Driven: Dacia Duster


I had an enjoyable dinner the other night with a Frenchman. As is always the case when I'm placed in such company I became a fawning sycophant because so much about his homeland appeals to me, but mostly because he was willing to discuss the cheap cars of his youth - referring to nomenclature en Francais.

Utilitarian but all the better for it
Utilitarian but all the better for it
And so I disappeared into a world of Cinqs and Deesses, and why I still have an AX and a 205 - le sacre numero!

And then I described to this non-domiciled Frenchman the concept of the Dacia Duster. I told him it was built in Romania, suffused with a rugged charm and sold for the type of money that gets lost on a 5 Series spec sheet. As the ultimate arbiters of what constitutes a great family car, I told him the French have gone crazy for the Duster. Without even knowing what it was, he said he could understand why - it fitted the template for great blue-collar French motoring.

Fit for purpose
Well, I used a Duster in the UK for a week in December. The one when it rained the whole time. It was the cheapest 4WD model Renault UK could lend me - a LHD German registered car with no radio, handles for the windows and a petrol engine. This will cost £10,995 when it lands in the UK, and I think for that you will get electric windows as standard. They would rather spoil the package for me. If you're going to do something properly - in this case buy the most basic car available - then you might as well have the full poverty experience.

Steel wheels - remember them?
Steel wheels - remember them?
Every time I wound down the window, I smiled. Just as well, because the lack of air-con means the Duster steams-up faster than a Vectra on dogging duty.

Does it drive well enough for a rugged little 4x4 that costs less than a supermini? Absolutely. To overcome the gasoline engine's lack of torque, they've fitted very short first and second gears, and it's a decent solution. The only problem being that once into the next four ratios, the Duster doesn't feel too sprightly.

Back to basics
The driving position is pretty good, given that the steering wheel is fixed. Front seats have some padding and the dashboard looks uncannily like a reunion party for Renault switchgear from the late 90s - because that's exactly what it is. Again, with such low expectations, I was pleased with the tough surfaces and dinky switches - but many consumer reviews I've read really hit the Duster for being so stark inside. For me, that's a key element of its appeal. Sadly, by the time the Duster goes on sale in the UK in the coming months, it will have some fancy pants facelift dash with lights and stuff.

Switchable 4WD gives real off-road ability
Switchable 4WD gives real off-road ability
On winter tyres the ride was on the plush side of good, the steering was fine, but the car did have a tendency to require extra inputs when you thought constant lock would have carved the same radius. In other words, she does wallow in the bends a bit, But what's a bit of body roll between friends? Especially when you consider that with the switchable 4WD it'll play the billy goat to a level that most of us will never need. Seriously, it's very good off road and in full UN spec you don't feel guilty applying a few war wounds to those white body panels.

Now I could go on and on telling you objectively why the Duster offers exactly what you'd expect for the money, and in many aspects, a little bit more than anyone should deserve for the money. But none of that matters in a place like this because the Duster has charm - and that is a rare commodity these days.

Just think what you can spend the rest on...
Just think what you can spend the rest on...
Blunt tool
You drive it with a Ready Brek glow of satisfaction, knowing that it's the antidote to the German luxo-brands and all the more appealing for it. It recalls the days when family cars were designed to withstand the rigours of a young family kicking the hell out of it, and little more. In white, on steelies it has a kind of blunt industrial beauty that people who love basic French machinery will adore - I certainly did.

The three-star NCAP rating isn't great, but then most of the sheds we fawn over wouldn't even register on the crash scale and even quite recent machinery that was considered class-leading when new would struggle to beat three stars in today's tests.

The Duster instinctively feels like a car for the moment: pared-back for a generation of families that need motoring and not marketing. It also provides a solution for those seeking dual car ownership - something silly for weekends and something sensible for the daily trudge. I can't think of a new car that would be so enjoyable to trudge in so cheaply.

Although I would insist on fitting a long wave radio. And a dashboard fan for summer traffic jams.


DACIA DUSTER ACCESS 1.6 16V 105 4x4
Engine:
1,598cc 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, four -wheel drive
Power (hp): 105@5,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 109@3,750rpm
0-62mph: 12.8sec
Top speed: 99mph
Weight: 1,250kg
MPG: 35.3mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 185g/km
Price: £10,995

 

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (287) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Ozzie Osmond 01 Feb 2013

    Mr Gear said:
    Hey, I've got two 12 year old Audis on my drive...
    Be very careful. They're almost old enough to breed and next thing you know you'll have them everywhere....

  • Mr Gear 01 Feb 2013

    Robb F said:
    Mr Gear said:
    IPhone is the safe choice for people who don't want to think about what they are buying.
    That's exactly my point. I don't want to think about it, I just want a nice product that does what I want.

    Mr Gear said:
    Anyone who researches the product or the price properly won't buy one.
    I can confirm with absolute certainty that if there was/is a phone that did twice what the Iphone can do, twice as fast, I would still get an Iphone.

    Derailing the thread a little now though.
    Hey, I've got two 12 year old Audis on my drive...

  • Robb F 01 Feb 2013

    Mr Gear said:
    IPhone is the safe choice for people who don't want to think about what they are buying.
    That's exactly my point. I don't want to think about it, I just want a nice product that does what I want.

    Mr Gear said:
    Anyone who researches the product or the price properly won't buy one.
    I can confirm with absolute certainty that if there was/is a phone that did twice what the Iphone can do, twice as fast, I would still get an Iphone.

    Derailing the thread a little now though.

  • braddo 01 Feb 2013

    Bill said:
    braddo said:
    Or, it's more that it's easy to use and I don't have to be forced to learn techy stuff that I have 0% interest in (or more accurately, that annoys the st out of me biggrin ).

    A bit like why people buy new cars, I guess. smile
    I find your argument unconvincing... I got an android phone because it's easier to use and I didn't have to get to grips with iTunes hehe (And because it's considerably cheaper.)
    I got an older iPhone for £0 upfront and £25/month. That'll do me. And since the other half had insisted on a Macbook at home I had already gone through the pain of getting used to iTunes etc hehe

    Anyway, cheap Dacia is good. thumbup

  • CK_N4S 01 Feb 2013

    Chris Harris said:
    IanO said:
    But I was prepared to for go pedestrian night vision cameras and foot operated opening boot lid, neither of which need driving lessons.

    My point with the virtue of a poverty spec car is that we all chip away choosing the little things we would like until we are back to the ridiculous baubles a modern car is festooned with. I agree with Chris that heated seats would be great when hacking across a muddy field in January, but is it a slippery slope towards an expensive gadget laden car that you feel virtuous about just because it has steel wheels?
    Nope. Had a Defender from new, air-con and heated seats only options you need in the sticks.
    Heated seats and Aircon was all we specced on my dads second Hi-Lux as well.

    Don't really need anything other than that after a cold January shoot. Turn on both seats and get the dog up on the passenger seat rather than the footweel - he's smiling all the way home right next to you smilesmile Perfect!

    CK

View all comments in the forums Make a comment