Dacia Duster 4x4 performance
The Duster is available with a choice of four four-cylinder engines: a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol, two 1.4-litre turbocharged petrols with 128bhp or 148bhp, and a 1.5-litre diesel. To be honest, the 1.6 petrol is truly gutless. Off the mark it's a real struggle to get it up to speed and there's only the faintest whiff of enthusiasm to its acceleration at 5000rpm. 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. We haven't driven the turbocharged options yet, but we've no doubt they'll be a much more enjoyable.
For those who cover 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.
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 gearshift has quite a long action and is a little notchy, and there's no automatic option available.
Dacia Duster 4x4 ride
Sharing its design with the the old Renault Clio, the Duster's suspension is rather old-fashioned. This shows at higher motorway speeds, where the Duster never feels truly settled. Four-wheel-drive cars come with a more sophisticated rear suspension that improves comfort, but require that you spend several thousand pounds more. That said, 4x4s still don't come any cheaper than this.
Even front-wheel-drive Dusters aren’t too bad around town, though, 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. There's enough vertical body movement to have passengers headbanging, 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 feels quite stodgy around the straight ahead and the front wheels are quite slow 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 how much grip you have.
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. Back-seat passengers will also feel a bit of vibration from the suspension on front-wheel drive models.
All the engines can be noisy when worked hard, especially the low-tech 1.6-litre petrol, which sounds rather coarse as the revs rise. By comparison, the diesel sounds a lot more cultured, but it does transmit some noticeable vibrations through the steering wheel and floor area that surrounds the pedals.