Dacia Duster 4x4 performance
The Duster is available with two four-cylinder engines: a 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre diesel. The naturally aspirated petrol unit is truly gutless. Off the mark it's a real struggle to get it up to speed, with only a slight whiff of enthusiasm to its acceleration at 5000rpm, although this disappears again almost as soon as it has arrived. Around town it isn't such an issue, but if you choose it, be prepared to work this engine very hard most of the time.
For those who do more miles, the diesel is a good bet. It pulls strongly, so you’ll have no problem accelerating up to motorway speeds, and it feels relaxed once settled in top gear. The diesel is currently our pick of the range, but it's worth bearing in mind that a turbocharged petrol engine will be joining the range soon.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard on the petrol two-wheel-drive version, with a six-speed manual ’box standard on all other models. The manual gearshift has quite a long action and is a little notchy, but there's no automatic option available yet - expect one in the future, though.
Dacia Duster 4x4 ride
Being based on the old Renault Clio, the Duster's suspension is rather old-fashioned, and this is especially noticeable at higher motorway speeds, where you will lots of vibrations coming from the rear of the car. Four-wheel-drive cars come with a more sophisticated rear suspension that improves comfort, but these models are relatively expensive given the bargain basement starting price. That said, 4x4s still don't come any cheaper than this.
Mind you, even front-wheel-drive Dusters aren’t too bad around town, thanks to the combination of relatively small wheels and high-profile tyres that help to squish most small lumps and bumps with little noticeable impact.
When driving on faster, undulating roads, things aren’t quite as composed because there is a fair bit of vertical body movement and there’s also some fairly pronounced nose dive under hard braking.
Dacia Duster 4x4 handling
The Duster may not be the best SUV to drive, but it’s not awful either. It handles predictably enough and there’s a reasonable amount of grip, even if its soft suspension means it leans quite a bit in corners. Even so, more road-biased SUVs like the Suzuki Vitara and the MG GS cope with bends even better.
The steering does feel quite stodgy around the straight ahead, though and it’s quite slow to get the front wheels to respond to inputs. At least the steering has a reasonable amount of feel when turning in to a corner, so you’ll always have a fair idea of what the front wheels are up to.
Four-wheel-drive versions provide extra traction in slippery conditions, with a selectable system that allows you to choose front-wheel drive, automatic or a 50/50 front and rear set-up.
Dacia Duster 4x4 refinement
There's a fair bit of wind noise from the door mirrors and roof rails on the motorway, along with some grainy road noise that filters through the floor, but never to the extent that you’ll need to shout to communicate with those travelling in the rear.
Both engines can be noisy when worked hard, especially the ageing petrol, which sounds rather coarse as the revs rise. By comparison, the diesel sounds rather cultured, but it does transmit some noticeable vibrations through the steering wheel and floor area that surrounds the pedals.