I must admit, I wasn’t jumping with joy when Ben told me that my ride to this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race would be his long-term Dacia Duster. A sudden change of plan meant the car I was due to take to the centenary race was no longer on the cards, and while I was keen to take my very own Ford Fiesta ST150, it was just a bit too small to fit in everything we’d need – and nor did I have the confidence it’d make it there in the first place.
None of that would be an issue in the Dacia, of course. Besides, if it weren’t for the Duster, I’d have missed arguably one of the greatest Le Mans 24s there’s ever been. Now, before you get the wrong idea, I’m a big fan of bargain motoring and it doesn’t get more bang-for-buck than a Dacia. And I must admit there’s something very appealing in a go-mostly-anywhere car without worrying about nicking the paint or plastic. It just so happens that the Dacias I’ve driven before have been somewhat gutless, with floppy manuals and little in the way of tech. Fine for a daily runabout, less enticing as a continental cruiser.
However, if you’ve read Ben’s previous PH Fleet updates on the Duster, you’ll know this ain’t no boggo Dacia. It’s the 1.3-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol version with a whopping 150hp and six speeds of automatic bliss. Don’t get me wrong, I’d always prefer to be in control of the gearbox, but given that the manual ‘box in a Jogger I drove a couple of years ago felt more like churning butter than anything mechanical, the auto is simply the better option here.
The soft, tall ride took some getting used to after spending most of my time driving the stiffly sprung PH Project Car, but I was right at home by the time I got to the EuroTunnel. Boarding the train was an absolute breeze, too, because the giant sidewalls around the 17-inch wheels means you won’t get caught out by the infuriating kerbs that jut out in the middle of every carriage.
The only time I longed for something more refined was when an impatient guard told me to get close to the car in front, but a lack of transmission creep meant slowly applying the throttle until the car lurched forwards and then swiftly applying the brake. This naturally made my passenger – PH’s Dave Marsden – quite ill.
From Calais to Le Mans, it was smooth sailing in the good ship Duster. Of course, the roads in France are vastly better than they are at home, but the plucky Dacia was surprisingly refined regardless. Wind and road noise is mostly isolated bar some buffeting around the wing mirrors, while it comfortably returned a fuel economy in the mid 40s even taking into account a scenic detour to dodge Rouen’s low emission zone. Coming to think of it, I only needed to fill it up once to cover off the entire 680-mile round trip.
Once we arrived at the PH campsite, I unloaded my things and moved them into the tent provided. Dave, meanwhile, decided against sharing a tent and instead opted to call the Duster home for the next three days. If you tuned in to the race, you’ll know it chucked it down several times causing absolute chaos on track. Meanwhile, at the campsite, I was busy bailing water out of my tent while Dave smugly looked on from the sanctum of the Duster. Turns out it makes a rather good car to camp in, not least because it’s watertight.
Admittedly, the Duster did blend into the background somewhat next to our neighbours: a Porsche Cayenne Coupe Turbo S e-Hybrid, an Alpina B3 S Touring and a nicely patinaed Rolls-Royce. I did however see a metallic orange Duster serving as the campsite’s support vehicle, which just sums up the Dacia’s role in all of this perfectly. It’s not glamorous, nor is it the first car that comes to mind for a dream drive, but it’s a dependable workhorse when you need it.
Moreover, I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss it. Sure, it was the excellent company and action-packed racing that made this year’s PH Le Mans trip so memorable, but the Duster ensured that the drive back was comfortable and, importantly, cheap. If anything, I’d become quite attached to it and was disappointed to hand it back - of course, it didn’t help that the ST’s air con decided to pack in on the drive home on one of the hottest days of the year.
Car: 2023 Dacia Duster Journey TCe 150 Auto 4x2 EDC
Price as tested: £23,095 comprising urban grey paint (£650) and spare wheel (£300)
Run by: Ben Lowden
On fleet since: March 2023
Mileage: 5,164 (delivered on 633)
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