How do you fill a Land Rover Defender-sized hole? With another medium-sized, off-roading van, of course, says Charlie Flindt
The Dacia Duster Commercial could fill the hole in the market left by Land Rover Defenders. It may feel a bit inexpensive but as a basic, medium-sized, off-roading van, Charlie Flindt finds himself really rather pleased with it.
The last Defender may have rolled off the production line but all is not lost for Landy lovers. Would you have a Land Rover Discovery HSE Luxury?
DACIA DUSTER COMMERCIAL
What are we going to miss about the Land Rover Defender? Be honest – it never excelled in performance, load carrying capacity or comfort. True, they were unstoppable off-road and lasted a thousand years (although the disturbing recent trend for thieves to strip them down in situ has shortened their lifespan somewhat), but soon there will be a hole in the market for what was a basic, medium-sized, off-roading van. This hole has not gone unnoticed by a couple of manufacturers, one of which is Dacia, the Romanian company with strong links to Renault and Nissan.
The standard Duster has been a huge success for Dacia, selling well on a promise of unfashionable simplicity and respectable off-road performance. They even seem to be weathering a Lancia-like storm after rust appeared on some early production models. However, many dealers reported that scruffy, rural types kept appearing in the showrooms in filthy wellies, bringing bits of straw and strange smells with them, asking when a commercial Duster would be available, so Dacia has taken the hint.
The back seats have been removed and replaced with a rudimentary plastic load liner. The rear glass has been blacked over and, well, that’s about it: one medium-sized, off-road van. Dacia’s bargain 4×4 becomes even more of a bargain now VAT is reclaimable for business use.
DACIA DUSTER COMMERCIAL: INEXPENSIVE AND REALLY RATHER GOOD
And it’s really rather good. The 1.5 litre diesel engine is perky and old fashioned, pulling well at low revs. The four-wheel-drive system, the one featured in a billion Nissans, is surprisingly competent, with a switch to take you from 2WD to 4WD and a locking facility. There’s no low-ratio box but first gear is ultra-low geared to compensate. I loved the ground clearance and the approach angles, although some of the undercarriage looks a bit fragile. The Dacia Duster Commercial negotiated some sticky stuff in a way that reminded me of my favourite 4×4 ever: the Panda Mk 1. It’s simple but purposeful and – a huge plus in a world of skinny, space-saver wheels or tubes of repair glue – it has a full-size spare wheel.
On-road drivingin the Dacia Duster Commercial is civilised, too. It’s a bit noisy but handles well. The only weak-point is in the ergonomics. It’s hard to get comfy in the cheap seats – and you must avoid mixing up the height adjuster with the reach adjuster. I crashed to floor level and had to stay there until the chance to get out and reset it arose. Some of the switches are too low and far away, especially the vital 4WD selector, and there’s no welly-rest to the left of the clutch pedal.
It’s true that the Dacia Duster Commercial feels inexpensive. You can’t help thinking that some of the metal would come second in a battle with a fencepost or a bullock – or a falling acorn. But if you were contemplating a commercial version of a Shogun (£27,000) or sticking with Land Rover and buying a Discovery commercial (best not to ask), you may find that an acorn-shaped dent or two is a small price to pay for having to pay only a small price.
DACIA DUSTER COMMERCIAL 4X4
Engine: 1,461cc diesel
Max speed: 104mph
Performance: 0 to 62: 12.9 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 54.3mpg
Insurance group: 1A
Price: £14,429 (inc. VAT)
Would suit: the filthy but frugal