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First drive: 2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.

First drive: 2018 Dacia Duster
Dacia updates its ever-popular Duster SUV for the Mk2 - how does it fare?

 



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Dacia Duster

4 4 4 4 4

Don't be fooled by its similar appearance - this is the all-new Dacia Duster, the second such car to wear the nameplate in the Renault-ownership era of the Romanian brand (you have to conveniently overlook the fact that the ARO 10 of the 1980s and '90s was sold as the Duster in a few overseas markets, including the UK). Dacia promises that its segment-busting SUV, which is as big as a C-segment crossover but priced like a budget city car, has more refinement, more equipment and more appeal than it did in its first-generation guise. So, is that really the case, or has the Duster sold its soul in trying to push a little further upmarket?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Dacia Duster 115 SCe 4x2 Comfort
Pricing: range from 9,995; 115 SCe 4x2 Comfort from 13,195
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Body style: five-door SUV
CO2 emissions: 149g/km (VED 205 first 12 months, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 43.5mpg
Top speed: 107mph
0-62mph: 11.9 seconds
Power: 115hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 156Nm at 4,000rpm

What's this?

The all-new Dacia Duster. And before you start scoffing and saying it looks like its predecessor, let's have a little game. How many body panels, by percentage, do you think it shares with the old model? Maybe 60 per cent? More like 40 per cent? Twenty? Nope. It's zero. Zero per cent. Nothing at all. When Dacia means it is all-new, it genuinely is all-new.

If you want us to explain it, the changes are actually easier to spot than you might think. The revised headlights are more widely spaced, to better emphasise the width of the vehicle. The bonnet above features more contours, while the eight-oblong grille is enlarged, striking and predominant. The old front and rear silver skid plates have been switched out for skid 'skis' instead, the doors on the sides of the cars are longer, the waist of the vehicle has been hitched up - which results in a sleeker glasshouse - and at the back some square light clusters feature in a tailgate that's reminiscent of the old one, but once again completely different in the size, shaping and placement of certain features. That black plastic aft of the front wheels is a design ploy born out of necessity, because fashioning that stepped trailing edge to the bulging front arch was impossible in metal, certainly in the space given from the wheel housing to the leading edge of the front door; Dacia did toy with painting the resulting plastic insert in body colours, but in the end decided it looked good in contrast black. Finally, the largest wheel size you can have on a Duster now is a set of 17-inch alloys, whereas 16s were the limit on the old car.

Inside, it's still a sea of rather basic-looking black plastic with the old 'rhino-skin' finish but there's a noticeable uplift in the quality of some of the switchgear and the haptics, as well as the way most of the panels are bolted together. Dacia's proud of the fact that various amenities are now available in the Duster that weren't there before, such as climate control and an all-round-view camera, but we'll come onto specifications in a moment. For now, it behoves us to say that the Dacia's strong point remains its interior space; masses of room in the back, a 445-litre boot that can rise to a colossal 1,623 litres with all the seats down and a general feeling of size that thoroughly eludes most B-segment crossovers, which remain more expensive than the almost-C-segment Duster.

So, specifications, launch engines, transmissions and all that malarkey. Four trim grades are carried over from the old line-up, which means fans of the 'UN-spec' Access model may rejoice: you can buy a Mk2 Dacia Duster on 16-inch steelies and slathered in plenty of black plastic on its lower portions. Even better, the price for this automotive austerity has risen by just 500 quid, meaning (yes!) the Duster starts at a 'shockingly affordable' 9,995. Ten grand. For a whole SUV. And you get some proper luxuries in that package, like a rev counter, rear wash/wipe, a boot light, manually adjustable door mirrors and electric front windows - electric, mark you!

Ahem. Obviously, while we adore the Access spec, the vast majority of Dacia buyers in the UK are clustered at the top of the trim tree. Moving up from Access to Essential (+1,600, or 11,595), the wheels remain steel but they're a slightly more attractive design called 'Fidji'. There are a few more commonly acceptable, er, essentials too (presumably where the model gets its name from), like DAB, Bluetooth, a USB port, 60:40 split rear seats, front fog lights and manual air-conditioning. However, even with that variant in the line-up, it's the Comfort (from 13,195) and Prestige (from 14,395) models which get the glory, and which will likely cream the sales.

The former is a big step up from Essential, again for another 1,600, with 16-inch alloys, a reversing camera, electric windows all round, cruise control, lots of body-colour stuff outside and a seven-function trip computer, but for 1,200 on top of that, the Prestige loads in heated, part-leather seats, 17-inch diamond-cut wheels, satin chrome exterior detailing, heated and electrically controlled door mirrors, climate control, blind-spot detectors and the around-view camera with parking sensors. Plush. And just 245 more than a five-door Volkswagen up! GTI, for a well-equipped, big crossover-SUV. It's remarkable stuff from Dacia, it really is...

