2015 Dacia Duster first drive

Dacia DusterDacia was bought by Renault in 1999 although the Romanian vehicle brand was formed in 1966.

New Dacia has since proved a huge sales hit with European customers because of their value for money credentials. It has been Europe’s fastest growing brand for eight consecutive years and in some markets Dacia models are actually badged as Renaults. European Union sales for Dacia increased by 24% to 359,141 units in 2014 over the previous year.

Dacia was launched in the UK in July 2012 at the high profile Goodwood Festival of Speed, and customer deliveries started in January 2013. To date over 32,000 cars have found UK homes, 23,862 of them in 2014. This is a near 40% increase over the previous first year on sale. All Dacia models are sold and serviced through the 130 Renault UK dealerships. Dacia adds that in the UK the vast majority of customers for one of their new cars are those people who have previously bought from the used-car market.

Today the Dacia range consists of the Duster five door, two and four wheel drive SUV/Crossovers, the Sandero and Sandero Stepway Supermini five door hatchbacks and the Logan MCV Estate. Dacia says these are all available at shockingly affordable prices and add – just don’t confuse value with cheap. The rapid rise of UK sales volumes proves there is an eager buying public out there who know a bargain when they see one.

Dacia DusterDacia DusterDacia DusterBut it can be said you get what you pay for and for the latest 2015 model year Duster five door family-sized C-segment SUV range prices start at just £9,495 for a 2WD model and £11,495 for a 4WD version. There is the choice of 1.6-litre 105hp petrol and 1.5-litre dCi 107hp (2WD) and109hp (4WD) turbodiesel Renault-Nissan Alliance engines. Both engines have the options of 2WD or 4WD models. The petrol model is only available with the cheapest Access specification and the diesel engine versions are available with Ambiance and Laureate specification.

The most expensive version in the budget range is the 1.5 dCi Laureate 4WD priced at £15,495 and that was the version I received for the 2015 model year road test. If 2WD is a lesser requirement then the price is reduced to £13,495 for the same top level of specification with the 1.5-litre, 107hp turbodiesel engine. There are no shocks in store for insurance costs with petrol models rated in groups 5 and 6E. Diesel versions are groups 10 and 11E.

At the end of last year production of right hand drive versions of the Duster moved from Chennai in India to Pitesti in Romania to speed up delivery times to eager European customers.

Before I get onto the product what about the brand? Some of the questions we all ask ourselves are – how are Dacia models so much cheaper than other brands? A significant part of the answer is their models, like the Duster, have a 50% carry-over of components shared with other Dacia and Renault vehicles. There is no baffling options list and a simple choice of colours and accessory packs to keep production line complexity low so allowing cost savings to be passed onto customers. There is also no haggling at dealers so no discounting which harms residual values so the price you see is the price you pay.

Are they reliable and safe is another question? There is no worry about the warranty cover with three-years/60,000-miles mechanical, a two-year paint warranty and six-year anti-corrosion cover as standard. There are also five and seven-year extended warranties available at extra cost. Dacia Assistance through the AA Recovery Service is three-years/60,000-miles and included as standard. Servicing is the usual one-year or 12,000-miles period. As for safety, officially Dusters have a Euro NCAP three-star rating but UK versions have added safety features which if they had been tested would given them a four-star rating.

So what do we get for our money? All versions – Access, Ambiance and Laureate – benefit from a package of styling and trim upgrades for the 2015 Model Year. There’s a more stylish chrome front grille made up of two layers of four small intakes surrounding the Dacia logo, ‘Duster’ branded roof bars – chromed on Laureate models – and a high-quality black tailgate trim with ‘Duster’ branding above the number plate.

Dacia DusterDacia DusterLaureate versions have new Tyrol 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured door handles and dark metal door mirror casings. Five new metallic colours – Mercury, Khaki, Pearl Black, Slate Grey and Cinnamon – replace the previous choices as alternatives to solid Glacier White on the Ambiance and Laureate.

There is new upholstery and seats for every model and the emergency spare wheel now becomes an option on all 4×2 versions and remains standard on 4×4 models.

Laureate spec also includes manual air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, seven-function on-board computer, heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors, rear electric windows are added to the standard for all versions front electric ones, piano black trim inserts for the interior and door sill protection plates. Also included from lower spec versions are 60-40 split folding rear seats, front electric windows, Bluetooth, remote central locking, ECO mode and gearchange indicator, ISOFIX child-seat points for the outer rear seats and automatic door locking.

