- By far the cheapest SUV
- Capable of going off-road
- Noisy diesel
- Love or hate looks
The car is said to be the second most expensive purchase you will make in a lifetime. But exactly how expensive varies significantly. In the incredibly cheap camp we have the 2015 Dacia Duster, the UK’s cheapest sports utility vehicle.
This particular model seen here in Pearl Black is the top-spec Laureate dCi 110 4×4, a car that can be yours for less than £16,000. Back down to the entry-level Access trim, forget about a radio, embrace steel wheels and you can pay less than £9,500 – that’s supermini money. It’s cheap, then, but can the Duster really sweep away the competition?
There are better looking compact SUVs on the market but the fact Dacia has taken a no-nonsense budget approach somehow makes it endearing. The chunky roof bars, chrome grille and high roof line give it a rugged, less pretentious look than many of its rivals.
The interior is equally simple. Only gloss black door handles, patterned fabric on the door inserts and Duster lettering on the seats resemble anything close to design flair.
You really don’t mind though, because everything is reassuringly sturdy and uncomplicated. No one cares about aesthetics after the family German Shepherd has dried himself off in the back and your youngest has used the dashboard as a footrest for his muddy shoes.
The back has plenty of leg and headroom and the transmission tunnel is just small enough to make sitting in the middle seat bearable, even if you’re an adult. There are plenty of storage cubby holes here and there, improving the practicality.
In the 4×4 model you get a 408-litre boot that expands to 1,570 litres with the seats folded flat. In the 4×2 it’s 475 litres and 1,636 litres, respectively. Space is lost in the 4×4 to an emergency spare wheel and different rear suspension.
Performance & handling
The Dacia Duster has a nice high up seating position so you feel like you’re king of the road, while the big windows provide oodles of visibility, although the corners of the windscreen do have a tendency to stay fogged up in cold weather.
The steering is light and responsive, while the six-speed manual gearbox is faultless. The dCi 110 diesel engine certainly makes itself heard when the revs pick up, but you can keep it to a low grumble by changing up early. Even then, expect a reasonable amount of cabin noise.
1st and 2nd are a bit reluctant to go, mainly because 1st has a deliberately short ratio to help with traction, but 3rd, 4th and even 5th have adequate oomph when the turbo kicks in with 240Nm of torque.
0-62mph takes more than 11 seconds so be prepared for other 4x4s to leave you behind at the lights, but you’ll be too busy remembering all those pennies you saved to really care.
Because of the close ratios, you’ll find yourself changing up and down as often as if you were driving an 18-wheeler lorry in a desperate attempt to maintain speed. You will really hate anyone who causes you to slow down unnecessarily.
As for the suspension, it can be a bit wallowy in places and some potholes cause harsh judders, but it’s mainly an inoffensive ride.
What really matters, of course, is the fact it can make mincemeat of fairly difficult terrain, thanks to four-wheel drive, high ground clearance and the ability to lock the differential. Your average journey will be no match, unless you call Snowdonia or the Sahara desert your home.
Economy & environment
The Dacia Duster engine roster is nice and simple. You can choose between a diesel and petrol engine with either two or four-wheel drive.
The entry-level Access comes with a 1.6-litre petrol engine, which is capable of a smidge under 40mpg and 165g/km of CO2 emissions. In reality the five-speed manual it is mated to help make it relatively thirsty.
The 1.5-litre dCi diesel for the Ambiance and Laureate trim levels is more frugal and worth the extra, as it promises 53.3mpg in four-wheel drive form and 137g/km of CO2. A year or two down the line it will pay for itself.
Equipment & value
This is where the Duster really starts to score points. Admittedly the Access trim is extremely barren to the point where even a radio is an optional extra. But for that you are getting a full-blown off-roader with a large boot and five seats.
The cheapest 4×4 is the 1.6-litre petrol £11,495 Access, which gets a five-speed manual and not a lot else. The much more efficient diesel starts from £13,995 in Ambiance spec, which adds 60:40 split-folding rear seats, front fog lights and a CD player with radio and steering wheel controls.
In this top Laureate spec, you get proper 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, manual air-conditioning, leather steering wheel and a trip computer. Hardly the height of luxury, but at this price you can’t really complain.
The nearest competitor from a price point of view is the Suzuki Jimny, but that’s a terrible car. The Fiat Panda Cross starts from £17,000, a Nissan Qashqai from £18,265, £28,500 if you want four-wheel drive. A four-wheel drive Juke, meanwhile, is £23,750.
In short, forgo creature comforts and you can have a very practical car for the price of a Fiat 500. Slap on the 4×4 option and the Duster is still undercutting just about every competitor by thousands of pounds. Let’s not forget you get a five-year / 60,000 mile extended warranty for free and that Dacia has scored well in the reliability stakes, beating certain German rivals in the process.
A chink in the Dacia Duster’s armour is a three-star Euro NCAP safety rating. It does, however, score highly in adult and passenger protection. Where it falls is a lack of safety assistance systems and pedestrian safety.
The Duster is living proof cheap and nasty can lead separate lives. With this, you’re getting a brand new SUV and all of the practicality that entails without any sugar coating and for much less than the competition. Anyone who just wants a car to get from A to B via any terrain and cares little about badge snobbery will find the trusty Duster hard to fault.
2015 Dacia Duster pictures
|Engine||1.5-litre dCi 110|
|Acceleration||0 to 62mph in 12.5 seconds|
|Emissions||135g/km of CO2|
|Price||From £9,495 (£15,990 for model tested)|