A car fitted with an engine almost identical to the one found under the hood of a Renault Megane II – a car designed over a decade ago – couldn't exactly be called "technologically advanced", could it? Well, as it turns out, the Dacia Duster is actually an amalgam of old and modern tech, cramped together into a single all-wheel drive package.
The 1.6-liter four-banger offers only 105 horsepower and 148 Nm (109.2 lb ft) of torque, numbers which may point out that the car is underpowered by quite a large margin. On the other hand, the Duster's 1.6 16v 4x4 weight is only 1325 kilograms (2921 pounds), so this is not exactly a problem.
Compared to the eight-valve 1.6 we tested on the Sandero and on the Sandero Stepway, this 16-valve feels a little bit more potent, but not by much, since the power-to-weight ratio of the three cars is rather similar. Since the engine should breath more easily thanks to the four valves per cylinder, and on top of everything is fitted to a six-speed manual transmission instead of a five-speed one, we were expecting a better fuel economy.
It turns out this is not exactly the case, since we achieved a similar fuel consumption to the aforementioned lower-weight models, which were equipped with the less-potent version of this very same engine. So, if the overall performance figures and the fuel consumption are similar to almost any 1.6-liter 8-valve Dacia model, we kind of asked ourselves where the improvement was. Well, apparently the improvement is in the overall package, not the engine per se.
Speaking of old versus modern technologies, we've established the fact that the engine's conception happened somewhere in the last century, but what about the rest of the car? Well, for one thing, the car's platform has taken bits from both Renault and Nissan, which kind of makes the Duster feel like it got two good ends to the bargain.
Believe it or not, there are also a couple of world firsts on this car. For one thing, this is the first ever Dacia with four independent wheels, but it's also the first one with a six-speed transmission. An independent rear suspension is something to be desired on premium small cars like the Audi A1 or the Alfa Romeo MiTo, but a sub-15,000 euro Dacia crossover-SUV has that in standard, which we believe is saying something.
On top of that, it also has an intelligent all-wheel drive system, which can transform the car from 2WD to 4WD at the flick of a switch mounted on the center console. It's not exactly a pro-active system a la BMW xDrive, but it certainly gets the job done and it's probably the most hi-tech piece of technology on the car.