Costs & verdict
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Duster range opens with the staggeringly affordable Access trim level, which, as mentioned, is priced to massively undercut rivals such as the Seat Ateca. Not everybody wants an SUV that goes without a radio or air-conditioning, but even our recommended Comfort trim looks cheap next to rivals such as the Peugeot 3008, Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Karoq. To get anywhere near the Duster's affordability you need to be looking at the similarly priced MG ZS.
Yet the Duster pips the ZS in terms of running costs. The diesel is reasonably fuel-efficient; you should be able to average around 45-50mpg, while our recommended TCe 130 petrol (with two-wheel drive) can return nearly 40mpg in everyday driving. The ZS 1.0T GDi would be nearer 32mpg. CO2 emissions also beat the MG's, which is good news for company car drivers. Four-wheel-drive versions of the Duster are more expensive to buy and also bring higher fuel and company car tax costs.
The Duster TCe 100 Bi-Fuel, meanwhile, is an interesting proposition for those with an eye on cutting fuel bills. Although the car is a bit less fuel-efficient when running on LPG than when using petrol, the fact that the former fuel is so much cheaper at the pumps brings the potential for big savings on your fuel bills. Plus, having two tanks (one for petrol, one for LPG) gives it a huge total driving range, too.
The Duster is particularly competitive in terms of insurance, sitting in relatively low groups, and Dacia also offers some very attractive PCP finance deals. So when you take the longer-term costs into account, including depreciation, the Duster still has the edge on the ZS as the most cost-effective family SUV on sale.
Equipment, options and extras
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that, with such a low price tag, entry-level Access trim is super sparse. The only luxuries are its electric front windows; otherwise you get black bumpers, 16in steel wheels, manually adjustable door mirrors and no air conditioning.
So it’s at least worth upgrading to Essential trim, which adds air conditioning, body-coloured bumpers and things such as the 60/40-split rear seats and the Bluetooth-equipped DAB radio we mentioned earlier. You still don't get alloy wheels, though.
That's why Comfort trim is our pick. It's still cheaper than the mainstream SUV rivals while adding accoutrements including a trip computer, cruise control, 16in alloy wheels, privacy glass, heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors, electric rear windows, and simple things, like a passenger vanity mirror. And don't forget that the reversing aids and touchscreen infotainment system we've written about separately are also included. Even the top Prestige trim is not overpriced in relation to an entry-level Ateca.
Dacia is owned by Renault, so many of the parts it uses are pinched from the French firm. Believe it or not, though, Dacia beat Renault to finish a very respectable 12th out of 31 manufacturers in the 2019 What Car? Reliability Survey, which also put it ahead of Ford, Nissan, Vauxhall and Volkswagen. Kia, Hyundai and Skoda finished above it. The Duster itself could manage only a 17th-place finish in the family SUV category, but it still scored higher than the considerably more expensive Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar.
The Duster’s standard warranty lasts an unremarkable three years or 60,000 miles. Extended five-year/60,000-mile and seven-year/100,000-mile warranties are affordable options.
Safety and security
Safety is one of the areas where the Duster falls well off the pace. The most advanced safety system it offers is blind spot monitoring, and that's available only from the top-end SE Twenty trim. Automatic emergency braking isn't even offered as an option. That's partly why the Duster scored a very disappointing three stars in its Euro NCAP safety tests.
It also scored poorly for the protection it offers the driver’s head and neck in a crash. The MG ZS also scored three stars, though, and this is one of those key areas where spending more pay dividends – many of its pricier rivals are objectively safer cars in terms of crash avoidance and protection.
Thatcham Research gave the Duster a disappointing two stars for its ability to resist being broken into and four stars for its resistance to being stolen altogether. It’s also of concern that an alarm isn’t standard.
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