As your AMG C63 should always be a wagon and a GT3 Touring only ever have a manual, there’s an expectation when it comes to Dacia speccing. They’re about no-frills, utilitarian transport, so any buyer committed to that ethos is meant to eschew luxuries like alloy wheels, climate control and smartphone pairing. Only it doesn’t tend to work like that; there are certain things new car buyers aren’t willing to do without, even when spending relatively little, and so the basic trim level - now ‘Essential’ on the Dacia range - is now more car spotter curio than top seller. Heck, when PH came to speccing a long-term Duster a few years back, the staff member running it quickly backtracked on their original vision of ‘full UN’ once the reality of such a spartan life became clear. Expectation and reality seldom align.
Which is why a model like the Duster Extreme SE exists. Nevertheless, this new flagship is still done the Dacia way: it adds just £300 to the asking price of a Prestige, and is available with all the engines options, meaning a start price of £17,845. This car, a 130hp, front-drive petrol manual, is from £19,195. Which, as we’ll return to later, is not an awful lot of money. With the optional Urban Grey paint (exclusive to this model), it’s less than £20k as tested.
The colour is important, actually. Dacia knows as well as anybody the demand for stylish, rugged SUVs that are never, ever going to venture off the beaten track, so here’s the spec meant for those customers. Flat grey remains a popular choice on everything from BMW X3 to Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT, as are bright accents that contrast the primer paint - so why not replicate them? To these eyes it works well, too, elevating the Duster aesthetic just a tad (perhaps even more so inside than out) for a measly £300 premium. That doesn’t seem very much - as is the Dacia way - for a Duster that’s now slightly nicer to look at and sit in.
Otherwise, the experience is familiar from the standard version of the revised Duster. This 130hp car sits below the diesel and the most powerful, dual-clutch-only petrol in price, but feels a good fit for the car’s remit. It gives away just 7lb ft to the 150hp car that costs £2,000 more, and is within 12mpg (and 14lb ft) of the 115hp diesel. There’s ample performance - at least with one person onboard - once 2,000rpm is on the dial, and six ratios feel sensibly spaced to keep the 1.3-litre turbo on the boil. You’ll not revel in the shift quality or enjoy the boom over the final thousand revs or so, but it gets the job done.
Which, of course, is what Dacias have typically excelled at - and perhaps never better than with this latest Duster. Because while there’s now the equipment that’s expected of almost everything nowadays - CarPlay compatibility, keyless entry, blind spot assist - it’s been integrated with minimum fuss. Honestly, there are cars worth many multiples of the Duster’s RRP that make pairing an iPhone considerably harder. The blind spot assist is one big button located - get this - by the mirror adjustment, and the keyless entry opens the car as you approach and locks as you walk away. Perhaps we're guilty of setting our expectations low - as Harry pointed out when driving the new Jogger - but there is definitely something in Dacia's belt-and-braces approach. Certainly it proves that complexity isn’t some plumbed-in requirement of modern-day convenience.
Unsurprisingly, that universal truth only serves to make the whole thing more satisfying. Here, in Extreme SE spec, the Duster is surely at its most stylish and contemporary feeling yet, but without sacrificing its maker's reputation for straightforwardness. Sure, it’s still far from the most refined or dynamic small SUV out there, though there are many more options out there for buyers prioritising those aspects. Another three have probably been launched since writing this.
Anyone after functional, sensible, logical transport, however, now with a splash of urban warrior about it, need look no further. The Duster feels like the kind of car Skoda would have made once upon a time - and that’s intended as praise - lacking pretence or frippery (beyond a bit of orange) and proving genuinely likeable as a result. As if to prove the point, £19,000 spent on a small Skoda SUV buys… a 2018 Karoq with almost 50,000 miles. Now perhaps more than ever before, the Dacia way of doing things looks very smart indeed.
SPECIFICATION | 2022 DACIA DUSTER TCE 130 4x2 EXTREME SE
Engine: 1,332cc, four-cyl turboTransmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drivePower (hp): 129@4,500-6,000rpmTorque (lb ft): 177@1,600-3,000rpm0-62mph: 10.6 secsTop speed: 120mphWeight: N/AMPG: 45.6 (WLTP)CO2: 141g/km (WLTP)Price: £19,195 (price as standard; price as tested £19,790 comprised of Urban Grey paint for £595)
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