What Car? says...
Commercial vehicle SUVs usually sit in one of two camps. They’re either luxurious versions of passenger car siblings, or bare-bones workhorses stripped of any flourishes to make them practical and robust. The Dacia Duster Commercial sits between the two.
You see, like the rest of the Dacia range, it trades on its value for money as well as a certain back-to-basics appeal that suits a working vehicle.
The Duster Commercial is based on the Dacia Duster family SUV, but has been specially converted to give it a loadspace suitable for a working life. That means the rear seats have been removed and replaced with a flat floor and mesh bulkhead. There’s also a full-length load cover and blacked-out rear windows to improve security.
The engine range consists of the one-litre TCe 90 petrol, the 1.3-litre TCe 150 petrol and the 1.5-litre Blue dCi diesel. There’s no BiFuel LPG version as there is in the car range.
You get two-wheel drive as standard, but four-wheel drive is available as an option if you choose the diesel engine, and you can have an automatic or manual gearbox. In terms of trim levels, there are just two – Essential and Expression – and they mirror the equipment levels available with the passenger Duster.
SUV conversions to commercial vehicles were once all the rage, but they're relatively rare these days. This Duster van’s nearest rival is the Suzuki Jimny LCV while other commercial SUVs available include the Toyota Land Cruiser Commercial, the Land Rover Defender Hardtop and the Land Rover Discovery Commercial. Those last three are bigger and much more expensive, though.
Over the next few pages of this review, we'll tell you more about the Dacia Duster Commercial, including how we rate it in all the important areas.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
It’s still relatively unusual for a commercial SUV to be available with a petrol engine, and even more unusual for there to be two petrol choices. The Dacia Duster Commercial’s 1.0-litre petrol is best avoided, though, because it feels a bit gutless and will be particularly slow if you have a full payload.
The more powerful petrol option has no such problems. Indeed, even if you’ll regularly travel fully loaded, it won’t ever be short on grunt, and is the option we think will suit most drivers who won’t need to cover huge miles.
The diesel is the option we would recommend for those who spend lots of time on the motorway, not least because it promises impressive fuel economy alongside a moderate 113bhp and 192 lb ft of torque. Gearbox options are a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic, and both do a good job of keeping you moving.
The Duster Commercial is nicely refined overall, with little in the way of engine noise making its way inside the car, although there are quite a few vibrations from the diesel engine. The converted rear loadspace also allows more road noise from the rear wheels into the interior than in a regular Dacia Duster and there are a few squeaks and rattles from the suspended load cover and bolted-in bulkhead.
It’s definitely not as refined as a Land Rover Defender Hardtop – but then, they are two very different machines with wildly different price tags.
The Duster Commercial gets most of its oily components from previous-generation Renaults, and while they come together to make an SUV that rides and handles well, it’s not top of the list for dynamic light commercial vehicles.
The soft ride does well at smoothing out the lumps and bumps of UK roads, but it does make it a bit wallowy in corners, with a fair amount of body roll. Four-wheel-drive models get improved rear suspension to cope with the demands of off-roading, and it also improves on-road manners.
The interior layout, fit and finish
There’s plenty of travel forwards and backwards in the standard driver’s seat, despite the Dacia Duster Commercial being on the small side of the commercial SUV market. The height and reach adjustable steering wheel allows you to set a good driving position too.
It’s a comfortable van to be in for a few hours, but on longer trips it can feel a bit closed in. That's especially noticeable in the footwell, where your left leg is crammed in, especially on manual models with a clutch pedal to negotiate.
The infotainment controls, including for speaker volume, are on a separate stalk low down to the right of the steering wheel, where it's not very easy to see, and it’s too easy to nudge the dial that changes the radio tuning. Other vehicles – including the Ford Fiesta Van – have controls actually on the steering wheel, which is better.
The Duster Commercial’s interior is not the most inspiring place to sit, but it is simple and functional. The rotary dials and air vents will be familiar to anyone who has been in an old Renault, and so too will the plastics. They’re a bit shiny and hard, and don’t look all that nice. It’s a million miles from the quality of the latest Renault Kangoo but at least it all feels well put together and should stand the test of time.
Storage in the front is a bit sub-par. There’s a tray in front of the gear stick where you’ll find cupholders and a shelf above an average-sized glovebox, alongside narrow door pockets, but that’s it.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
It might look compact, but there’s a vast amount of space in the Dacia Duster Commercial, with up to 1.5m3 of loadspace. That’s more than the Ford Fiesta Van (0.96m3) – which has a similar footprint – and the larger Toyota Corolla Commercial (1.3m3).
The Duster in two-wheel-drive petrol form has a 503kg maximum payload, which is comfortably more than the Corolla's 425kg allowance. The practicalities of the rear loadspace itself are a different matter. While the numbers speak of large volumes, there’s the privacy screen in the way, and a high boot lip entry to navigate.
The fact that the floor is level with the rear lip is a bonus, because that’s often overlooked, and the reinforced metal sides towards the front of the bulkhead do a good job of protecting the otherwise exposed side doors from any loose cargo.
Access through the side doors is only average, though, with the bulkhead taking up a quarter of the usable aperture. They’re not really designed to be a functional loading point – more of a quick access hatch.
The Duster Commercial gets big bonus points for the quality of the material used in its conversions from family SUV to commercial SUV. The protective metal is of a decent gauge, and the floor load liner is a step above the usual slippery plastic that is often found in car-derived conversions.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
With a low price and Dacia’s sterling reputation for value, the entry-level Duster Commercial is a truly tempting prospect for anyone wanting to keep costs low. That said, it’s worth knowing that the cheapest petrol engine runs out of puff quickly.
Fortunately, opting for one of the more powerful engines doesn’t push the price up too much. Indeed, the Duster Commercial remains one of the cheapest commercial SUV options around, while also being one of the most-well rounded.
It should help to cut your fuel bills, too. The 1.0-litre TCE 90 petrol returned 45.6mpg in official tests, but the best-performing engine is the diesel, at 57.6mpg. The diesel also enables you to have four-wheel drive, which is where the commercial version has a further edge over other car-derived options.
Essential is the lesser of the two trim options available, but there’s still lots of equipment as standard, with air-con, electric front windows, cruise control with speed limiter, an on-board computer, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and two USB ports.
Expression models get heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors, a rear-view camera with parking sensors, different seat material, a leather steering wheel, a driver’s armrest and a height-adjustable seat with lumbar support.
When it comes to safety options the Duster Commercial features all the usual ABS and ESP acronyms, but also gets front and side airbags, emergency brake assist and, if you have four-wheel drive, hill-descent control.
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