When it comes to cars on a budget there simply isn’t enough of them in the marketplace these days. £10k will get you an entry-level hatchback in most cases, but if you care to take a look at Renault’s sister brand Dacia, you’ll be surprised at how far your budget will stretch.
In that regard, we loved the original Duster, especially in its ultra stripped out, utilitarian form…which became widely known as ‘U.N spec’ due to its black plastic bumpers and white paintwork.
2018 sees the second gen Duster hitting our roads, and unlike most other manufacturers the price hasn’t jumped by thousands just because it’s a new model. £9,995 will still get you into the driving seat, the most expensive model in the range tops out at £16,395. That’s around £3,000 cheaper than a poverty spec Qashqai.
The original Duster was rather on the basic side when it came to design. It was all function over form, which isn’t a bad thing, but it made it feel more budget than it needed to be.
Fast forward to the present day and some thought, love and care has gone into the Duster.
It’s all curvy and round, the lights have detailing in them, and although it may just look like a facelift, all the panels are brand new.
There’s fancy daytime running lights, mock side air vents and electric front windows are now standard.
Things have moved upmarket, but the price has remained super affordable.
You can opt for either the 1.6-litre petrol or a 1.5-litre diesel, both produce the same 115 hp but the diesel provides a hefty 260 Nm of torque compared to the 156 in the petrol.
0-62 is 11.9 seconds in the two-wheel drive petrol, 12.9 in the four-wheel drive and 10.5 in the two-wheel drive diesel.
We only got to test out the two-wheel drive petrol on the road, and the best thing to be said in regard to the 1.6-litre engine is you need to work the gears. Lots. The powerband is quite narrow and it’s the kind of lump that doesn’t like to rev. Overtakes have to planned with military precision, but if you’re after a car to amble along in, the lack of pace isn’t particularly an issue. Just be aware of bumping down a cog or two if you need any sort of acceleration.
Steering is on the light side, there’s no sensation that it’s really connected to anything…which is annoying as it seems to have gone full circle. The previous gen model used a hydraulic steering rack, which was super heavy compared to anything ‘modern’ on the market.
Gear changes are easy thanks to the lightweight nature, the same can be said for all of the controls. The Duster is an easy car to drive.
Ride is also well sorted, for the most part, lumps, bumps and imperfections are taken in its stride. The occasional section of rough tarmac can make its way into the cabin, but only at low speeds is this ever really felt. No doubt the small alloys and large, chunky tyres help.
Acceleration and braking are met with a slight amount of pitch, but it’s nothing too adverse. You’ve got to remember the Duster is built using 50% existing parts in the Renault/Nissan catalogue, it’s also still largely based on the last gen Clio so the tech isn’t at the forefront.
Our road going Duster wasn’t four-wheel drive, for that we swapped into a diesel off-roader (not yet on sale in the UK) to see what it was like through the mud.
The course was seriously tight and twisty, with some deep water passes and axle articulation that left us teetering on two wheels. This was no cake walk. Yet even the Duster with its auto on/off four-wheel drive system managed it with ease, we didn’t even have to use the diff-lock which was impressive.
Inside things have also taken a turn for the more upmarket. Dacia revealed that they’ve refined the grain in the dash by 80%, and boy can you tell. Even though the plastics are of the hardy variety they seem far higher in quality, we commented that it was like being inside a van with the last Duster but it doesn’t feel anywhere near as bad in the new model.
Road noise is also kept at bay, whilst it’s not a perfectly quiet and serene environment you won’t be tired by road din after a long journey. Engine grunt gets more pronounced the higher you take the revs, that goes for both the petrol and diesel, some more insulation from the engine bay would have been nice.
If you want a touchscreen with nav you’ll have to stump up £13,195 for a ‘Comfort’ model. A higher trim level won’t let you escape the rather abrasive door rests though, a moderate stab of the brake pedal will leave the top level of elbow skin in situ on the door.
Entry level ‘Access’ models have a solid rear bench, whilst pricier trims have a 60/40 folding bench. Either way boot space is 455 litres unless you opt for four-wheel drive, then that dips to 411 litres due to a full-size spare. Fold all the seats down and that load capacity increases to 1623.
Dacia has upped their game in terms of quality and desire levels. The Duster has changed from a bog standard mode of wheeled transport to one with more refinement and the beginnings of design flair.
All the while they’ve kept a cap on the costs and built it to a budget. Dacia proves cars don’t have to be expensive, obviously, you won’t get the sumptuous comfort of an Audi Q5, but for a family wagon that can seriously off-road if you need to the Duster has you covered.