The Dacia Duster is the SUV you can buy for the price of a supermini. In fact, with prices starting from just £9,995, it even manages to undercut the Nissan Micra – not bad for a car that’s roughly the same size as a Qashqai.
Little wonder, then, that the first-generation Duster, introduced to the UK in 2012, forged a reputation for excellent value for money, earning itself a legion of loyal fans. The good news is that the new Duster picks up where the old model left off, and even manages to improve in certain key areas.
Visually, it looks very similar to the old Duster – Dacia wasn’t going to mess with a winning formula – but every body panel is brand new. It’s more attractive than before, with three-section LED daytime running lights, signature rear lights and a new grille combining to give it a sharp new look.
The interior has been given a subtle makeover, too, with the quality of the materials taken up a notch or two, improved fit and finish across the cabin, more comfortable seats and a repositioned infotainment screen. It’s not the last word in luxury, and neither is it a particularly inspiring cabin, but for the money it’s hard to fault.
It’s also incredibly spacious, with ample room for five adults and up to 445 litres of luggage space with the rear seats in place. Dacia has also improved the soundproofing, upgraded the electric power steering and added keyless entry to the higher trim levels.
There are four specs to choose from: Access, Essential, Comfort and Prestige. The Access defines ‘bargain basement’, with 16-inch steel wheels, a non-splitting rear bench, no height adjustment for the driver’s seat, no air-conditioning and no radio. But at £9,995, it’s hard to complain.
The Essential trim adds a few cosmetic upgrades, along with front fog lights, air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, 60:40 split-folding rear seat, DAB radio and Bluetooth. Comfort feels more upmarket, with 16-inch alloy wheels, a host of aesthetic tweaks, a leather steering wheel, seven-inch infotainment system with sat-nav, a rear parking camera and cruise control.
At the top of the range sits the Prestige model, which boasts 17-inch ‘diamond-cut’ alloy wheels, improved upholstery, climate control, blind spot warning, a multiview camera and keyless entry.
Front-wheel drive variants start at £9,995, but you can no longer buy a 4×4 version in entry-level Access trim. This means you’ll have to spend at least £13,695 for a Duster with four-wheel drive. In all but the Access model, 4×4 adds £2,000 to the list price.
There’s no automatic version, for the time being, though this is due later down the line. All but the Access model (which uses a five-speed manual) come fitted with a six-speed gearbox. The 4×4 models use a different gearbox with a shorter first gear ratio designed for off-road use and towing.
The Dacia Duster has to compete in an increasingly competitive sector, with rivals including the likes of the Skoda Karoq, SEAT Arona, Renault Captur and, to a certain extent, the Suzuki Jimny. But even in this esteemed company, and when faced with a long list of potential suitors, the Duster makes a compelling and convincing case for itself.