Dacia proves to be a bargain on wheels

IN the first nine months of this year, Dacia sold more than 20,000 cars in the UK, nearly 10 per cent ahead of the period last year.

The Dacia Duster is built in Romania

Last month, though, there was a drop of 600 sales on October 2014, which reduced the sales surge this year to a more modest 5.6 per cent. This month it announced price cuts on certain models and warranty deals across the whole range.

Dacia built Renaults under licence from the mid-1960s, models like the Renault 12. In 1999 Renault bought the company – floundering after the Communist era ran aground. The first Dacia built by Ren­ault was the Logan, screamingly cheap (¤5,000s in Romania) and demand was furious.

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So were we. We never got them. In fact, Dacia sales did not begin in Britain until January 2013 with the Duster SUV and the Sandero hatch.

£13,995 will buy you a trip computer, navigation in a touchscreen multimedia display, Bluetooth and a real spare wheel

They were a surefire hit with drivers on a budget or just drivers who did not want to pay over the odds to get around.

Today, Dacia is still trying to meet demand. There are two factories in Mor­occo, others in India, South America, Russia and so on. Its ten-year sales now stand at 3.5 million.

One remarkable aspect is that Dacia avoided the scorn once blighting cheap cars from eastern Europe. Somehow or other it sailed straight into res­pectable waters without buyers feeling part of an under class. These things matter.

However, in countries outside Europe they are badged as Renaults. In Britain the two brands share showrooms, so you can take your pick on price (Dacia) and appearance (Renault). “Dacias are robust and Germanic, while Renaults are more in keeping with the brand’s Latin feel”, explains the company, adding that despite its budget pricing, Dacia still gives dealers a “healthy” profit. This reflects the factory gate prices.

Our first Dusters came from India but for the last year have been produced in Pitesti, Ro­ania, and have a mix of Dacia and Renault parts.

The all-important engines and gearboxes come from the Renault Nissan Alliance. These are the latest and much cleaner 1.6-litre 115 horse power petrol engine and the 110hp 1.5 litre turbo diesel. Both meet EU6 emissions standards. All versions offer 4x4 drive but only the core Ambiance versions offer both engines.

The Lauréate and the Lauréate Prime (tested here) use only the diesel. Duster prices start at £9,495 for the Access 1.6. Add £2,000 for the 4x4 version.

The Lauréate Prime test car looked smart in its bespoke Cosmos blue metallic paint, from the butch, rubber-capped roof rails to its 16-inch alloys shod with top-notch Continental winter tyres.

How much? A mere £13,995 which includes navigation in a touchscreen multimedia display, trip computer, Bluetooth, a real spare wheel slung under the car, a speed limiter and an array of cosmetic prettifying.

What I did miss were rear parking sensors – like a mobile phone or sat nav, you miss them when they are not there. They are part of a £595 “prot­ection” kit which includes an alarm, exterior tailgate protection, and a boot floor liner.

Dacias have yet to achieve EuroNcap’s top five-star crash safety ratings. The Duster was last tested in 2011 when it got three stars out of five (very poor on pedestrian impact protection) but have improved and since the test have stability control on all models. At a guess they may get four stars.

I drove the Duster for a week. I liked the higher seating position and the handling. Yes, there were a few creaks from the passenger side and the ventilation fan is noisy and the surfaces are mostly a hard finish and the push-button tailgate release is fussy.

The two open storage areas on the dashboard top are useful and when you fold the rear seats away there is plenty of space, albeit with a slight ramp in the floor.

Aware that sales are tailing off this year, Dacia has just announced cuts. Until the end of November, Dacia is reducing prices on “selected” versions of the Duster and the Sandero and Logan models.

As another sales booster, it is giving a free five-year/60,000 mile warranty for buyers using its PCP purchase scheme.

Buyers also have the option of a seven-year/100,000 miles warranty for £395, saving £455 on the normal fee. More at www.dacia.co.uk/offers

Verdict: Honest, cheapish, pleasant to drive and smart in metallic colours. You do not need to pay more.