From launch, the Romanian brand will kick off the Duster Mk2 with a pair of engines, both boasting 115hp. The petrol model is a 1.6-litre, normally aspirated four-pot called the SCe. It comes with either front-wheel drive and a five-speed manual gearbox as the '4x2' variant, or selectable four-wheel drive and a six-speed manual for the 4x4. It backs up its 115hp at 5,500rpm with 156Nm at 4,000rpm, so it's a peaky motor, although the Duster only weighs 1,179kg in SCe 4x2 format. The diesel is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged 'dCi', available as a six-speed manual 4x2 model only (at first). It chucks in 260Nm from just 1,750rpm, so it's likely to be the preferred option with buyers here, even though a market shift to petrol is currently well underway. Upgrading from a 115 SCe 4x2 to either its 4x4 analogue or the diesel engine is a round 2,000 in each instance, so the starting prices for the SCe 4x4 and dCi 4x2 models are 13,595 for an Essential, 15,195 for a Comfort and 16,395 for the top-grade Prestige. Access buyers are given the SCe 4x2 drivetrain, incidentally, as there's no other powertrain choice down there in Bargain Basementland.

Joining these three models in the near future will be a 4x4 version of the dCi (September 2018) and then the TCe 130hp turbocharged petrol, available as both a 4x2 and a 4x4, with a slated appearance in Q1 of 2019. An EDC automatic gearbox, as seen late in the Mk1 Duster's life, is almost a given but right-hand-drive engineering is still required so it's likely to be well into next year before it makes an appearance. One final note: front-wheel-drive Dusters have a torsion beam rear axle; four-wheel-drive models get multilink suspension at the back. That means the 4x4 models are heavier, less impressive for eco-stats and also possessed of a smaller boot, which stands at 411 litres with all seats in place or 1,614 litres with the back bench folded away (and even less with a spare wheel under the cargo bay floor, which reduces the numbers to 376 and 1,559 litres respectively). But then they are 'proper' SUVs, sooooo...

How does it drive?

Exactly as you would think of something that's cheaper than its key opposition to the tune of several thousand, rather than a few hundred, pounds. We drove the 115 SCe 4x2 Comfort exclusively on road and it was what we were expecting, in the main. The naturally aspirated engine's a bit coarse and wheezy at high revs and gutless in the midrange. You'll find yourself trying to select a phantom sixth for a while, which means attempting to engage reverse (down and right, below fifth) when you're doing 60-odd mph, because you've forgotten that five-speed manual SUVs ever even existed in the first place, much less survived until the year 2018. The body control is a little floppy and the handling is adequate up to a point, and all in all the Dacia Duster is much happier being coasted along than it is being caned.

However. You might notice that all of the above is mild criticism, rather than a harsh hatchet job. Because the Duster is incredibly likeable to drive, even more so when you think the car you're sitting in is a gnat's proverbial beyond the 13-grand marker. It drifts along with very impressive ride quality on its 16-inch wheels controlled by conventional springs and dampers, only really getting flustered when it is presented with the absolute worst of savage compressions (potholes) in the road. For the rest of the time, it conveys a genial manner in the way it just covers ground.

Dacia is also keen to point out it has crammed a load of sound-deadening into the chassis and engine bay, it has improved all the car's sealants and plugs to reduce noise in the cabin, and it has 0.35mm-thicker glass in the front windows to minimise wind ruffling. And this all works. At no point are your passengers going to close their eyes and think they've somehow ended up in a Rolls-Royce, but the Duster is much more refined on the move than the old version. If you don't venture past 4,000rpm on the tachometer, then the SCe is a smooth and hushed operator with just enough pep to make it feasible in the big Dacia, while the five-speed 'box is perfectly slick. Above average, too, are the steering, brakes and handling, all of which allow you to hustle the Duster 4x2 along at a fair old pace, without it becoming a ragged and unenjoyable affair.

In short, the Duster is just better in all regards than it was before. And it's still phenomenal value. Ergo, what's not to like?

Verdict

Look, you get understated and handsome exterior looks on the Dacia Duster Mk2. You get a plain but functional and capacious cabin, with a good smattering of useable toys thrown in (certainly at Comfort level and above, at any rate). You get simple and effective drivetrains, that are fine for day-to-day use, even if they're not quite up to the light-pressure-turbocharged cutting edge of engines. And you get a suite of dynamic abilities that are pleasantly above average, if nothing more.

However, you basically also get a massive amount of cred if you buy one, because the Duster is a proper little charmer. It's most definitely a better-resolved, more likeable machine than its predecessor but it has lost none of Dacia's legendarily unpretentious nature in the process. And the fact it is less than 16,500 in even its most, er, 'fully-laden' launch guise is just the icing on the cake. In fact, the only bad thing the Duster does for the Renault Group is make you wonder why you'd drop even more cash on the duller, smaller Captur crossover instead.

The Duster Mk2: it's no-nonsense brilliance.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

3 3 3 3 3 Interior Ambience

5 5 5 5 5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

3 3 3 3 3 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 22 Jun 2018









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2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.

2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2018 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.








 

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