Dacia are a new brand to the UK that you may have heard of. In fact if you haven’t heard of them you soon will as they are causing quite a stir on the new car scene. Explained simply, this is Renault’s sub-brand that has thrived in Europe and from this year will make landfall in our homeland. The aim of the brand is to produce a product that undercuts the competition in a dramatic fashion whilst offering everything a rival does. A very tall order for any company, let alone a new one… However, Dacia has the might of Renault behind it and with that comes a host of components that have gone through rigorous R&D. They can be sold so cheaply as these proven parts filter down into this sub-brand. The Duster is the cheapest SUV on sale by some margin and as a result our test car is the cheapest diesel 4X4 on the market.
This mid-spec Ambiance model is equipped with everything you would expect from a brand new car. 16 inch wheels, a premium stereo with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, chrome detailing and remote central locking. All pretty normal equipment by today’s standards, but factor in that it is powered by a 1.5 litre diesel engine with 110BHP, and all wheel drive, for £14,315 you wont find anything like it.
Are you expecting the cabin to be cheap and nasty? Well, you might be surprised to find its quality to far surpass what you thought was possible for such a car. Obviously it isn’t a Rolls-Royce and lacks some soft-touch surfaces, but the plastic feel robust and durable. The console is well laid out with a dial to switch between 2WD and 4WD prominently placed. The seating deserves a mention as it is not only supportive in the right places but also very comfortable. The boot with the parcel shelf removed is vast and more than big enough for a dog or a big supermarket shop.
On the move the Dacia Duster proves itself to be a highly competent machine with plenty of torque on tap from its diesel engine. The steering is well weighted offering good feedback as well as adequate power assist as to not turn steering inputs into a wrestling match between man and machine. Road noise is not unbearable but is noticeable at speed. The engine itself is refined and happy to hum along at what ever pace you desire all day long. This car may only have a top speed of 104MPH, but remembering that it has the aerodynamic properties of a brick, it can be forgiven. In 2WD mode the economical benefit is commendable as on its best form the car will achieve 53MPG combined. The suspension isn’t just there to give this car a desirable high driving position, oh no, it has been properly engineered to take on the frankly menacing potholes of our roads and have a good go at the rough stuff.
Engaging 4WD drive mode unlocks the potential of the Duster. This car is not all mouth and no trousers, it has genuine off-road capabilities. It will scale steep banks with little fuss, plug its way through muddy trails and even wade through some fords. The Dacia Duster is impressive not only for its price, but in some elements it puts leaders of its class to shame. Of course it is no Land Rover Defender, but its abilities can not be denied. In terms of engineering, its high ground clearance teamed with 240Nm of torque available from 1,750RPM makes for a formidable combination.
I think Dacia and their expanding range of cars could well be a real game changer in the new and used car market. They offer well manufactured products for the cost of the segment below and as a result they maintain a high residual value. The last car company to make a success of their “peoples cars” was Volkswagen and look where they are today.