My test car also had a media/sat-nav system which costs an extra £300. The limited number of additional-cost packs includes leather upholstery at £995, protective mouldings for the sills and wheelarches at £595, a pack to include alarm, rear parking sensors and a bootliner at £665 and a touring pack which includes a towbar, transverse roof bars and a front central armrest for £555.

Inside the Duster there is lots of hard textured plastic trim but hard is durable and the overall design looks quite modern with plenty of storage spaces. The seats are comfortable with good support and the visibility out of the vehicle is unobstructed due to the large windows. The instruments are generally well laid out although the heater and ventilation controls are fiddly. It is a roomy vehicle both front and rear with a good sized 475-litre boot and load area providing maximum 1,636-litres of space with the rear seats folded down.

Outside the Duster doesn’t have the now commonplace SUV wedge-shaped body with the latest theme of sharp styling creases. It is more rounded with bulbous wheelarches and it looks more workmanlike that a styling statement. On the down-side the doors sound a bit tinny when closed firmly, there is significant wind and road noise intrusion, the heater fan is very loud as is the tailgate window wiper motor. It just lacks a little finesse and in these areas it shows why it has a budget price.

That said these minor issues have not put off customer from all over Europe seeing the advantages the Duster offers. Travel as I do widely through mainland Europe I see lots of these Dusters being used in rural cities, towns and the countryside – they seem to have become the do-it-all vehicle of choice from family transport to off-roader workhorse to commuter travel – users know a bargain when it comes along.

The 1.5-litre common-rail turbodiesel engine is a version of the same unit as used in the similarly sized Nissan Qashqai Crossover with only 2WD available for that model and the Qashqai is almost £10,000 more expensive. In the Duster 4WD it produces the same 109hp with 240Nm of torque delivered from 1,750rpm. Top speed is 104mph and zero to 62mph takes a relaxed 12.4-seconds. Officially this unit will return 53.3mpg in the Combined Cycle and my 10 days of test driving resulted in an average 45.6mpg. With CO2 emissions of 135g/km VED toad tax is £130 each year and company car drivers will pay 23% Benefit-in-Kind tax.

It is not the quietest or smoothest diesel around especially from cold start-up but it warms to its task. It is responsive in the low to mid range but gets a bit breathless at the top end of its rev-range. The noise intrusion and vibration can be put-down to the less sophisticated installation within the vehicle over the Qashqai but by no means should it put cash-conscious owners wanting a very good value 4×4 owning one.

The transmission system uses a six-speed manual gearbox with 4WD models having a lower first gear ratio for better off-road uphill and low speed downhill control. This lower first gear ratio helps negate the reason to have a costly and bulky high/low ratio transfer box.

The transmission has three modes, 2WD, Auto which allows the rear wheels to provide drive as and when the front wheels loose traction and there is 4WD Lock which locks in the rear wheels for permanent all-wheel drive for off-road use and low speed travel in on-road snow.

The handling might not be the sharpest but it’s only at higher speeds on winding roads that some body-roll is felt and for the most part it provides a comfortable and secure ride. This is comfortable for the body and comfortable on the pocket.

Technically the latest Dacia Duster 4WD might not be a state-of-the art 4×4 family sized SUV, but in terms of real value for money, interior passenger and load space and the comprehensive specification, it has the ability to be the class leader as its huge sale success is proving.

MILESTONES: Dacia Duster Laureate 1.5 dCi 4×4 SUV. Price: £15,495. Engine/transmission: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, turbodiesel, 109hp, 240Nm of torque from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual with selectable 2WD/4WD modes. Performance: 104mph, 0-62mph 12.5-seconds, 53.3mpg Combined Cycle (45.6mpg on test), CO2 135g/km, VED road tax £130, BIK company car tax 23%. Insurance group: 10E. Warranty: 3-years/60,000-miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,315mm, H 1,695mm, W 1,822mm, wading depth 350mm, boot/load space 475 to 1,636-litres. Braked towing weight: 1,500kg. For: A practical and impressive value for money family sized 4×4, proven Renault-Nissan Alliance technology, comfortable, well equipped, already a huge budget 4×4 sales success throughout Europe. Against: A bit less sophisticated in some areas like hard plastic trim, noisy heater fan and wipers, no five-star safety rating but for the price and its proper 4×4 capabilities who cares? Miles Better News Agency

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