The second generation Dacia Duster continues to offer a trendy compact 5-door SUV Crossover for supermini money. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
A new car for the price of a second hand one is always a tempting prospect and when it's as smartly styled and capable as Dacia's Duster, the concept becomes particularly appealing. Undercutting rival models in the small SUV segment by an enormous amount, this Romanian budget brand uses proven Renault engineering to create a very likeable product that could prove ideal as back-up family transport. This second generation version gets more technology and a bit of extra polish, otherwise, the basic recipe's pretty much unchanged. Dig down the back of the sofa for some money and join the queue to try one.
The original Duster SUV was the car that really built the Dacia brand. Launched in 2009, it was far better than any model in this class had a right to be for less than £10,000 but it did have a few rough edges - enough to keep some buyers in the compact SUV segment loyal to more established brands.
You always felt that if this Renault-owner manufacturer could add a bit of extra quality, technology and polish to this value-orientated recipe, then it would be well set. We're told that this is exactly what's happened in creation of this second generation model. There are now features that Dacia buyers won't be used to - things like climate control, curtain airbags, blindspot warning, keyless entry and much more. And it's all been put together with a bit more love. Sounds promising.
Cut back on cost and you also cut back on expectations. Admit it - you didn't think the Duster was going to be any good at all to drive. It may well come as quite a surprise then, to learn that the market consensus in Europe, where this car has been a huge sales success, is that this Dacia has the sort of ride/handling compromise that would shame rivals many thousands of pounds more expensive. Engine-wise, first up is the 1.6-litre Sce 115hp unit familiar from other compact Renault and Dacia models. It's a decent choice, far more efficient than the old 1.6 offered in the MK1 Duster and offering a lot more pulling power. There's also a more modern 1.3-litre Tce turbo petrol unit, available with either 130 or 150hp. If you need more torque, you'll be directed towards the 1.5-litre BluedCi diesel.
All the engines offer the option of 4WD, the same Nissan-engineered three-mode system as was in the previous model, selectable via a rotary controller in front of the gear stick. Most of the time you'll be in '2WD', but in wet or icy conditions, there's the peace of mind of being able to switch seamlessly to 'Auto' so that extra traction will automatically cut in when necessary. For mud-plugging meanwhile, you'll want to keep all wheels turning permanently by switching to the 'Lock' setting.
Design and Build
Though this second generation Duster model looks familiar, Dacia says that not one body panel has been carried over from the previous generation car. A redesigned bonnet flows into a more distinctive grille extending to the head lights that makes the car look wider. This is flanked by a more distinctive lighting signature that includes LED daytime running lamps. A larger, mass-coloured, scratch-resistant front skid plate reinforces Duster's adventurer credentials. A higher belt line adds to the impression of robustness and protection while the windscreen has been brought forward 100mm and is more steeply raked, which makes the cabin appear more spacious.
Ah yes, the cabin. That's been redesigned too. The smarter centre console accommodates a higher-positioned MediaNav multimedia touchscreen display viewed from more supportive seats. The window glass is thicker for greater refinement and there's extra cabin storage too. Of course, if you look for them, there are signs of cost-cutting, but everything's been decently put together and the boot's a decent size, offering 445 litres for the 2WD version and 376 litres for the 4WD variant. That's the same as the old model. As for rear seat accommodation, well, there's actually more space here than you'd find in most compact 4x4s, with reasonable levels of head, leg and shoulder room for two and, on shorter journeys, even for three.
Market and Model
While the thought of owning a trendy compact SUV/Crossover-style model for less than £10,000 might be the thing that gets people into Dacia showrooms, the car that satisfied prospective buyers end up driving out of them will probably require a very differently-sized cheque. Still one though, that'll offer a considerable saving on comparable models from other brands.
Dacia's ethos is to keep things simple and no-nonsense - so the line-up is no different. There are four trim levels to choose from; 'Access', 'Essential', 'Comfort' and 'Prestige'. 'Access trim', available from £9,995, features 16-inch steel wheels, electric front windows - and not a lot else. You'll probably want at least to find the £1,600 premium for 'Essential' trim, which adds 16-inch 'Fidji' steel wheels, body coloured front and rear bumpers, manual air conditioning, a DAB radio with steering-column mounted controls and Bluetooth connectivity.
Comfort spec adds 16-inch 'Cyclade' alloy wheels, a front-seat armrest, a leather steering wheel, a rear parking camera and sensors, electric rear windows, heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors, MediaNav 7" touchscreen multimedia system with navigation and an on-board computer. The top 'Prestige' version, gives you 17-inch 'Diamond-cut' alloy wheels, a multi-view camera, blind spot warning, climate control and keyless entry.
Cost of Ownership
You'll find the Duster not only inexpensive to buy but similarly cheap to keep on the road. Or at least you will providing you avoid the relatively old-tech 1.6-litre SCe 115 petrol model. In front wheel drive form, this delivers an unremarkable combined cycle figure of 43.4mpg. This takes a dive to 40.7mpg should you opt for the four-wheel drive chassis. Emissions are 149 and 158g/km for two and four-wheel drive petrol models respectively. For the more modern TCe 130 turbo petrol unit with front wheel drive, the figures are 47mpg on the combined cycle and 137g/km of CO2.
For some buyers though, only a diesel will do. With a Dacia 1.5-litre dCi, you'll see 64.2mpg from a front-driver and 115g/km of CO2.
As for peace of mind, well Dacia has chosen to cock a snook at the Koreans by - and I quote - 'deciding not to force buyers into paying a premium for a longer warranty they might not want'. You may disagree, but at least if you do, you've the option of extending the standard 3 year/60,000 mile cover with an affordably-priced five or seven year policy.
So. Here's the bottom line. New cars are often a lot more expensive than perhaps they need to be, especially in fashionable market sectors like those for Crossover 4x4s. It's a trend manufacturers try and justify with high technology that's certainly very impressive but which many buyers neither appreciate nor really want. These are the people being targeted here by what continues to be a very clever package indeed, one that gives you almost everything you need - and nothing you don't.
The things it can't offer - cutting edge handling, hi-tech equipment levels and a soft-touch trendy cabin - become irrelevant when you consider the asking price. A figure that in 4x4 models buys you off road ability that betters that of some rivals costing nearly twice as much. And in whatever guise you choose, you'll find a Duster smartly styled, practically finished and affordable to run. Enough to make it a better bet than a late, low mileage second hand Crossover/4x4 rival? Many will think so.