THE Dacia Duster does something extremely clever. It forces you to reassess what exactly is really necessary in modern cars and pares the frills back accordingly.
That ought to make it a pretty joyless thing, but it’s actually very likeable. Dig down the back of the sofa for some money and join the queue.
Cut the cost back and you also reduce expectation. Admit it. You didn’t think the Duster was going to be any good at all to drive.
It may well come as some surprise then, to learn the market consensus in Europe, where this car has already been on sale some time, is this Duster has the sort of ride/handling compromise that would shame rivals many thousands of pounds more expensive.
Some French, German and Italian writers have gone as far as to say that on broken tarmac, the ride is better than a Land Rover Freelander.
In the UK, we get to choose between a 105PS 1.6-litre petrol with a five-speed manual gearbox and a 110PS 1.5dCi diesel with a six-cog box. You’ll also need to decide whether you need all-wheel or just front-wheel drive.
The four-wheel drive car is actually quite serious, with selectable three-mode, four-wheel drive as standard (2WD, Auto and Lock). This system was developed by Nissan, partner company of Renault. Plus there’s a useful 210mm ground clearance and impressive clearance angles of 30° approach, 23° ramp breakover and 36° departure.
The petrol engine is fairly loud when extended and can’t get near the lazier, more satisfying torque response of the diesel. Peak torque with the petrol engine arrives at 3,750rpm and go much beyond that and you’ll start wincing a bit.
The all-wheel drive diesel gets to 60mph in 12.2 seconds and will run out of interest at 104mph. Both cars suffer a little from wind noise at speed but the steering is surprisingly good and the brakes have some heft. The gearshift isn’t the slickest - but it’s not the worst in class either.
As much as the price, I think the shape is going to sell the Duster. It’s not typically compact-SUV generic. The glasshouse isn’t as tall as some rivals and the wheelbase appears longer than it is, giving this Dacia a clear look of its own.
The result is really quite handsome, with a purposeful amount of fresh air in the flared wheel arches, a kicked up window line and a very neatly resolved way in which the headlights integrate with the grille.
Most customers will doubtless be drawn to the upper specification models, but I think the car looks its very best when finished in basic Alpine white and rocking a set of 16 inch steel wheels. Yes, there’s a bit of inverted snob appeal at work, but it’s cool. There’s no escaping that fact.
The Dacia Duster is a refreshing piece of no-nonsense product design that should be welcomed with open arms. It has changed the way new cars are marketed in the UK.
Behind that attention-grabbing sub £10,000 price though, you’ll find a little bit of sly up-selling.
Dacia knows almost every customer will want air conditioning, which instantly forces them into the range-topping car. That then means a diesel engine or nothing and the choice between front and four-wheel drive, the all-wheel drive carrying a £2,000 premium. Suddenly that car you thought was going to retail for chump change becomes a more serious financial commitment.
Specify an extended warranty, stability control and metallic paint and you could be looking at well over £16,000. Mind you, that’s still £3,500 cheaper than an equivalent Skoda Yeti and a whopping £8,000 less than the (admittedly more powerful) Nissan Qashqai.
So yes, the Duster is still a massive bargain, but just make sure you’ve done your homework as to what you want and what you need. Go in with your eyes open and you’ll never be disappointed.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
CAR: Dacia Duster range
PRICES: £8,995-£15,995 - on the road
INSURANCE GROUPS: 7-10
CO2 EMISSIONS: 130-185g/km
PERFORMANCE: [1.5 dCi 4x4] 0-60mph 12.2s / Max Speed 104mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: [1.5 dCi 4x4] (combined) 53.3mpg
STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front and side airbags, anti lock brakes with brake assist
WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: Length/Width/Height mm 4315/1822/1625
WHO TO SEE: Dacia Eastbourne; 18-22 Lottbridge Drove, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN23 6NS Tel: 01323 737233