Da­cia Duster

Da­cia Duster Com­fort SCe £13,195

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - Contents -


All-new Duster, it says here. Hmmm. The body pan­els are all changed, yes, and the in­te­rior is very largely new too. But much of what’s un­der­neath, less so: the plat­form and most of the en­gines are hardly al­tered. And, of course, quite a lot of that stuff is more an­cient still, having been in­her­ited from pre­vi­ous Re­naults. Most of all, the Duster’s price, which is so far be­yond retro it’s pos­i­tively an­tique. The main joy of the

Duster is the way it se­ri­ously over-de­liv­ers on that un­der­promis­ing sticker.

Own­ers love their Dusters. So Da­cia kept the spirit of the old de­sign, but mod­ernised it and made some changes man­dated by the cheap­ness: it uses San­dero wind­screen and doors, so those changed af­ter the San­dero changed. Wider-set lights make the body look broader, even when it ac­tu­ally hasn’t grown. It’s still hand­ily nar­row in towns and coun­try lanes.

The choice is a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 115bhp 1.6-litre petrol or 115bhp tur­bod­iesel. We drove the petrol. If you as­so­ciate the cou­plet ‘nat­u­rally as­pi­rated’ with, say GT3 RS, dis­so­ci­ate it forth­with. It’s the deficit of mid-range torque that’s most telling. Drop a cou­ple of gears and main-road over­tak­ing is pos­si­ble, but re­ally re­quires some­thing ap­proach­ing a five-year plan. It isn’t happy much over mo­tor­way speeds.

But in gen­tler run­ning, it’s qui­eter than ev­ery­one else’s diesel-fu­elled cross­over, and it’s not poi­son­ing any­one. A 130bhp turbo 1.2-litre petrol will join the range early in 2019. Surely that’s the en­gine you’ll want.

The new elec­tric steer­ing is a lit­tle wispy, but it’s com­par­a­tively ac­cu­rate. Turn the wheel and the car turns, is all: steer­ing is pro­gres­sive, roll well-con­tained, sur­prises ab­sent.

The ride is more trou­ble­some, with a rest­less tur­bu­lence when un­loaded, and yet some float­ing too. This is the FWD ver­sion, which has a sim­ple tor­sion back axle. Tyre roar makes it­self felt at times, and so does wind noise, de­spite the fact you aren’t trav­el­ling fast. Da­cia says there’s more sound in­su­la­tion than in the old one, mind.

The 4WD has in­de­pen­dent rear sus­pen­sion. Off-road, it brings hill de­scent con­trol, good

clear­ance and short over­hangs – all ef­fec­tive stuff. But there isn’t much wheel ar­tic­u­la­tion, and the ESP can’t al­ways stop an aerial wheel from spin­ning away the power.

In line with the Duster’s wide­spread re­cy­cling of ob­so­lete Re­nault parts, the cabin even smells like a new Me­gane of a decade ago. How very Prous­tian. But it looks mod­ern. We find an all-new dash, all-new seats, a bet­ter in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. To an ex­tent this car is be­ing sold by the yard: lots of space for the money, with enough room for three fully grown hu­mans in the back and a big square boot. The dash is sturdy and straight­for­wardly hand­some, and the ab­sence of soft-touch plas­tic just adds to the sense of hon­est value. It has has five high-mounted vents, so you can aim a cou­ple be­tween the front seats to­wards the back, sav­ing Da­cia from in­stalling rear out­lets.

Once you start look­ing, sav­ings like that are ev­ery­where. Mostly that’s just fine, be­cause there’s too much com­plex­ity and frip­pery around these days. I do think it could use more safety kit, mind – there’s no auto emer­gency brak­ing – but then it’s com­pet­ing against used cars that don’t have it, ei­ther.

The Duster’s man­i­festo is a strict ad­her­ence to what is im­por­tant, and a re­jec­tion of frip­pery. Its bril­liance is to have achieved this without mak­ing you feel mean. It hasn’t been made ugly or un­pleas­ant just for the pur­pose of up­selling you into par­ent com­pany Re­nault’s Kadjar.


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