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First drive: Dacia Duster auto. Image by Dacia.

First drive: Dacia Duster auto
How does an automatic gearbox affect one of the most affordable SUVs, Dacia's Duster?

   



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Dacia Duster dCi 110 4x2 EDC

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Dacia adds an automatic gearbox to its Duster crossover/SUV. And that's all there is to it, really, as a self-shifting transmission doesn't radically alter the affordable high-riding proposition the Duster offers.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Dacia Duster dCi 110 4x2 EDC Prestige
Pricing: starts from 9,495; as tested from 15,895
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) automatic
Body style: five-door crossover
CO2 emissions: 116g/km (VED Band C, 0 first 12 months, 30 annually thereafter if registered before April 1, 2017; 160 year one, 140 annually thereafter post-April 1, 2017)
Combined economy: 62.8mpg
Top speed: 106mph
0-62mph: 11.9 seconds
Power: 110hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 250Nm at 1,750rpm

What's this?

A Dacia Duster, now fitted with one of the Renault-Nissan Alliance's Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) gearboxes, otherwise known as an automatic in modern-day speak. This despite the fact that, as the transmission's name suggests, there's not actually a torque converter in the mix... but we digress. Anyway, the EDC is only available as an option on the solitary diesel engine offered in the UK, the 1.5-litre dCi with 110hp and 250Nm. It adds 1,000 to the list price compared to an equivalent manual model and it comes with one big caveat if you're interested in the Duster primarily because it's a really cheap SUV or 4x4: that caveat being you can't (yet) pair EDC to all-wheel drive, meaning all automatic versions send power to the front axle only.

Nothing else has changed for the Duster, because - while the rest of the Dacia UK range has just been facelifted, meaning alterations for the Sandero, Sandero Stepway and the Logan MCV - the Duster has already been mildly updated on the visual front earlier in the year. And it's still, as befits the whole Dacia brand, all about the value. The Duster starts from a scarcely believable 9,495, despite the fact it's a physically big crossover/SUV - plucking, oh, any old rival from the air, let's go for the Nissan Qashqai (as it's so popular), which starts from 18,545. The Duster is just 62mm shorter overall, yet it actually has a longer wheelbase than the Nissan and a boot that's bigger by 45 litres. All of which makes its four-figure starting ticket all the more astonishing.

Diesel Dusters, mind, start from a rather less cheap 12,495 and they don't come in basic Access trim (the really cool one that our European cousins 'get', with black bumpers, no toys and a normally aspirated 1.6 petrol engine; try spotting one of those in the UK), instead commencing at Ambiance level and moving up through Ambiance Prime, Laureate and Prestige. And Dacia won't offer the EDC on the first of these two, meaning in actuality an automatic model is going to cost you at least 15 grand. So while we fully accept that the Duster has appealing, if a bit safe, exterior looks and probably the best interior of any Dacia on sale right now - which isn't saying a great deal, granted - does the Romanian crossover still make sense when it's approaching the sort of price bracket that would see you in a Skoda Yeti instead?

How does it drive?

Before we get onto the dynamics, can we just ask who on Earth it was in the Dacia development team who signed off on two of the most stupid bits of interior ergonomics we've seen for a long time? The first isn't a major deal breaker, but it's still highly annoying, and the problem is that some joker thought it would be sensible to site the door mirror adjustment switch underneath the grab handle of the handbrake. Naturally, this makes it utterly inaccessible if the handbrake is off, but even with the car parked, it's still a daft place to put the adjustment stalk; especially as, on the more modern Dacias in the rest of the fleet, it's much more sensibly situated to the side of the instrument binnacle.

However, that pales into insignificance compared to the mounting position of the seven-inch satnav/reversing camera screen, which appears to have been put in place so that only Borrowers would find it at the correct eye-level. Honestly, having an infotainment panel that's next to your ankles really is a pain in the backside, especially as a) it renders the reversing camera an irrelevance, because you can't possibly look at what it's displaying and safely back the Duster up at the same time, and b) with your hands on the wheel in any normal driving position (ten-to-two, quarter-to-three, twenty-five-to-eleven etc.), then your arm will obscure half of the mapping displayed by the satnav - typically, the half of the map you need to look at in order to see which direction you're turning at the next junction. Infuriating doesn't even cover it; and all that needs to be done is to move the screen up the centre console a few inches, so that it sits where the two central air vents are currently located - surely it wouldn't cost that much to re-engineer one bit of dash plastic and some ducting for the air vents?

Anyway, it's a shame about these two aberrations because when you get the Duster on the move, it proves to be an amiable companion. It has the best ride and body control, the most impressive level of sound suppression and the strongest engine (by some distance) of the whole Dacia fleet, as a result feeling like a thoroughly rounded, polished machine in the process; you can easily sit in the Duster and think to yourself: 'Precisely why do I need a Juke, again?'.

Adding to this is the EDC, which works unobtrusively. As it's lifted from a Renault, it has the sequential shift gate the correct way around (bravo!), but you'll never use it as the Duster doesn't feel like a car that enjoys being harried in the bends and it operates perfectly well as an automatic. We didn't experience any hunting for ratios when on inclines, long pauses for breath when activating kick down, nor indecisiveness in stop-start urban traffic. It also suits the 1.5 dCi really well, shifting smoothly to allow it to better stay in its torque-rich midrange for longer periods of time. One minor note on the output, though, is that the EDC model loses 10Nm over its manual equivalent... not that you'd notice out on the road, of course.

There are a couple of issues, such as the steering, which - sadly - is actually the worst of any Dacia, featuring an unpleasant, heavy stickiness and an odd self-centring sensation that makes it very hard to build a rapport with the Duster, while the diesel engine does loudly sound its age when you start to depress the throttle a bit further towards the bulkhead. Other than that, much of what the Duster does is absolutely fine and dandy for regular, day-to-day driving duties, so it'll continue to find plenty of favour with urbanites on a budget.

Verdict

Unless you absolutely must have four-wheel drive, the Dacia Duster EDC seems to make the most sense in the line-up. Paired to the muscular turbodiesel engine, it enhances the refinement levels of the Duster to a degree that makes it feel almost every bit as good to drive as the leading compact crossovers in the class, steering notwithstanding. It's a shame that the automatic option comes only on the higher-spec diesels, meaning the Duster EDC isn't quite the conspicuous bargain some of its stablemates so clearly are, but even so equipped it's still not an expensive machine given the toy count on Laureate and Prestige editions. Therefore, if you're going to use your Duster exclusively on tarmac, the EDC is the one to go for.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

3 3 3 3 3 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Safety

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 12 Dec 2016



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2017 Dacia Duster. Image by Andy Morgan.2017 Dacia Duster. Image by Andy Morgan.2017 Dacia Duster. Image by Andy Morgan.2017 Dacia Duster. Image by Andy Morgan.2017 Dacia Duster. Image by Andy Morgan.

2017 Dacia Duster. Image by Andy Morgan.2017 Dacia Duster. Image by Andy Morgan.2017 Dacia Duster. Image by Andy Morgan.2017 Dacia Duster. Image by Andy Morgan.2017 Dacia Duster. Image by Andy Morgan.








 

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