Review: Dacia Duster Comfort TCe 130 4x2

The Dacia's elevated chassis and large boot are key assets
The Dacia's elevated chassis and large boot are key assets
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Reason for buying a Dacia Logan MPV estate car, from a taxi driver with a fleet of Mercedes-Benz. He had just taken a contract to move prisoners and reasoned that any damage they caused would not be too costly.

Reason for not buying a Dacia Duster. The pet lapdog could not see over the dashboard. So they bought a Fiat 500X.

The driving seat

The driving seat

Reasons for buying a Duster, general population: affordable, reliable, rugged, practical, Renault innards, 4x4 traction available. Reasons for not buying a Duster: feels a bit cheap, rugged ride, no automatic geared version. Reason for buying a Duster now: winter is coming and a Duster has around eight inches of ground clearance and the 4x4 version will handle the white stuff.

Most Dusters are conventional front-wheel-drive with five or six-speed manual gearboxes. Automatic gears are not available. Fit some all-season tyres and the good ground clearance will help you through a mild winter.

The remarkable thing is that you may still hope to buy one for around £10,000 with dealer offers, though the official price is nudging £11,000 for a Focus-sized five-door SUV with a 999cc three-cylinder 100ps petrol engine and five-speed box, rated at 52mpg and 128g.

A four-year personal contract plan costs £139 a month. You hand over £2,158 (which is nearly a fifth of the retail price), Dacia contributes £500, you get £9,360 of credit which at a whopping 6.9 per cent interest costs £1,935. You can hand it back or pay a final £4,623 and keep it, but it’s a very expensive way to run or buy an £11,000 car, though a useful revenue stream for the supplier.

This being a Press loan they kindly sent me the middle of five trim levels, the Comfort. This would be a good compromise between bottom and top trims for most of us. It is available from £13,995 with the 999cc motor or, as tested, with a 130ps 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo from £14,995. The other engine offered is a 150hp version of this 1.3 engine from £16,895 in Prestige trim and is offered with 4x4. For bad terrain or wintery traction 4x4 makes sense. Prices start at £15,995 for the Comfort with a 1.5-litre, high torque, high economy 115ps diesel (offered from £13,700 with front drive).

That’s enough background. You may want to know subjective stuff. To be fair, as some say, there are more refined cars in this price area which are better to drive but they are smaller and not as cargo-lugging practical. Nor do they have the same level of stuff.

If you buy the plain cheap £11,000 Duster Access with its 16-inch steel wheels you’ll have to fit your own radio. You do get audio with the £12,495 Essential trim. A step up to the Comfort brings the kit many of us want. This includes a rear camera, phone integration, alloys, navigation, DAB audio, cruise control and manual air con.

My demo Comfort with the 130ps engine came with the £495 startling orange metallic paint and a £150 temporary spare wheel, suspended under the car and prone to road muck so carry gloves.

I will not say I enjoyed driving the Duster. The ride quality and refinement is only fair to middling. It can bash around on bumpy roads. Driven quickly, the car rolls on bends and does not give immediate confidence. So, you drive it within its limits and inside your own and you’ll get along. It is a carry-all, with a big cargo area and large rear aperture. Its higher position – which you notice when you get in – helps visibility.

A trip computer suggested I was driving economically with top marks for anticipation, smart use of gears and so forth, only to reverse the rating on my next journey. The Renault petrol engine is a sweet-revving thing and gave decent economy, recording 43 to 49mpg. Similar engines are used on models like the Mégane.

The Duster is not judged to be the safest car in a crash. Euro NCAP tested it in 2017 and gave it three stars out of five. Points were lost because it was not fitted with things like autonomous city braking, but we should note that passenger protection was good in many impact zones. All versions have a speed limiter and most have cruise control. A rear sensor warned me of pedestrians wandering past the car when I was reversing – a typical hazard in supermarket parking bays.

Verdict: Proving popular. An automatic version would bring more buyers.