Dacia Duster Comfort SCe £13,195
WE SAY: DACIA STICKS TO THE BASICS TO GIVE THE PUNTERS WHAT THEY WANT
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.