Dacia Duster first drive

Dacia DusterNot even launched yet and with the UK’s Dacia dealer network to go live in January, the Dacia Duster compact SUV has already cleaned up in Scotland by being voted Scottish Car of the Year last Friday as well as gaining the Scottish SUV and Budget Car of the Year titles.

Priced from £8,995 for the 1.6-litre, 105hp petrol engine two wheel drive models and up to £14,995 for 1.5-litre dCi 110hp diesel powered four wheel drive versions, it’s perhaps no surprise the budget priced newcomer appealed  to our friends north of the border.
John Murdoch President of the Association of Scottish Motoring Writers, who give the annual awards, said, “Us Scots have an eye for a bargain and there’s nothing quite like the thrill of a new car ownership but at a price which won’t break the bank.”
He added, “Okay, so our choice of the Dacia Duster may not set radical new standards in any one area, but we believe it’s the sum of its parts which add up. Using proven technology, this is a car with huge appeal to the canny Scottish buyer spending their own money and we believe it’s completely unrivalled in terms of its mix of ability, space, running costs and pricing. Upgrade to diesel, tick the four-wheel-drive option, choose the top spec and you’ll still be astonished at how little the drive-away price is.”

And it’s not just ‘up north’ that the value the Duster offers has been noticed. Around a 1,000 of them, mainly top spec versions, have already been ordered by UK customers paying a £100 deposit but without even driving the new model.  The Duster was first shown in the UK in left hand drive form at the end of last June at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. More left hand drive versions have been on display in 135 Renault/Dacia showrooms nationwide. The brand officially goes live in this country next January with the first right hand drive Dusters being delivered to the first buyers in March in time for the new ‘13’ registration plate month.

Dacia DusterDacia is the budget brand from Renault and has been sold since 2004 in mainland Europe. First year sales started at 5,000 units and last year 350,000 new Dacia cars found European homes.  Now it’s the UK’s turn for Dacia and the model line-up will soon grow. After the arrival of the Indian built Duster SUV next will come in January the  Romania built Sandero five-door supermini priced from £5,995 and then the Stepway, a ‘jacked up’ SUV style version based on the Sandero but only with two wheel drive, will join the range later next year priced at under £8,000.

Jeremy Townsend, Director of Communications for Renault and Dacia in the UK said at the SMMT PR industry’s press driving event last week; “It is not our policy to forecast sales but as a guide the Dacia brand should achieve a five figure total in the UK in its first full year of sales.” So that’s 10,000 units plus then.

First drive impressions
1,000 UK orders  have been placed already by UK customers for the Dacia Duster compact SUV, with each advance customer paying a £100 deposit. Surprisingly these orders have been taken on the back of only left hand drive versions being on display and no right hand drive versions being test driven. Deliveries start in March next year and the Duster is available with two and four wheel drive versions and with 1.6-litre 105hp petrol and 1.5-litre dCi 110hp diesel engines options. There are Access, Ambience and Laureate trim and equipment levels plus bespoke option packs such as Adventurer, Protection, Styling and Touring. It is the price that has been key to its initial sales success but most early adopters have gone for 4x4 top spec versions.  

Prices start at an eye-catching £8,995 for the cheapest two wheel drive version and rise to £14,995 for the top spec diesel 4x4 model.  All Dusters are built at the Nissan-Renault alliance factory in Chennai India, other Dacia models yet to come to the UK are built in Romania.  Dacia has Renault as its parent company and the new budget brand is being sold through 135 Renault/Dacia dealerships in the UK.

Dacia DusterAlready the Duster has cleaned up by winning the Scottish Car of the Year title, not surprising when you consider the Scot’s reputation for being frugal with their money.  In fact the Duster, other than price and its use of modern Renault engines and drivetrain components, does not excel in any particular area but the sum of its parts adds up to quite a good package.

Standard exterior features for the five-seater, five door Duster include, 16-inch steel wheels and longitudinal roof bars, while on the inside, the high-selling model offers electric front windows, four airbags, height adjustable steering wheel and ISOFIX points on the outer rear seats. An emergency spare wheel is also fitted free-of-charge to 4x4 versions. ABS and Emergency Brake Assist, plus remote central locking are also core features, together with radio and speaker pre-wiring.

