Car of the week: Dacia’s Duster is tough, but not arrogant

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By Brian Byrne

I don’t always fully write down which version of a car I reserve for a press review, and when I took delivery of this Dacia Duster I didn’t have the details on hand. All the way back I believed I was in a petrol version, and it wasn’t until I checked it out that I realized it was diesel.

That says a lot about the refinement of the 115bhp Renault engine that sat under the hood, but also the build quality of the Duster itself. It’s an economy car by brand definition, but it’s by no means designed for a budget.

This is a big step forward compared to the original offerings from Dacia … and I will soon be commenting on new versions of other recently launched models here. This generation of Duster was establishing a line that is now stepped up.

As a small SUV, Duster looks great. Also the kind of look that for some reason makes you want to smile. The designers did not try to hide the style of the SUV in a crossover, so it has a shameless philosophy, but without any arrogance. It is very visible, but does not intimidate.

Inside, Duster looks and feels great too. Don’t try to be more than you are, but more than you might expect. There is a “keep it simple” attitude that I like, so we don’t have any difficult details to deal with.

The main instruments in traditional dials, heating and air conditioning controls are substantial buttons and where they should be and with good, clear labeling of other switches.

There’s a central dashboard screen, again with simple touch-sensitive “ buttons ” instead of a complicated menu. My only caveat is that it’s located quite low below the main dash, and you have to look down to manage it.

For the passengers behind me, there’s a surprising amount of legroom and good height not so surprisingly given the styling of the car. Trunk space is adequate for the size, and with the rear seats down, it’s long enough to carry your surfboard inside if you’re one of those “ wavy ” people.

My Prestige quality Duster came with alloys, a good level of convenience and driver assistance, climate and satellite navigation, and special padding, so it was a bit more expensive. But still affordable.

I mentioned the silence of diesel. It is a proven engine and in this application paired with a six-speed manual transmission which has always been a pleasure to use. The Duster is available in AWD, although my trial version is a 4×2.

Compared to some competing SUVs there was perhaps a bit more stiffness in the ride, but nothing uncomfortable … it also suggests enough basic toughness to hack it on poor surface tracks.

It was a week where I had quite a bit of driving to do, and I was quite impressed with the time it took for the fuel gauge to come out of the “full” point. The Duster has a very good range on a full tank and is economical in juice. Regardless of any other engine hype, there will still be space and a need for decent diesel for a while.

And by all measures, this Duster is going to be with a lot of happy customers for a long time too.

VERDICT

What I liked: Nothing to suffer.

Price: From € 18,995; Prestige Note notice € 23,995.

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