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Rugged new Dacia Duster SUV adds quality and appeal but retains value pricing

PUBLISHED: 11:04 09 July 2018 | UPDATED: 11:04 09 July 2018

Second-generation Dacia Duster'’s design has evolved but makes huge gains in terms of quality, comfort, technology and driving appeal. Picture: Dacia

Second-generation Dacia Duster'’s design has evolved but makes huge gains in terms of quality, comfort, technology and driving appeal. Picture: Dacia

Dacia

Dacia has reinvented its Duster SUV with the second-generation range much improved in terms of quality, reliability and technology without sacrificing affordability, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

It's clearly a Dacia Duster but no body panels are carried over for the new, second-generation model. Picture: DaciaIt's clearly a Dacia Duster but no body panels are carried over for the new, second-generation model. Picture: Dacia

It’s five years since Renault-owned Romanian car-maker Dacia launched its self-proclaimed ‘shockingly affordable’ range in the UK and has now sold more than 120,000 cars here.

Now it’s launching the significantly enhanced second-generation Duster SUV and, while it has seen big gains in terms of quality, driveability, technology and equipment, it hasn’t lost that value pricing. It’s still the UK’s most affordable SUV, from £9,995 on the road, but most owners will go for the keenly-priced high-spec models.

Looks and image

Reinventing the Duster sees evolutionary, not revolutionary, styling with same compact dimensions, but not one body panel is carried over. It’s immediately recognisable as a Duster but looks more muscular, assertive and rugged, hence a stronger-looking sculpted bonnet and big, satin chrome front and rear skid plates on top models to help accentuate its width. The highlight at the back is rear lights made up of four red stacked square.

Eye-catching rear light clusters part of smart new look. Picture: DaciaEye-catching rear light clusters part of smart new look. Picture: Dacia

Under the bonnet

Initially, two 115hp engines – 1.6-litre petrol, with two and four-wheel drive, and a 1.5-litre turbo diesel which will gain 4x4 in autumn. A new 130hp 1.3-litre turbo petrol arrives next year.

In the changing diesel climate, petrol will be increasingly popular and the front-wheel drive 1.6-litre acquitted itself well on the Suffolk launch, making decent progress with enough in reserve to get past slower traffic, when stirred into life with the five-speed gearbox, and returned 44mpg driven considerately.

Early-production 4x4 diesels made light work of sticky, tricky sections of the off-road course with enough traction to get up muddle slopes, hill descent control coping with coming down safely and decent ground clearance.

Front and rear skid plates all part of more rugged, robust new styling. Picture: DaciaFront and rear skid plates all part of more rugged, robust new styling. Picture: Dacia

How it drives

The Duster punches above its weight, and your expectations, when it comes to ride and roadholding for a budget-buy SUV.

It’s sensitive to rough road surfaces travelling slowly but, once cruising at speed, feels comfortably composed and soaks up big bumps and lumps effectively without a lot of feedback in the cabin although the soft suspension can make it floaty over undulating roads.

Handling is precise and predictable, despite some roll at speed from the combination of tall body and soft suspension. The new model’s electric power steering makes light work of turning in tight spaces but retains feel at speed.

Dacia Duster 4x4 can get to grips with off-road driving. Picture: DaciaDacia Duster 4x4 can get to grips with off-road driving. Picture: Dacia

Space and comfort

Looking for value transport with room for the family and luggage? The Duster has more all-round head and legroom than many rivals and wide-opening doors give good access but take care to avoid brushing your legs on the protruding side sills as they get dirty and dusty.

Denser foam improves seat comfort, longer front cushions give better support and the driver’s seat has more height adjustment, along with an armrest, but the rear bench is slabby.

Front-wheel drive models have a deep, boxy 445-litre boot – 4x4 is 376 litres – but there’s a raised sill to negotiate large, heavy loads over. On all but entry-level Access, rear seat backs split 60/40 but don’t go totally flat. Families will like 20pc more cabin storage at nearly 29 litres.

Four-wheel drive versions of the Dacia Duster are surprising capable when the going gets tough. Picture: DaciaFour-wheel drive versions of the Dacia Duster are surprising capable when the going gets tough. Picture: Dacia

You’ll also appreciate how much quieter the new Duster is thanks to more sound-deadening measures.

At the wheel

Dacia has put a lot of effort into improving the interior, working on design, comfort, quality and equipment. Even though there are still swathes of hard plastic, it looks much better and feels more robust but is still functional rather than fancy.

The driving position benefits from more seat height adjustment, although the wheel adjusts only for height not reach, while sensible switchgear, big rotary heating and ventilation controls and a high-level touchscreen are easy to use and the dials a model of simplicity.

Large adults will enjoy the rear leg and headroom. Picture: DaciaLarge adults will enjoy the rear leg and headroom. Picture: Dacia

Equipment

Available in Access, Essential, Comfort and Prestige trims, the bottom two are bargain basement and utilitarian and most owners will go for the top two trims.

Comfort gets smarter exterior trim, including alloy wheels and satin chrome finishes, along with trip computer, sat-nav, cruise control and speed limiter, rear camera and sensors, air-con and four electric windows.

Prestige has all the bells and whistles including bigger 17in alloys, climate control, blind spot detectors, a multi-view camera for easy manoeuvring in tight spaces and options including part-leather seats and heated seats.

Family-sized boot -  445 litres with front-wheel drive and 376 for the 4x4 models. Picture: DaciaFamily-sized boot - 445 litres with front-wheel drive and 376 for the 4x4 models. Picture: Dacia

Final say

Improved in virtually every area, much of it in line with customers’ wishes, the Dacia Duster is still great value, no-nonsense transport that will do everything you ask of it. It’s hard not to like that good, honest approach to motoring.

SPEC AND TECH

Fascia more functional than fancy but logical layout makes it easy to live with. Picture: DaciaFascia more functional than fancy but logical layout makes it easy to live with. Picture: Dacia

Price: Dacia Duster Comfort SCe 115 4x2 £13,195 on the road (range £9,995 to £16,395)

Engine: 1,598cc, 115hp, four-cylinder petrol with five-speed manual gearbox

Performance: 0-62mph 11.9 seconds; top speed 107mph

MPG: Urban 35.3; extra urban 49.6; combined 43.5

CO2 emissions: 149g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 30pc

Insurance group: 11 (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years or 60,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? L 4,341mm; W (including door mirrors) 2,052mm; H 1,693mm

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