Dacia Duster review

Can an updated Dacia Duster hold its head high against the oncoming rush of rival crossovers?

Pros: rugged, reliable, practical, cheap

Cons: poor safety rating

The Dacia Duster has — across its two generations — been a fast and firm favourite with Irish buyers. Since the first-generation model was launched — costing just over €15,000 — back in 2013, some 14,500 Dusters have found Irish homes. Now, we’ve reached the point of the mid-life update for this, the second-generation Duster. Is it better? Worse? And more importantly, can it keep up its more-for-less traditions in the face of ever-increasing SUV and crossover competition?

Dacia Duster Design

If the Duster looks familiar, that’s deliberate. Line up the Dusters made so far and you’ll see differences, yes, but only in the details. The overall shape, styling and silhouette are all pretty much the same. Dacia takes a kind of perverse pride in that sameness. Let other car companies waste their money, and by extension their customers’ money, on needless changes and updates. There are some styling differences between this Duster and the second-generation model launched three years ago. There are new headlights (with Y-shaped LED lighting signatures), new brake lights (with the same signature), a new grille, a new, slightly larger boot spoiler (more about aerodynamic performance than styling) and new alloy wheels (again, more about the aero than the look). If it’s very samey-samey, that’s OK — the Duster still looks reasonably handsome, and is refreshingly simple in a world of overly-complicated car designs. 

Dacia Duster Interior

That simplicity extends to the interior. Yes, there’s a sea of pretty cheap-looking plastic, but it’s all well bolted together, and you won’t find the unpleasantly sharp edges on the lower reaches of the dashboard that plagued the original Duster. The analogue dials are plain and clear, and the black-and-white digital trip computer between them disarmingly easy to use compared to rival setups. There’s a new eight-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash — standard on all but the basic Essential model — which comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Base models get a single USB socket on the dashboard, but higher-spec versions double up on sockets, and there are optional USB ports in the back seats, too. The front seats, meanwhile, have been upgraded with slightly nicer fabric and new, slimmer headrests, while higher-spec Dusters also get a new centre console between the seats with an armrest and a small storage box. There’s plenty of space, front and rear, plus ISOFIX points in the outer two rear seats. Finally, there’s a massive boot — 478 litres for front-wheel-drive models, which puts the Duster within two litres of matching the Nissan Qashqai for boot space, and the Qashqai is €10,000 more expensive… 

Dacia Duster Performance & Drive

Diesel remains popular with Dacia buyers in Ireland, and so the 115hp 1.5-litre dCi engine is carried over, with a choice of front- or four-wheel drive. Dacia has shuffled the petrol offerings a little though, adding a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with 150hp and a six-speed automatic dual-clutch gearbox. It’s the first time that an auto has been offered on the current Duster since it was launched three years ago, and Dacia Ireland says that its customers have been asking for just that option. As it goes, it’s alright, but nothing more. The 1.3 engine has good performance, but the gearbox’s tendency to hold on to a gear for slightly too long means that it’s less refined than it ought to be. Still, with CO2 emissions of 142g/km, it’s reasonably efficient. 

Potentially more interesting is the 1.0-litre three-cylinder TCE engine. This has now been given ‘Bi-Fuel’ status, which means you can run it on LPG or petrol. There’s a 49-litre LPG tank under the boot, where a spare wheel would normally sit, and a 50-litre petrol tank. Running on petrol, the engine develops 90hp and 160Nm of torque, but running on LPG those numbers are boosted to 100hp and 170Nm. Either way, this is not a fast car — at best you’re looking at a 13.8-second 0-100km/h time — but this engine just seems better suited to the Duster’s character. It’s happy to rev, sounds sweet when you do so and, if you’re not actually going all that quickly, then at least it feels more willing than the numbers suggest. Plus, fill both tanks and you have a potential range-to-empty of more than 1,200km. Oh, and Dacia claims that your CO2 emissions will be 9.5 per cent lower when running on LPG (although you won’t get any discount on your motor tax for that…).

In driving terms, Dacia says that it has upgraded the Duster’s steering, but there doesn’t seem to be much difference to the outgoing model. The Duster rides very well — thanks to running on alloy wheels that are smaller than most of the competition’s, as well as having long-travel suspension — and while that steering remains vague and over-light, it bumbles around corners in an entirely adequate fashion. It’s also notably refined on the motorway, aside from a bit of wind noise around the door mirrors. 

Dacia Duster Pricing

This is the key metric for the Duster — at €19,990 for the TCE BiFuel in Essential trim, you are saving yourself at least €10,000 compared to a similarly-sized competitor, and as much as €4,000 compared to smaller compact crossovers. Essential trim comes with manual air conditioning, a stereo with a USB socket, LED daytime running lights, cruise control with speed limiter and roof bars. 

You can step up to a Comfort model for €22,090 and get the eight-inch touchscreen, a rear parking camera, auto wipers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 16-inch alloys and front fog lights. Top-spec Prestige versions, starting from €23,990, get built-in navigation, climate control, blind spot warning, keyless entry, surround-view parking camera and 17-inch alloys. That’s unbeatable value.

To get down to those prices, the Duster does without such safety gizmos as lane-keeping steering and automated emergency braking. Consequently, it only scores a disappointing three stars on the EuroNCAP safety tests.

Carzone Verdict: 4/5

The Duster is as the Duster was — simple, solid, likely reliable, practical and rather characterful. The safety rating is a bit of a worry, but at that price few owners are likely to quibble. This round of updates is useful (especially the improved infotainment screen), and the Duster holds a place in our hearts, just for being such a refreshingly sensible alternative to all the overly-fashionable crossovers and SUVs. 

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