The Duster is available with two four-cylinder engines: a 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre diesel. The petrol unit is rather wheezy and needs to be revved hard, although its outright performance is acceptable.
The 1.5-litre diesel is a much better bet. It’s usefully flexible, so you’ll have no problem getting to the motorway limit or keeping up with everyday, main road traffic.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard on the petrol two-wheel-drive version, while a six-speed gearbox is standard on the four-wheel drive petrol, and two and four-wheel-drive diesel versions.
Dacia Duster ride comfort
The Duster feels rather old-fashioned because its suspension is soft and spongy, with a clear emphasis on comfort over sportiness. This approach – and the combination of 16in wheels and comparatively high-profile tyres for all models – delivers an admirably forgiving ride over smaller bumps, with imperfections effectively smothered.
Over larger bumps the Duster doesn’t feel as composed. Its loping gait generates a lot of body movement, so the car pitches over big speed bumps and wallows uncomfortably on undulating, twisty country roads.
Dacia Duster handling
The Duster is one of the least satisfying cars in its class to drive, and feels rather crude. It handles safely enough but its soft suspension means that it leans considerably in corners, even at comparatively low speeds. The steering is vague around the straight-ahead and slow to respond to inputs, while the wheel suddenly becomes very heavy when you hit a mid-corner bump.
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 refinement
Refinement is one of the areas where the Duster betrays its price. There’s lots of road noise, and it can often sound like the wind is about to penetrate the window seals.
Both engines can be noisy, too. To make matters worse, the diesel transmits vibrations through the clutch pedal, while the clutch action itself is vague, which makes the car hard to drive smoothly in stop-start traffic.
This is the only petrol engine in the Duster range. It’s mated to a five-speed manual gearbox as standard and performance is adequate, but nothing more. It gets boomy when worked hard, which it needs to be all too often, while fuel economy and CO2 emissions are nowhere near as good as those of rivals with three-cylinder petrol engines. The diesel is a much better choice.
Our pick 1.5 dCi diesel
This is the only diesel engine in the Duster range, and comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. It’s more flexible, and much more frugal, than the petrol alternative, so choosing it is a no-brainer. It’s reasonably refined too.