The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The Duster's tall enough to deliver a lofty driver's perch, which is just the ticket for a family SUV, but you might struggle to get comfortable. For a start, there’s a shortage of space for your left foot to fit between the side of the footwell and the clutch pedal, and the entry-level Access trim misses out on driver's seat height adjustment; that comes as standard only from Essential trim. No trim levels have lumbar adjustment. Still, the driver's seat is comfortable enough to sit on for a long trip but it doesn't offer much in the way of side support through corners.
The steering wheel doesn’t even adjust for height on Access trim, but step up to Essential trim and this adjustment is added. From mid-spec Comfort trim you get a driver's armrest, too.
On the upside, the dashboard is about as complicated as a knife and fork, with simple rotary heater controls and clearly labelled buttons that are dead easy to use. When fitted to the higher trims, the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel are also easy to operate, although the audio controls are mounted on a separate stalk hidden behind the steering wheel, so you need to learn which button does what by feel.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The Duster’s elevated driving position and thin-ish windscreen pillars make for a good view forwards, but there are some over-the-shoulder blind spots in the area around the rear pillars. Still, all-round visibility is better than it is in the MG ZS.
The limited equipment list of the lower trim levels means you can forget about getting any visibility aids, but once you get to the mid-level Comfort trim rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera are included. SE Twenty trim and up adds a 360deg camera. It’s worth mentioning that the resolution of those cameras is pretty low compared with what you get in something pricier, such as a Skoda Karoq.
Also, there's no option of bright LED headlights on any trim level; these are either provided as standard or available as an option on many of the Duster's more expensive rivals. The standard halogen headlights are dim by comparison. Front fog lights are added from Comfort trim, and all models get LED daytime running lights.
Sat nav and infotainment
The entry-level Access model doesn’t even have a radio – just some wiring and a slot in which to fit one. Next-rung-up Essential trim gains a basic DAB radio with Bluetooth, four speakers and a USB socket.
You'll need to jump up to Comfort trim if you want a touchscreen infotainment system. This features a pretty low-resolution 7.0in screen that’s mounted rather low in the dash, and its software and small icons conspire to make it quite clunky to use. The infotainment systems of the Skoda Karoq and Mazda CX-30 are miles ahead for all-round usability.
It does at least come with in-built sat-nav, but perhaps more useful is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which means you can by-pass the Dacia software and use your phone's apps – Google Maps and Spotify, etc – instead.
Wherever you look or whatever you touch inside, there’s no escaping the fact that the Duster is built to a price; it lacks many of the cosmetic flourishes we’ve come to expect from the more expensive family SUVs. The interior plastics are hard – you could probably exfoliate your elbow on the door trim – and look unappealing, the carpets are thin and most of the fixtures and fittings feel rather low-rent. The MG ZS feels better trimmed for a similar price.
None of this will be a problem if you simply view your Duster as a cost-effective family workhorse, and it does at least feel solidly screwed together in the main. In fact, this is a car that’s built to withstand tough treatment in countries where road conditions are much poorer than here in the UK. Even with that in mind, it's a considerable step up from the really utilitarian Suzuki Jimny.
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