The Dacia Duster has a job – and does it well. When all you want is a car that will transport you and a whole load of your possessions, then simple is best, especially if the journey involves the odd bit of rough road. Think of the original Land Rover Defender – simple and hard as nails. And the Dacia Duster does the same job for a fraction of the price.
There have been two generations of Dacia Duster – one from 2011 to 2018, and the second from 2018 to the present. You’ll be quite hard pressed to tell them apart. They’re both based on the same platform though, according to Dacia, they don’t share a body panel between the two.
Both feature strong front ends with a prominent grille, and large headlights, while the later car has a large silver trim intended to mimic a skid plate underneath. The tall, vertical doors make getting into and out of the Duster easy, and at the back the large tailgate means you’ll never struggle to get stuff into the boot.
Both versions of the Duster feature a pair of roof rails, so you can carry stuff up there, too. The glass area is pretty big, and the pillars quite skinny - so seeing out of the Duster is never an issue.
Vertical doors make getting into and out of the Duster easy
What’s it like to drive?
In the older version, the 1.2-litre petrol engine is your best option; it’s economical and punchy like pro boxer.
The TCe 130 engine is the sweet spot in the later car’s range if you stick to the roads, which means you only ever need two-wheel drive. It’s an eager performer that responds briskly when you press the accelerator, and it doesn’t feel at all out of its depth, even on motorways.
If you reckon you might have to occasionally venture onto rougher terrain, or tow a trailer over wet grass, then you’ll need the four-wheel drive version, in which case the diesel is your only option. It’s strong enough once you get it revving.
Both versions of the Duster have quite soft suspension. The later car’s feels that bit more sophisticated, and irons out bumps better. The steering is fairly slow, so you’ll need to twirl your arms a bit when parking, but this gives the car a relaxed feel at speed.
It’s an eager performer that responds briskly.
Interiors don’t come a whole lot simpler than the one in the Dacia Duster. It has a steering wheel, seats, windows and.… on entry-level versions that’s about it. Access cars don’t even have a radio – it’s just a distraction, right?
Having said that, the Duster is designed to provide simple, uncomplicated transport, and this it undoubtedly manages. Let’s face it, if there’s isn’t a whole lot of stuff in the car in the first place, there isn’t a whole lot to go wrong.
Both versions have a fairly similar design, so there are a few circular vents along the top of the dashboard, and the instrument binnacle ahead of the driver contains two main dials, for the speedo and rev counter. Smaller dials provide information on the fuel level and water temperature. There’s also a small central display for supplementary information, such as range to empty, average economy and suchlike. You know, like all cars have.
In older models, the centre console comprises a CD player and radio system (fancy), while the newer one with higher-spec offer a central touchscreen to control the audio system, the Bluetooth and the sat-nav.
The plastics used in both the previous and current shape Dusters are definitely of the ‘meant-to-last-a-long-time’ ilk, rather than the sort that will feel wonderful when you touch them. Luxury is not what the Dacia Duster is all about, so robust-feeling materials are just fine.
The seats have reasonable adjustment, although lumbar adjustment is absent, and there’s no steering wheel height adjustment on Access trim. It’s present on other trims though.
The Dacia Duster has the strait-laced, upright look of practicality about it, and thankfully the space on offer backs that up.
In both versions, the tall, vertical doors give easy access to a cabin with plenty of headroom available for the taller customer. Legroom is fine, although you might find that the seat doesn’t go back far enough if you’re particularly long of leg.
In the back, tall doors that open wide make getting into and out of the seat easy, and there’s space for a couple of adults or an additional kid.
As for boot space, well you’ll have to try pretty hard to fill the load area, that’s for sure. It’ll easily take more than half a dozen carry-on cases even before you’ve folded down the rear seats.
The seats don’t fold flat, but they’re not far off, and the lip at the rear edge of the boot is small enough not to be an issue.
Running costs and reliability
Cheap to buy doesn’t always mean cheap to run. It does where the Dacia Duster is concerned. The 1.3 petrol motor has an official average economy figure of 42.9mpg, which should equate to around 40mpg in real life.
The two-wheel-drive 1.5-litre diesel can do up to 64.2mpg on paper, and the four-wheel-drive version of the same engine will do 62.8mpg, both of which will mean around 50mpg in reality.
What we love
Take all that’s good about the brand’s Sandero hatchback model-a simple, spacious and robust interior plus low running costs and simple, uncomplicated motoring. Add a degree of ruggedness and SUV practicality to the mix, and you’ve got the Duster. It has more than enough space for a family, and the boot can more than cope with everything they bring along for the ride.
Still looking for the one?
Use our comparison tool to find the car for you
This review was