completely overated and has a the speed of a snail.

dw04

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