Review: Dacia Duster

Dacia Duster Commercial - Copy

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.

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Driven: the Jeep Cherokee

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The iconic Jeep brand has its roots in World War II. As war raged in Europe, the US military realised that it required an update for its reconnaissance vehicles, and invited 135 manufacturers to submit their ideas. From this competition, a design from Willys-Overland Quad prevailed, and soon became known as the Jeep, though it’s still uncertain exactly why – some people believe it was named after the popular Popeye cartoon character Eugene the Jeep.

Whatever the reason, it was a success, and more than half a million were produced for action. The name was trademarked by the company after the war, and was first turned into an off-road vehicle for farmers, swiftly followed by a civilian version. The rest, as they say, was history, and in the following years, the recognisable brand has remained the same at least in spirit, and Jeep has become a by-word for 4x4s or SUVs in Ireland.

Redesign

Jeep_1929_FSLooking at the new Cherokee, which comes after a ten year hiatus, you sense a coming together of past and present. The iconic front grille is still there, but has been pulled over the bonnet somewhat; the boxier shape and simple headlamps replaced by flowing curves and aggressive daytime running lights. Stitched into the leather steering wheel which features voice activation control is the phrase ‘Since 1941’. It’s all very nostalgic, but not over-the-top. It’s likely a divisive overhaul in the looks department, but you really need to see it in the flesh before you make up your mind.

Jeep haven’t been the biggest sellers on this side of the pond, but they’re hugely popular in the US, similar in some way to the success of Land Rover here and moreso in the UK. My test version was the Limited 2.0L turbo diesel with FWD and 138hp, married to a six speed manual gearbox. You can also get 4×4 versions of the Cherokee with either 140hp (six speed) or 170hp (nine speed auto). Once you get behind the wheel, you’ll quickly realise that it’s a car built for comfort rather than performance. Max speed is 187, 0-100km/h takes 10.9 seconds (which, to be honest, feels a little sluggish). It’s good for overtaking, but you won’t be winning any drag races (if that’s your thing).

Annual road tax is €280, given CO2 emissions of 139g/km, and we averaged a combined 6.5L/100km (43mpg) which isn’t bad for the class, and better than rivals from BMW or Volvo. In 4×4 models, the Cherokee has a rear axle disconnect feature – basically speaking you don’t expend as much energy when you’re not using all four wheels leading to better fuel consumption, and the car does the switching for you.

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Driven: The Game Changer? Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV

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There’s no doubt that we live in an age of motoring evolution, watching history unfold before our eyes. Hybrid and electric vehicles were once the butt of many motoring columnists’ jokes, discarded as a waste of time or, at their worst, as something which threatened the joy of true motoring. In a way it’s an ironic viewpoint, considering that electric cars have been around almost as long as their counterparts which rely on miniature explosions for propulsion. But they’re steadily gaining a foothold in the modern era, thanks in part to government schemes, the interest of early adopters and increasingly efficient technology.31

Nissan’s Leaf is an affordable electric car which has got a lot going for it in terms of comfort and ease of use, even if it isn’t the best looking vehicle on the market. Ford have an electric Focus which doesn’t look altogether different from the outside. Mitsubishi’s i-Miev might look a like a bug which has crashed into your windscreen at speed, but it’s a useful city car and isn’t all that bad to drive. Even BMW have got in on the act, with their luxury i3 and the electric sportscar, the i8. And eventually we’ll see Tesla’s beautifully crafted Model S reach European shores, looking for all the world like the offspring of a Jaguar and an Aston Martin. For the electric car enthusiast there’s quite the range of options, a list which continues to grow.

These vehicles have one thing in common – they’re all road cars, designed for smooth tarmac, urban (and rural) roads. And if you want to delve deeper, off road, via battery power? The options are limited. There’s Toyota’s RAV 4 EV, but that’s only sold in California. Porsche, meanwhile, have launched a hybrid Cayenne, although that is likely to be out of reach for the ordinary EV driver. You could always try to manoeuvre a BMW i3 around a muddy track, but you’re not likely to get very far. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug in hybrid electric vehicle) is another story, however.

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Land Rover Launching Superfast SUV

 

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If you’re into that sort of thing, Land Rover have recently announced their fastest ever Range Rover – the Range Rover Sport SVR (SVR will be the future designation for all the more sporty-minded Land Rover and Jaguar models).

This version gets a 5.0L supercharged V8 engine with an output of 542hp, and will charge to 100 kph in 4.5 seconds, topping out at 260 kph. The pretty great looking SVR will make its début a Pebble Beach in California this Thursday. All of that power is delivered or restrained via an eight speed automatic transmission, upgraded air suspension and bushings, and a four-wheel drive chassis, despite the fact that driving on a slightly grassy lane is as much off-roading as the average Range Rover will experience.

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