This isn’t a new car; it went into production three years ago. It’s noisy, slow and doesn’t look particularly special. In this spec, it’s only available in United Nations Peacekeeping Force white. But if you only read one of my reviews all year, please make it this one. The reason is that this family-sized 4×4 isn’t nearly £30,000 like the Kuga I tested last month. It isn’t £20,000 like the Ford’s cheaper Korean competitors. This is the Dacia Duster – and it’s £11,005.
Dacia (pronounced Datch-ya if you must know) was the Romanian state-owned car manufacturer in Ceausescu’s time but, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, was purchased by Renault. They launched the French-designed and engineered Duster as an inexpensive workmanlike car for Eastern Europe in 2010, but were totally unready for the reaction that recession-hit Europe had for the car. The Dacia Duster became an instant best seller, to the extent that, based on my none-too scientific research on a recent ski holiday, every second car in France is now a Dacia Duster.
And now there is a right-hand drive version. Underneath its tidy but unremarkable utilitarian bodywork, it uses well-proven components from other parts of the Renault-Nissan group, including either a 1.6 litre 16v petrol engine or a 1.5 turbodiesel.
The Dacia Duster comes with no bells or whistles inside or out but feels like it is built to last and is fit for purpose.
The four-wheel drive system comes from Nissan and, to be fair, it all works well enough. I drove the cheapest 4×4 version, which was sufficiently weedy that you have to change down a gear or two on the six-speed gearbox to maintain your speed up a hill. It doesn’t have a diff lock or anything particularly sophisticated but its lightness, compact proportions, low first gear and decent ground clearance means it’ll do much better off road than most other compact SUVs. It even has some rudimentary bashplates to protect its nether regions.
On road, the Dacia Duster handles okay, and actually rides fairly reasonably, although that’s probably as much the result of it having unfashionably small wheels and tyres with tall side walls as it is the engineering prowess of its suspension engineers. It is certainly a bit noisier than its more expensive competition, the trim materials aren’t especially nice to touch and I missed heated seats on cold Bowland mornings. If I travelled south some distance and timed it just right, I might even miss air conditioning for a minute or two in August. Other equipment might be considered even more essential, such as a radio but it’s not as if Halfords would charge you a fortune for fitting one.
The Dacia Duster has no bells or whistles, but it feels like it is built to last and is absolutely, perfectly fit for purpose – and I have no higher praise for a car than that.
Specifications for the the Dacia Duster 1.6 16v Access 105hp 4×4
Top speed: 99mph
0-60mph: 12.8 seconds
Ben Samuelson is the managing director of PR and events agency Samuelson Wylie Associates. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/bensamuelson