Moving up the range brings value-seekers to Ambiance. Prices for the likely second best-selling trim level in the UK start at £11,495, rising to £13,495. Naturally, the £2,500 price walk gives customers a better specification as well as the enhanced performance and economy of a diesel powerplant. Among its biggest draws are a 4x20W radio/CD with AUX, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and steering-column mounted fingertip controls, plus body coloured bumpers, 60/40 split folding rear seats, front fog lights and height adjustable driver’s seat.

The flagship of the Duster range in the UK, and the expected best-seller accounting for around two thirds of orders, will be Laureate. Although costing only £12,995 to £14,995 this top spec version includes 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, electric rear windows, leather steering wheel and trip computer. The styling inside and out also moves up a notch, with satin chrome for the roof bars, scuff plates, side sills and door handles. Body coloured, heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors also appear. In the cabin, piano black detailing adds a touch of class throughout, specifically on the door handles, centre console surround, plus steering wheel and door panel inserts.

Dacia DusterAs well as its tempting price and equipment the compact Duster SUV provides reasonable passenger and load space. Its well-proportioned boot gives a 475-litre space (408 litres in the 4x4 with spare wheel), while optimum load space once the rear seats are dropped increases to an impressive 1,636 litres, (1,604-litres with the spare wheel fitted). More than enough for several dogs, a sizable amount of leisure equipment or even the kitchen sink.

I had a very brief test drive in the pre-launch left hand drive 1.5-litre dCi turbodiesel version with the top Laureate specification which Dacia feel will be the main selling model according to advance UK sales. It is quite clear the headline £8,995 price draws-in potential buyers  and then the customer, with the help of the salesperson, realises that realistically the most practical version, given our roads and liking of SUVs, is in fact the top spec diesel 4x4 model. Backed by a three-year, 60,000 miles warranty everything adds up to a good deal.

The 1.5-litre dCi engine is well known in other Renault and Nissan models as is the six-speed transmission. The driver can easily select 2WD or Auto which automatically splits two or four wheel drive as required between the front and rear wheels or 4WD Lock which splits drive permanently and equally between the front and rear axles  for light off roading.

The top speed is 104mph and zero to 62mph takes 12.5 seconds, all very modest but enough for most users. Fuel consumption is officially 53.3mpg in the Combined Cycle and with CO2 emissions for this 4x4 version at 137g/km road tax is £120 a year and company car drivers will pay 21 per cent in Benefit-in-Kind tax.

The quality of the vehicle looks durable, the interior plastics feel a bit hard and the road holding can feel a bit top-heavy during cornering given the relatively narrow tracks of 1,560mm at the front and 1,567mm at the rear.  The 1,695mm height also plays a part in this feeling of a tall and narrow vehicle to drive.  With an overall length of 4,315mm and a width of 1,822mm the pay-off for users is plenty of interior seating and load space.  It will be a useful tow vehicle as well with a braked towing weight of 1,500kg.

Dacia DusterThe ride comfort is good but the steering lacks feel and you just drift along seemingly detached from any feedback given by the vehicle.  Other compact SUVs are more focussed on handling but that comes at a financial cost and the choice will be, do I buy a new Duster or do I buy a second hand SUV such as the Ford Kuga, VW Tiguan or Suzuki Grand Vitara? There is certainly appeal in buying a brand new car but the smart way might be to compare the Dusters when they arrive in the UK with right hand drive against a proven used compact SUV and there are plenty of low mileage ones on the market.

With the Duster nothing really excels but the sum of everything impresses, led of course by price. No wonder I have been seeing thousands of these Dusters for a while now in French provincial towns where it has become the family vehicle, or country workhorse, of choice in these difficult financial conditions.

MILESTONES. Dacia Duster Laureate1.5 dCi 4x4 5-Door. Price: £14,995.  Engine/transmission: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, direct injection common rail turbodiesel, 110hp, 177lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual with selectable 2WD/4WD. Performance: 104mph, 0-62mph 12.5 seconds, 53.3mpg, CO2 137g/km, VED road tax £120, BIK company car tax 21%. Insurance group: 10P. Boot/load space: 408 to 1,604-litres with spare wheel option. Max braked towing weight: 1,500kg. Warranty: 3-years/60,000 miles. For: Relatively low in this sector purchase price, specification, interior space, ride comfort, modern engine, good fuel economy. Against: Loose handling, budget price feel interior plastics, unknown future residual trade-in values.  Miles Better News Agency

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