- Big in value
- Lot of cabin space
- 4x4 has real off-road ability
- Cabin feels a bit crude
- Find fuel for LPG version
- Mediocre to drive
Most car makers would rather talk about their SUV’s lifestyle attractions and its latest styling, but Dacia isn’t your average car maker. Instead, this offshoot of Renault is unashamedly, proudly happy to tell you its cars are all about value for money. While the Duster isn’t quite as impressively pitched in price as it was when the first generation went on sale, you won’t find anything with this much space or mud-flinging ability for the money.
Dacia pulls off this balancing act between cost and capability by using engines and much of the Duster’s mechanical parts from parent company Renault. As a result, there are two 1.0-litre turbo petrol engines, a pair of 1.3-litre petrol turbos and a single turbodiesel. The diesel is the only motor that has the option of four-wheel drive in addition to the front-drive set-up used in the others. However, the 1.0-litre engine is offered in standard 90hp form and a 100hp bi-fuel version that can run on petrol or LPG (liquified petroleum gas) to reduce cost and emissions. With no electrified offering, this is as green as the Duster gets.
There are four trim levels to pick from, but the entry-point Essential model is only available with the least powerful petrol engine and the less potent 100hp turbodiesel. The other trims can be ordered with any of the engines in the line-up.
If you think there’s a hitch to all of this, there isn’t anything lurking in the way the Dacia Drives. It’s not as refined or keen in the corners as a Skoda Karoq or Ford Puma, but the Duster still conducts itself in a calm and easy manner on all roads. The 4x4 model is also much better at beating the rough stuff than most of its rivals that can be ordered with four-wheel drive. Where the Duster does come up short is the quality of its cabin materials, which look and feel a bit low-rent next to the likes of the Nissan Qashqai or Kia Sportage.
Infotainment, comfort and practicality
The Dacia Duster may be priced to take on the likes of the Hyundai Bayon or Nissan Juke, but its cabin offers space on a par with the Tuscon or Qashqai. The driver and front passenger will have no complaints about the amount of head, leg and shoulder space, and the driver gets seat height adjustment in all but the base trim models. The steering wheel moves for reach and angle in every Duster, helping you to find the right position for all-day comfort. There are plenty of storage spots placed around the driving environment, though the door pockets are very small and the cupholders too shallow to really keep a drinks bottle firmly in place.
Take a seat in the back and the Duster follows a similar pattern to the front chairs by offering plenty of room for adults’ heads and legs. Three abreast will be a bit snug for adults, but the Dacia has no trouble accommodating a trio of kids and every version comes with three-point seat belts for everyone in the back. It also has Isofix child seat mounts on the two outer rear chairs.
Where the Duster trails some of its rivals, such as the Honda HR-V, is the rear seat doesn’t offer any more versatility than its 60/40 split and fold back. It tips down but does not leave a completely flat load floor, which makes it trickier to slide in heavier items than it should be. However, with the seats lowered, there’s a generous 1623-litres of load capacity and, with the back seats filled with people, you can still fit in 478-litres of baggage. In the four-wheel drive model, this drops to 467-litres due to the rear differential pinching a bit of boot space.
Coming back to sit in the driver’s seat, the Duster’s dash is a simple, uncluttered affair with separate controls for the heating and ventilation. These are ideal for adjusting fan speed or temperature on the move without being distracted or having to scroll through infotainment menus to do so. The main dials are just as no-nonsense and easy to read.
The flipside to this unadorned approach is the Duster does feel very basic next to most of its rivals, and this is underscored by the drab plastics used throughout the cabin. Choose the base Essential trim and you get a simple radio with USB port and Bluetooth, plus steering wheel controls. The Comfort trim comes with an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with DAB radio, smartphone mirroring with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and Bluetooth. In the upper two trim versions, Dacia adds sat-nav, which seems a little pointless nowadays when most drivers use their smartphone’s apps for this. However, the Dacia’s touchscreen is easy to use, though it’s a little slow to respond and the screen’s graphics are basic.
2018 Dacia Duster engines: how does it drive?
The Dacia Duster is very happy to take a different path in the way it drives to most of its obvious rivals either on price or size. Almost all of its competitors might be classed as SUVs, but they are not off-roaders. The Duster is much more of an all-terrain, all-weather machine and only the Fiat Panda 4x4 or Suzuki Jimny are in the same league for dealing with unmade tracks and muddy conditions. It’s little wonder the Duster finds so much favour in more rural parts of the country, especially when you can have it with four-wheel drive compared to most rivals that don’t even make the pretence of offering this.
On more usual roads, the Duster acquits itself well. It’s nowhere near as agile as a Ford Puma and a Skoda Karoq has the Dacia soundly beat when it comes to refinement, but the Duster has a softly sprung suspension that does a good job of patting away rough surfaces. The same set-up means there’s a fair bit of body lean in bends and the Duster is not a car to take by the scruff of its neck when you’re in the mood for some driving fun. Instead, it excels at simply getting to you to your destination in a fuss-free, undramatic fashion no matter what the weather or road conditions are like.
