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First drive: Dacia Duster 1.0 TCE BiFuel Comfort 4x2. Image by Dacia.

First drive: Dacia Duster 1.0 TCE BiFuel Comfort 4x2
Dacia has given the Duster a mid-life update, but does the addition of LPG power and an optional auto improve, or spoil, the affordable SUV?

   



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Dacia Duster

4 4 4 4 4

We all know the Dacia Duster by now - simple, rugged, affordable. Dacia has been steadily improving the Duster's comfort and sophistication levels since it was first launched in 2013, so how does this latest version hold up?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Dacia Duster 1.0 TCE BiFuel Comfort 4x2
Pricing: 15,495 as tested; starts at 13,995
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol & LPG
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: Compact SUV
CO2 emissions: 124g/km (VED Band 210 in year one)
Combined economy: 44.1mpg (petrol)/40.9mpg (LPG)
Top speed: 104mph
0-62mph: 15.1 seconds (petrol)/13.8 seconds (LPG)
Power: 90hp at 4,400rpm (petrol)/100hp at 4,600rpm (LPG)
Torque: 160Nm at 2,200-3,750rpm (petrol)/170Nm at 2,000-3,500rpm (LPG)
Boot space: 478-1,623 litres
Safety: Euro NCAP rating for Dacia Duster https://www.euroncap.com/en/results/dacia/duster/29898

What's this?

It's the Dacia Duster, and if you didn't know that then you clearly have too much money. You see, ever since 2013, the Duster has been stirring up the family SUV market by being cheaper than a Renault Captur, yet every bit as spacious and practical as a Nissan Qashqai. Oh, and about 10,000 cheaper than a Qashqai too...

This is the mid-life update of the second-generation Duster, launched three years ago. If you're struggling to tell the difference between this and the previous model, don't worry, most people would struggle to tell the difference between this and the first Duster, launched almost a decade ago. Dacia takes pride in that lack of change, why waste money on fashion when you can spend it on other stuff?

What has Dacia's money been spent on? Well, new headlights and brake lights for a start that now get y-shaped LED light signatures, a new eight-inch infotainment screen that comes as standard on everything but the basic model and, for the first time on this second-gen Duster, an automatic gearbox. That's a six-speed EDC dual-clutch unit, taken, as are all Dacia components, from the Renault parts-bin and offered on a new to the Duster 150hp, 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

Or you can have the 90hp 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol with a manual gearbox. That engine is now a Bi-Fuel unit, meaning that it can run on LPG as well. Dacia says LPG sales are ticking upwards in areas where gas-for-cars is available which is no surprise with LPG costing around 80p per litre. Actually, running on LPG unleashes a little more power at 100hp with 170Nm of torque, plus thanks to having a second fuel tank, you can squeeze as much as 700-miles out of a fully-filled Duster before refuelling. Dacia says that as LPG has lower CO2 emissions than petrol, it's the most cost-effective way of cutting emissions until it's ready to make an electric or hybrid Duster, both of which are at least a few years away.

Inside, there's the new eight-inch infotainment screen, which comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In fact, on high-spec Prestige models, you can even have wireless CarPlay and Android Auto - such luxury! There are new front seats and improved cruise control buttons which are now on the steering wheel rather than mounted down by the handbrake. Everything else is as it was - simple, clear instruments; cheap, but not unpleasant, plastics; plenty of space for people and a big 478-litre boot (you get slightly less if you go for a diesel or 4WD model).

The downside to all this is the Duster's safety rating. While you do get airbags, ABS, electronic stability control, traction control, and optional blind-spot warning, items such as automated emergency braking and lane-keeping steering aren't even on the options list, hence the low three-star rating from EuroNCAP.

How does it drive?

The new automatic Duster is okay if you're desperately keen on an auto, but only okay and nothing more. As in the Renault Captur, this gearbox tends to hold onto a ratio for slightly too long and is a little slow to shift up or down, which isn't great and which makes the engine feel less refined than might otherwise be the case.

Actually, the little 1.0-litre engine for all its lack of power and performance (check out that 15.1 seconds 0-62mph time) kind of suits the Duster rather better. It trills and revs happily, even if you're not actually going very fast, and other than the needlessly obstructive manual gear shifter (why so big? Why so clunky?) it's a sweeter powertrain overall.

Forget going quickly and instead revel in the Duster's springy, long-travel suspension and its comfortable ride quality, aided by wheels that are generally an inch smaller than most of the competition, model for model.

Handling? Well, there is some. Dacia's engineers have recalibrated the steering to provide a bit more feel and weight above 43mph, but it's still as light and twirly as an Atari Grand Prix wheel (showing my age there). There's lots of body roll, but once you let the Duster settle into an angle of lean, it grips well and goes faithfully around corners. The best way to drive it is window down, relaxed attitude on and accept that you'll get there when you get there.

You'll also get there if you need to go off-road. Fitted with optional four-wheel drive and all-season tyres, Dacia claims that the Duster is the most capable off-roader that doesn't have a low-range transfer box. On the launch event, we were encouraged to drive it around a little off-road course and while it wasn't too taxing, the Duster's ultra-low first gear kept it rolling nicely over some mildly tricky obstacles, while it also coped admirably with a teetering 30-degree side slope. High spec models get a 4x4 info screen and an all-round camera system that helps you place the Duster more accurately whether parking or yomping through forestry. Either way, it's more capable than pretty much any owner will ever ask it to be.

Verdict

The updates certainly help the Duster's case and while the new auto 'box isn't the best of its breed, it'll certainly expand Duster ownership out to more potential customers. And it deserves to - iffy safety rating apart, the Duster is hugely appealing, mostly because it's kind of anti-fashion. There are no fripperies nor unnecessary add-ons here, just a solidly sensible car, one that's big on practicality and rugged reliability, but thankfully still small on price. If badge snobbery were abolished in the morning, we'd all be driving one of these.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

3 3 3 3 3 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

5 5 5 5 5 Luggage Space

2 2 2 2 2 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

3 3 3 3 3 Powertrain


Neil Briscoe - 15 Sep 2021



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2021 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2021 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2021 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2021 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.2021 Dacia Duster. Image by Dacia.








 

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