With 4x4 now an option on the all-new Duster, Ed Coles finds himself with a good opportunity to give it a proper off-road test at his local shoot
My curiosity was piqued when I heard we would be putting the new second-generation Duster through its paces. Dacia, Renault’s budget, no-frills brand, has added a 4×4 option to the popular Duster range, which potentially could be right up our street.
The Dacia Duster 4×4 – smart inside
It was pelting down when I took delivery of the Duster Comfort dCi 115 4×4, so rather than my normal initial routine of looking underneath, I opted to take shelter inside.
The first revelation is that there are actually one or two frills in here, and it doesn’t scream ‘budget vehicle’, either. A central touchscreen controls the DAB radio, satnav and Apple CarPlay.
All the other little extras such as hill descent and a parking camera are also present and correct.
You could be forgiven for thinking you were sitting in something more high end. While you are surrounded by plastic, it certainly doesn’t cheapen the experience, and overall the new interior is rather smart inside.
My eye was drawn to the electronically controlled 4×4 settings. There is 2wd, auto and 4wd available, with a diff-lock function as well.
With the rain easing off I ventured outside for a look underneath the Duster. Fortunately, I remembered to bring my trusty old feed bag to lie on. Underneath there’s not too much to talk about other than a great wedge of plastic.
There’s a vague glimpse of the 4×4 running gear, rear differential and driveshafts. Independent rear suspension is fitted at the back, the driveshafts don’t look overly robust but ground clearance isn’t bad at 210mm, so it should be able to cope with a rut or two.
Sliding out, I went to have a peek in the boot. It’s a reasonable size, deep but not overly tall. The spare wheel, however, robs the boot of some space in the 4×4 model. By my rough estimation the boot would take five or six full feed bags at a push.
Certainly, there is enough room for your sporting essentials, though you may prefer to use the back seat for the gun slip.
Stepping back, the Dacia Duster 4×4 looks quite pleasing, almost sporty with its 16in wheels and chrome trims. It comes in five variants, with six colour options.
There are five different engines to choose from: four petrol from 999cc up to 1,399cc, with various power outputs up to 115hp. There is one diesel option and all are made by Renault.
On test was the Comfort edition, third best of four trim levels, powered by the 1.5-litre diesel that is perfectly nippy. It’s not quick, but the 115hp engine is spirited enough in normal use. On the open road or twisty country lanes the Duster performs well. There is some oversteer and roll in corners, but it’s no worse than the competition.
While testing the Duster a true Shooting Times scenario cropped up. I was on a day out at my sibling’s shoot, delegated to duties on the game cart. My journey there tested the wiper speed function if nothing else, as it was absolutely bucketing it down.
On arrival I was informed I would have to drive around rather than cadge my normal lift with one of the pickers-up. I must admit there was a hint of mild panic and insurance checking, but what better place to put the Duster through its paces than a hilly yet claggy shoot?
Setting off with 4×4 engaged and diff lock selected, and with the rain easing slightly, the first test for the Dacia was a farm track that got progressively more rutted with a few large potholes thrown in. I tested the limits of the Duster’s ground clearance on that track; towards the end I had everything crossed and was relieved to reach level ground.
Around the corner was the next challenge, especially for the road-going continental tyres. Ahead was a steep muddy track through woodland. With a lot of slipping and sliding I made it up, arriving at the top of the mini valley the shoot sits in.
What goes up must come down, so once I found the hill-descent button I gingerly went down the other side of the ridge to get in position. I could feel the hill control and 4×4 system working — it was more of a controlled slide but that was largely down to the tyres. We reached the bottom safely, and I was relieved I had not ended up in a ditch at the bottom.
Once the first drive ended and all the game was collected, I loaded the boot with full game trays ready to get them promptly back to the chiller. A simple grass track was the route back, easily driven and sedate compared to the outgoing journey. The Duster had passed its shoot day test without the aid of a tow rope or insurance claim forms.
There were niggles. The six-speed gearbox felt vague changing from second to third, easily slipping back into first. The first two gears are also low and quite close, making first almost redundant for all but the most demanding situations.
The auto stop-start was frankly annoying — a couple of times it cut in too early when pulling into the driveway, leaving me coasting.
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The bottom line
The Duster range starts at £10,995 for the 4×2 base model, which is pretty reasonable for a slice of no-frills motoring. The Comfort dCi 115 is the cheapest 4×4 in the rage at £17,995, though with many options ticked our test car would have cost £18,995. That said, it did have a lot of kit. It was enjoyable to drive and didn’t embarrass itself off-road. It could do with being more robust for hard daily country use, but it’s not a bad effort and much improved on the previous model.
Could do with being more robust for hard daily country use, but it's not a bad effort and much improved on the previous model