Dacia Duster long-term test

The new Dacia Duster is our favourite family SUV in the lowest price point. So, does it exceed expectations of a £15k car?...

duster LT

The car: Dacia Duster TCe 130 4x2 Comfort Run by: Kris Culmer, sub-editor

Why it’s here: To prove that you need spend no more than £15,000 to get a genuinely practical and pleasant-to-drive family SUV

Needs to: Intelligently offset the aspects that are inferior to the equivalents of pricier rivals by being up to scratch mechanically and dynamically, comfortable and respectable inside

Mileage 7422 Price £14,395 Price as tested £15,040 Test economy 43.8mpg Official fuel economy 41.5mpg (WLTP) Options fitted Desert Orange metallic paint (£495), spare wheel (£150) 

Dealer price now £13,380 Private price now £12,250 Trade-in price now £11,480 Running costs £1004 (fuel)

27 August – That's all, folks

At the start of my time with the latest Dacia Duster, I said that success would come if it could "conceal its necessitated inferiorities sufficiently that it feels like more than just a poor man’s Nissan Qashqai".

The question now, then, is whether it did. Well, that question is tricky to answer. Perhaps the best way to put it is that the Duster does indeed feel like a poor man’s Qashqai – because it is one. In the same way that a BMW 5 Series is a poor man’s Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Dacia Duster 2021 boot

Putting price aside for a moment, practicality has to be the Duster’s main attraction. In terms of metal for your money, nothing comes close. At just over 4.3 metres long (meaning it just sneaks into the family SUV class), with a wide, tall interior and a generous boot, it never once gave me any problems. That included when taking my parents and their friends to the airport with six suitcases destined for a Boeing 747’s hold, and lugging two mountain bikes, because I could fold the rear seatbacks down to liberate 1178 litres of cargo space.

The seats themselves were comfortable as well, with decent support and even (admittedly rather crude) adjustable lumbar support for the driver. The range of movement in the driver’s seat and steering wheel is commendable, even if it did take me a while to find a properly comfortable position in the high chair.

The amount of standard kit on my car struck me, too, even if it was the stuff we've come to expect these days. The Duster’s cruise control would have been sorely missed, as would its Bluetooth, DAB radio and sat-nav. The latter proved particularly easy to operate; in fact, the infotainment system as a whole was a pleasant surprise, containing all of the features I want within an intuitive menu structure on a bright, clear touchscreen. It’s much better than what you get in the closely comparable Suzuki Vitara and not put to shame by the Qashqai.

Dacia Duster

Actually, aside from the low-rent plastics inside, the main reasons why you’d justify spending an additional £10,000 to get the Nissan aren’t readily apparent. Until you start actually driving the Duster, that is. It’s based on underpinnings dating from two or three generations ago, and you can tell. In the same way Windows 98 was once the absolute business but would be immensely frustrating to work on today, the advantages of a modern family SUV are clear to see.

The engine – a turbocharged 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol – was a standout operator. Introduced only last year, it’s also offered in various Renaults and – hush now – the Mercedes A-Class. It produced plenty of pulling power, was smooth at a cruise and could be efficient; I managed 43.8mpg.

However, other aspects of the Duster's driving manners were far less satisfactory; it suffered from terribly vague steering (resulting in unnerving tugging to the right or left if I floored the accelerator in first or second gears), as well as a numb gearbox and lots of body lean in corners. 

Duster goodbye

This is the main reason why I can’t quite grasp the popularity of Dacia. I suppose the excitement of a factory-fresh item must be stronger for most people than for me, because for the £15,040 value of my mid-range petrol Duster, you could find a minty two-year-old family SUV such as a Kia Sportage – which would still have five years of its warranty left, whereas you only get three years from Dacia – or, dare I say it, a Qashqai. And for those who want to take out a PCP deal, well, you can get a slightly more used family SUV on finance as well. 

If you have a tight budget and need a lot of space for a family but really do want a new car, I must admit that you can’t do better than the Duster. I lived with it for four months and it impressed me in a number of ways. But I also found its flaws hard to overlook. So, make sure you explore all your options before making a beeline for your local Dacia dealership.

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