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Dacia Duster review (2012 onwards)
Summary - First look at the Car of the Year contender that arrives in the UK in 2012. Makes more sense as an £11,000 car than the £16,000 4x4 evaluated here.
We like - Great diesel engine, attractive pricing, honest workmanlike approach to motoring
We don't like - Shallow boot space, tyre noise, poor control layout
Dacia is a Romanian car manufacturer, long associated with building Renaults under licence and now totally owned by the French manufacturer. Dacia will launch a range of models in the UK in 2012.
These are aggressively priced cars aimed at markets all around the world. The technology is Renault's but not usually of the latest iteration - you pay your money and take your choice.
The Duster is a crossover of sorts - it looks a bit like an SUV but you can buy it with front-wheel drive instead of four-wheel drive and save financially as well as cutting back on CO2.
To quote Renault: "There is a genuine need around the world for a comfortable, robust and affordable 4x4, a demand that is not currently being met." The Duster aims to fill that gap, at supermini prices.
Though there is a petrol engine on offer, the sensible buyer will opt for the diesel, which in this 4x4 Duster is a familiar Renault 1.5-litre with 110hp.
It's a fine match for this Dacia, powering it along such real gusto that there's little need to exploit all the six gears. The engine is so flexible you could probably get away with second, fourth and sixth.
And anyway, first gear is a particularly low one in this 4x4 Duster, designed to help you crawl through tricky terrain. It does the off-roading bit pretty well, too.
There's a knob low down on the fascia that lets you select front-wheel-drive (for economy), four-wheel-drive, or auto, which engages the back wheels only when the extra grip is called for.
We went wading through a reasonably deep river and the Duster ploughed happily on, all four wheels scrabbling a bit as they powered the Romanian car out onto the bank at the other side.
It also has the necessary underbody design that makes rough stuff more than a novelty factor and, indeed, even the front-wheel-drive Duster has ability with the right tyres fitted.
Ride and handling
This isn't a tall car in the usual SUV tradition, more like a high estate car or, heaven forbid, remarkably similar in stance to a BMW X1. Which means it's less susceptible to tilting in the bends.
Not that the Duster is particularly sophisticated here - the cost of budget engineering. The ride is slightly lumpy, the tyres noisy, the gearchange notchy.
But there is power steering and it's easy enough to drive. Just don't expect anything like parking sensors or a reversing camera.
Once inside, the world of budget car cost cutting is instantly apparent. Everything is a bit rudimentary, with a solid plastic dash, a stereo from the last millennium and switches all over the place - mostly out of easy reach and vision.
Still, the Duster is reasonably comfortable, and is certainly roomy for a car of this price - three teenagers or two adults would be content in the rear seats.
It's practical too. Befitting a car that will find its way into the third world backwaters, there is a full sized spare wheel beneath the boot floor.
That will please some buyers, but it impacts on luggage space, which is very shallow indeed. The rear backrests flop down onto the cushions when necessary.
Economy and safety
This 1.5-litre Renault diesel has a vast range of power options, with the 110hp here at the top end and so least likely to give good returns. Yet the statutory figures say an average of 50mpg and CO2 of 145g/km.
The Duster's light weight helps here, so those looking for a substantial 4x4 might need to look elsewhere. Twin airbags are standard on all models, more are possible depending upon the final UK specification.
The MSN Cars verdict
Let's be honest here. There's a place for well-priced, elementary cars. But in the UK not many people really seem to want them.
The Dacia Duster has its strengths - it's a decent car. We reckon though, that a nice used Toyota or Skoda will be most buyers' preference.
|Need to know|
|Engines, diesel||1.5 Turbo|
|Power, hp||90 - 109|
|Torque, lb ft||109 - 177|
|0-62 mph, secs||11.8 - 13.8|
|Top speed, mph||97 - 107|
|Mpg combined||35.3 - 56.5|
|CO2, g/km / tax||135 - 185 / 18% - 25%|
|Ratings||Dacia Duster dCi Prestige 4x4|
|Ride & handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||***|
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