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Dacia Duster Access 1.6 4x4 review (2013 onwards)
Model: Dacia Duster Access
Bodystyle: Mid-size five-door SUV
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl 16v petrol, 105hp @ 5,750rpm, 109lb ft @ 3,750rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, selectable four-wheel drive
Performance: 12.8secs 0-62mph, 99mph top speed
Efficiency: 35.3mpg, 185g/km CO2
What is it?
This is the most affordable brand new SUV in the UK – the Dacia Duster. It’s not quite the least expensive version, since the one we’re testing has four-wheel drive, but it’s still a big hunk of car that’s presently priced at just £10,995.
Straight away we might as well tell you this is pretty damn good value for money.
With pricing like this – and the entry-level front-wheel Duster clocks in at £8,995 – Dacia is already making a splash in the UK car buying market. But in case the name isn’t familiar, the brand is Romanian in origin.
Not to fret, though; Dacia is also firmly part of the Renault family these days, and you’ll find its cars – which also include the very cheapest new wheels in the UK, the sub-£6,000 Sandero supermini – being sold out of Renault dealerships.
Access specification means it’s only available in white, there’s no factory-fit stereo, and you can’t even have air conditioning as an option
So, if you’re looking for no-nonsense but highly capable multipurpose transportation, step this way…
Where does it fit?
While this particular Duster isn’t the most basic version on sale, it is finished in the most basic trim level and fitted with the most basic engine.
The Access specification means it’s only available in white, there’s no factory-fit stereo (though Dacia does include the necessary wiring), and you can’t even have air conditioning as an option.
Access is also the only choice if you prefer petrol to diesel. The 1.6-litre unit fitted here might lack sophistication by modern standards, but this ought to bode reasonably well for reliability, and refinement is definitely acceptable.
The alternative 1.5-litre dCi turbodiesel costs at least another £2,500 if you want four-wheel drive, though it also offers more power (110hp), more torque (177lb ft), the promise of better fuel economy and a bump in standard equipment.
Is it for you?
Chances are, anyone looking at this is probably more attracted by the thought of an £11k SUV than the prospect of fancier fitted kit and a choice of paint colours. The Duster is, first and foremost, a functional vehicle – a means to an end.
In this case, that end includes a commanding view of the road ahead, chunky – even imposing – styling, and the prospect of good traction when the going gets a little more challenging. And in that respect there are no new rivals to the Duster at this price point.
Even the much smaller Suzuki Jimny costs more. Which scarcely seems credible.
The driving position makes you feel secure, and the Duster’s visual presence ensures other road users treat you with respect
So if you’re looking for alternatives you’ll be forced to shop used. And while that opens up an extremely broad spectrum of opportunity, for some people a second hand vehicle just won’t do – and we’re guessing this group includes you.
What does it do well?
The Dacia Duster is an extremely honest vehicle. It promises exactly what it is able to deliver – so while the driving experience may be a little rustic and the interior equipment sparse, this is absolutely in line with the amount it costs. No more, no less.
That’s far from saying the cabin is low rent or shoddy. It actually feels very well put together, a car that’s built to endure a bit of rough handling even if the trade-off is a comparative lack of soft-touch surfaces. Really, for £11,000 you couldn’t ask for better.
The driving position makes you feel secure, and the Duster’s visual presence ensures other road users treat you with not just respect but due care and attention.
Combine this with the limited investment demanded by the price, and the Duster represents almost the perfect vehicle for hacking around the narrow lanes of genuinely rural areas. Especially if you’re a driver of more nervous disposition, fed up with being bullied by other 4x4 owners.
What doesn’t it do well?
The Duster’s driving experience is absolutely not awful. However, it is a reminder that there has been a considerable amount of progress in this regard over the last few years.
With hydraulically rather than electrically assisted steering, there’s plenty of road chatter transferred from the surface to your fingertips, which can make it feel rather busy. The steering isn’t especially direct either – but that’s probably no bad thing, given the Duster’s dimensions.
The ride quality is similarly organic – it doesn’t smooth out the lumps and bumps as well as more expensive alternative machinery, yet it’s hardly end of the world uncomfortable as a result. There isn’t even excessive body roll, and when it does lean round the corners it remains well controlled.
The four-wheel drive system is Nissan technology - the Duster should prove dependable
However, one area where Dacia may represent a compromise too far is safety. The Duster has a limited (by 2013 standards) three Euro NCAP stars, you only get four airbags and stability control is notable by its total absence. As with the air-con, it’s not even optional on Access models.
What is it like to live with?
By far the most noticeably unusual thing about the Duster’s driving experience is the gearing. You get a six-speed gearbox on the 4x4 petrol (compared to just the five cogs in the front-wheel drive version), and the ratios are so closely stacked that you’ll swiftly learn you can skip every other gear when driving normally.
This effectively turns the Duster into a three-speed car – you can pull away quite easily in second – and as you can imagine, this might become a little tiring on the motorway. But the close gearing should prove genuinely useful if you plan to venture off-road, and it’s not hard to adapt the rest of the time.
The four-wheel drive system itself is proven Nissan technology, and as a car designed to cope with far more taxing driving environments than the UK – think Russia and Brazil, where the roads are often more ‘off’ than ‘on’ – the Duster should be dependable.
You can always buy an extended five- or seven-year warranty if you’re really worried; these are reasonably priced at £395 and £850, respectively, and protect your budget investment up to 60,000 or 100,000 miles.
For what is a big car in terms of road space, the Duster isn’t especially commodious inside, particularly in the rear. This is partly due Dacia’s shared platform policy – all of its cars are based on the same underlying structure for improved economy of scale and reduced costs.
How green is it?
You can’t have everything, right? So no surprise this chunky, four-wheel drive, petrol-powered vehicle isn’t the greenest choice under the sun. CO2 emissions are rated at 185g/km – that’s 20g/km more than the two-wheel drive variant – while claimed fuel economy is just 35.3mpg.
For the sake of comparison, we might as well tell you the diesel 4x4 offers 137g/km and 53.3mpg. As a result the petrol costs £220 a year to tax, the diesel just £125.
Would we buy it?
There is no question in our mind that the Duster deserves every success. It’s a unique proposition, but it doesn’t rely on this to make sense – it simply offers everything it needs to in order to deliver genuine satisfaction.
In this respect, the Access specification petrol is perhaps most faithful to the concept. If you’re never going to venture off-road, then the front-wheel drive version takes this further still – but for us, having that additional capability underlines the sheer audacity of this remarkable offering.
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