If that all sounds a bit, well, boring, it’s more a case of the Duster just getting on with the job in a safe, unruffled manner. Every model comes with cruise control with a speed limiter to make life stress-free on faster roads, and the 4x4 model has Hill Descent Control to help on slippery tracks. An Eco mode tells the driver when to change for the best fuel economy, while the two upper trims have blind spot detection. It’s a shame the base trim does without the reversing sensors and camera fitted to the other models.
The entry-level trim Duster is also restricted to two engine choices. You can have the 90hp 1.0-litre TCe turbo petrol or the same motor in 100hp Bi-Fuel form that runs on petrol or LPG (liquified petroleum gas), which is cheaper than petrol to buy. Running on LPG, the Duster’s 1.0 TCe engine feels a bit more eager, but if you want a proper step up in power you need to look to the 130 and 150 1.3 TCe motors. If you’re driving takes you beyond the city ring road on a regular basis, the 1.3 engines are much better as they offer stronger acceleration and more relaxed cruising. They also offer combined fuel economy as good as or better than the smaller 1.0-litre engines, so it’s difficult to see the need for the smaller motors. The more powerful 150hp 1.3 TCe only comes with a six-speed automatic gearbox, where all other Duster models have a six-speed manual transmission.
Higher mileage drivers will be drawn to the 115hp Blue dCi 1.5-litre turbodiesel. Performance and refinement are only middling for this size of SUV, but fuel economy is reasonable and the Duster can tow a braked trailer with a maximum weigh of up to 1500kg. You can also order the diesel with four-wheel drive, which is the one that leaves its rivals way behind when it comes to dealing with dirt tracks.
Value for money: how much does a 2018 Dacia Duster cost to buy and run?
The Duster might be a little more to buy now than its original sub-£10,000 price tag when the first generation was launched, but it’s still big on value. Choose either engine in the entry-level Essential trim and they both cost the same at £14,845. A Comfort model is yours from £16,345, while the Prestige version kicks off at £17,545. Op for the top spec Extreme SE and you’ll need to find at least £17,845 to own one.
As the Duster is already a very affordable car, there are not the four-figure savings here that can be had with some of its rivals. Deploy your haggling skills or use a broker to do the same and you can expect to chip around £250 from the list price of a new Duster. Should you prefer a year-old car with less than 10,000 miles on the clock, you can reckon on spending from £13,000. A three-year old Duster could be parked in front of your house from £9500.
The petrol engines offer combined fuel economy between a best of 45.6mpg and a low of 40.4mpg for the 1.0 TCe Bi-Fuel running on LPG. However, as LPG is significantly cheaper to buy than petrol, this still works out cheaper on a cost-per-mile basis. For those who’d rather have a diesel engine, the Blue dCi 115hp 1.5-litre engine has an average consumption of 57.6mpg in the front-wheel drive model. This drops to 53.3mpg in the 4x4 version. The highest carbon dioxide emissions are in the 1.0 TCe Bi-Fuel Prestige model at 145g/km running on petrol, though this drops to 127g/km on LPG. None of the Duster models are particularly competitive on emissions. However, the Dacia is cheap to insure thanks to ratings that sit between groups 11 and 22.
Verdict: Should I buy a 2018 Dacia Duster?
The Dacia Duster is more than a one-trick pony all about value for money. This is the major appeal for many buyers, but they are also getting a family SUV with plenty of cabin space, a generous boot and reasonable levels of standard equipment. All this for small SUV prices certainly makes the Duster a bargain, but it can also be had with four-wheel drive to make it a seriously able off-roader.
On the road, the Dacia is comfortable in an easy-going way, though it doesn’t challenge the class leaders for handling or refinement. Nor does it trouble the bast in the sector for the look and feel of its cabin materials or the way its infotainment system works. If you can live with these shortcomings, however, the Duster is a practical, down to earth SUV with affordable running costs.
What could I buy instead of a 2018 Dacia Duster?
SsangYong is another brand that makes a big virtue of its value for money proposition. The Tivoli is not quite as keenly priced as the Duster at its entry point, but it’s still much cheaper than most and comes with healthy amount of standard kit included. You’ll also find the Tivoli’s cabin a more pleasant and better built place than the Dacia’s. The downside is the SsangYong’s boot is not as big and there’s no four-wheel drive version for those who live in the further reaches of the sticks.
The MG ZS comes in two distinct versions, with the all-electric ZS EV more expensive to buy but very cheap to run. It will appeal to company drivers in particular who are looking to minimise their tax outgoings. The other ZS version comes with 1.0- or 1.5-litre petrol engines, and you get a generous seven-year, 80,000-mile warranty included. That might tempt some, but the ZS is not as comfy or well made as the Dacia, which makes the MG’s keen pricing look more like penny-pinching when compared to the Duster.
If you want a family SUV that can head off the beaten path as far and capably as the Dacia Duster, the Jeep Compass is as close as it gets in this class. The Compass comes with plug-in hybrid power to make it more appealing to company drivers and private buyers alike, but as engine refinement falls way below the class norm. The Jeep redeems itself with a roomy cabin and decent equipment levels, but the Compass’ dull cabin cannot excuse itself in the way the Duster’s can as a result of keeping the price down as Jeep is too expensive for that to work.