Dacia is something of a curiosity. It’s a budget brand, there’s no doubt about it, but there’s something in there that perhaps tugs a string or two. The Dacia Duster SUV is a great example of this. Top Gear’s former presenter James May perhaps put it best on completion of a trip across Morocco in a 4WD Duster: “This is a cheap car. It’s also basic, not especially exciting, definitely not glamorous and I can’t pretend it gives me the fizz. But it is in no way nasty. In fact, I think it might be a bit cool.”
It’s not a high performance vehicle, nor is it overly fast, or good-looking, but it is practical, functional and, perhaps most importantly these days, affordable. A quick glance at the price list and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s something of a misprint – the range starts at €16,190, severely undercutting rivals like the Nissan Qashqai (starting from €24,695) or the Skoda Yeti (from €24,490). All Irish models are powered by the same 1.5L dCi engine producing 110hp, a more frugal block that allows for a top speed of 171km/h in the 4×2 version, and a slightly slower 168km/h in the 4×4, though the engine is a little on the noisy side.
It’s also highly economical – fitting into tax band B, with consumption of around 5.0L/100km or 56 mpg (as with any car, take the official figures with a grain of salt, real mpg will likely be somewhere around the 40 mark). 0-100kph takes a little more than 11 seconds, but chances are if you’re buying a Dacia, you’re not cruising around town in search of a drag race. The steering is light, the suspension is fairly capable as long as you don’t drive it into too many potholes, while high ground clearance means you can delve a little down less well-beaten paths in the 4×4 version. You won’t be traversing through Nepal, but it’ll get you easily down rough country lanes or across grassy fields.
For those who like a high seating position, the Dacia won’t let you down, and its big windows give you a great view of your surroundings. The interior is simple, and uncomplicated so it’s great for families with young kids trudging in and out in mucky shoes, and banging against the trim. There’s plenty of head and legroom in the back, even if you’re on the taller side, and cubbyholes scattered around provide for extra storage space. The 4×4 model (€20,190) comes with a 408L boot which stretches to 1,570 with the seats folded flat, 475L and 1,636L in the 4×2 version (Alternative €16,190; Signature €18,190).
The Duster is also in line for an upgrade in 2015. Core features on the new Duster include roof bars, traction and stability control and an ECO mode. The Alternative model introduces features like 16” Matterhorn steel wheels, a new cloth upholstery, a height adjustable driver’s seat, front fog lights and Bluetooth connectivity. The next step up is Signature, adding 16” Tyrol alloy wheels, body-coloured handles, a leather steering wheel, a 7-function on-board computer, cruise control and a speed limiter. The roof bars are chromed on the Signature version.
But when all is said and done, the Duster is the Ronseal of cars – it does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s cheap and cheerful, not to mention roomy inside – just without the sugar coating. And that’s a compliment.