This cheery, good-value SUV certainly cleaned up for its Romanian manufacturer – so would it benefit from a revamp? Charlie Flindt reports
The Dacia Duster has done fantastically well, as a competent, cheap’n’cheerful off-roader. Now it has undergone a revamp. Charlie Flindt finds the ride comfortable and looks sophisticated – but could the fancy tech spell trouble?
For more on the Dacia Duster, Charlie Flindt was so impressed by the Dacia Duster Commercial that he believes it could fill a Defender-sized hole.
The Duster has done fantastically well for Dacia, quickly earning a reputation for value, simplicity and considerable off-road competence. So when the time came for a revamp, Dacia must have had to think long and hard. What could it do to its little 4×4 to ensure that reputation wasn’t lost?
Initial impressions are good: it’s still definitely a Duster, but there have been subtle styling tweaks to make it look a bit more sophisticated. It’s amazing what a slight reshape of the bumpers and grille can do.
As soon as you jump in, one interior change is immediately obvious: the seat. It’s comfortable – the old one was a shocker. Other revisions are more subtle, but – like the exterior changes – make the layout feel much more up to date. But a proper rest for the left foot would be handy and the switch for cruise control and speed limiter are oddly placed down behind the handbrake.
On the move, the Duster is a mixed bag. The petrol engine is a tad weedy on the road, with fifth gear feeling like an overdrive and sixth completely useless. The handling is reasonable, and the controls are fingertip light. Off road, the Dacia seems happier, with first and second gear covering most situations – there’s no low range in the four-wheel-drive gearbox.
You can’t help worrying about the strength of some of the drivetrain and suspension components, which look slightly vulnerable. And the exhaust still snakes under the rear diff, although it has been beefed up considerably compared to the old one. The Dacia gets bonus points for having a full-sized spare wheel and sensible (that is, cheap) tyres.
We had a couple of issues that suggest build quality isn’t what it could be: a brake-system warning light popped on at one stage but the teenagers’ IT cure (“Turn it off, turn it on, job’s a good ’un, problem gone!”) soon sorted that out. And the engine speed stayed high for a second after lifting off the accelerator pedal. Once upon a time, one would have lubricated the throttle cable but such things don’t exist anymore. All I know was that it made me sound like an over-revving hoon. Or a confused pensioner.
But there’s something else not quite right about the latest Duster, and you have to wind back a couple of paragraphs to comments about ‘speed limiters’ and ‘cruise control’. Cast your eyes over the dashboard again. There’s a fancy sat-nav that beeps at you if you’re over the speed limit. (Apparently –never happened to me, of course.) There’s air con, and heated electrical door mirrors, and parking cameras, and all-round electric windows, and – well, you get the idea.
True, my test car was ‘Comfort’ spec and there’s now a lot of fancy kit available, but it comes at a price. It is still undercutting a lot of its more mainstream rivals but not as jaw-droppingly as it used to. The philosophy of cheap’n’cheerful has been lost. It strikes me that Dacia has got to beware of moving the Duster too far up the price range. The last thing we need is another conventional SUV.
DACIA DUSTER SCe 115 Comfort 4×4
♦ Engine: 1,598cc petrol
♦ Power: 115 hp
♦ Max speed: 105mph
♦ Performance, 0 to 62: 12.9 seconds
♦ Combined fuel economy: 40.4mpg
♦ Insurance group: 10
♦ Price: £15,395