DACIA Duster Review

OUR TEST CAR: DACIA Duster 1.6 4x4 16v

DACIA Duster  - Page - 1
for a winter-time adventure with the Duster check our 2012 Dacia Duster Diesel test drive.

If some of our older UK readers remember, there was another Dacia Duster at the beginning of the 1990s. Essentially just a rebadged version of the now-defunct Aro 10, the original Dacia Duster was nothing to be proud of, mainly considering its appalling reliability and poor fit and finish.

For a car manufacturer established at the end of the 1960s behind the Iron Curtain, Dacia did pretty good as a low-cost brand, but their R&D resources were pretty slim, so its success began to slowly fade during the years. Back in 1998, Dacia was struggling to survive with a line-up comprising a number of 30-year old Renault 12-based cars and an in-house designed, albeit still old model, called the Nova.

Twelve years after Renault "came to the rescue" and bought its majority of shares, their line-up comprises a number of quasi-modern cars which have recently started to gain quite a large amount of market share through their low-cost and reliability. We're not only talking about large sales numbers in emerging markets, but in countries like Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

Surfing on Dacia's recent mainstream success, Renault decided to upgrade the Romanian brand's line-up with a small crossover-SUV, largely-based on the B0 platform, which is also shared with the Sandero, the Logan and all its version. First previewed by a futuristic concept at the 2009 Geneva Auto Show, the Duster nameplate was resurrected in 2010. No longer a rebadged model, the new crossover/SUV is probably the cheapest car of its kind in the world.

Introducing a number of "firsts" for the Dacia brand, the new Duster rides on an independent rear suspension, 16-inch wheels, has an optional all-wheel drive system borrowed from Nissan and is the first Romanian car to feature leather upholstery. Quite some achievements, considering that about a decade ago it was still making facelift-ed cars that were designed in the 1960s.

To see what all the fuss is about with their new car, we managed to borrow for four days a Duster 1.6 16v with all-wheel drive and all the options ticked. If you want to see what good or bad impressions it left on us in the end you might as well read on the rest of our test drive chapters.
When the Dacia Duster Concept was unveiled at the 2009 Geneva Auto Show, Dacia aficionados (yes, there's quite a large number of them) were taken by storm. Unfortunately, apart from the name and powerplant, the series production model has next to nothing in common with the concept. It also has nothing in common with the original Aro 10 re-badged Duster as well, which is probably a good thing.

The front benefits from a rather odd grille, which is only half covered in "plastic chrome" while the semi-evil headlights look a bit old-school for a modern automobile. Also, the "beer bottle opener" a.k.a. badge is integrated like a large tooth in the chromed part of the grille. Since our test car was all-wheel drive, to further differentiate this model from the front-wheel drive version the interior of the headlights is blacked-out.

Given that our Duster was also black and was fitted with the "Look" appearance pack, which adds a couple of silver touches here and there, the contrast between silver/chrome and black wasn't half bad, making this probably the best looking Dacia since the Stepway version of the Sandero.

The side view has a rather "butch" look thanks to the oversized wheel arches, which at first glance look like they could house tires two times as wide as the standard 215/65 R16 ones. Getting to the rear is where we acknowledge quite a lot of design similarities with the Nissan Pathfinder, especially at the shape of the rear windshield.

Since Nissan is a major part of the Renault-Nissan -Samsung-Dacia family, we'll let this one pass, especially since they were also the provider of the all-wheel drive system on the Duster. All in all, the Dacia Duster doesn't look half bad, with some of us going as far as to consider it handsome from some angles.

Stepping inside a fully-optioned Dacia Duster for the very first time you might get the wrong impression. The first pleasant surprise for us came from the rather appealing black leather upholstery. Sadly, it didn't last long, as we soon found out the one covering the seats and the gear shifter wasn't natural leather. Still, even so, we approximated its feel and look quality as that of a lower-spec 1-Series with the basic leather package, which means it isn't half bad and some people probably won't even notice this.

The glossy brown plastic inserts on the center console and the interior of the doors is surprisingly better-looking in person than in pictures and at least it doesn't try to appear more expensive by attempting to be wood.

As far as the interior design is concerned, the Duster's center console and dashboard are pretty much identical to the ones found in any Dacia Logan or Sandero - a 99.86% similarity.. The only exceptions reside in the steering wheel and the upper part of the dashboard, which are exclusively found on the Duster. In other words, you've seen a modern Dacia's interior, you've pretty much seen them all.

With similar design comes similar unrefined habitability. Just to give a few examples about the complete lack of ergonomics inside the Duster just picture the following. In order to use the car's horn you have to reach behind the steering wheel and press on the signal and headlights knob, just like on some cars from the 1960s and 1970s, while the button for adjusting the exterior rear view mirrors is situated right under the hand brake, between the front seats.

To top it all, the buttons for the front windows are situated on the center console, which is only half-bad, while the ones for the rear windows are somewhere between the front seats, behind the hand brake lever. Probably to make things somewhat easier to reach, there is no central armrest for the driver and front passenger.

The overall space is even bigger than that in the Logan or the Sandero, fitting four or even five passengers, but the seating position is quite similar, since we're talking about the very same seats, plus the "leather" upholstery. The luggage compartment has a great opening and is almost shaped like a cube, while its volume is gigantic, with between 475 liters (16.8 cubic feet) and 1600 liters (56.5 cubic feet) available depending on the configuration of the rear seats.

After driving all the Dacia models in their current range, we weren't expecting much as far as fuel economy goes from the 1.6-liter gasoline version of the Duster. The official fuel consumption numbers are 10.4 liters per 100 kilometers (US 22.6 mpg) during city driving, so we were expecting at least 50% more in our test drive.

As it turns out, we were pleasantly surprised from this point of view. We believe it's mostly related to the fact that the six-speed manual transmission on the Duster has some of the shortest gear ratios we've ever experienced, but our in-city fuel consumption was somewhere between 11 and 12.5 liters per 100 kilometers (US 18.8-21.4 mpg). Keep in mind that given the weather conditions we used the air conditioning unit at full power for most of the time.

Speaking of the shortness of the gear ratios, you may find this unbelievable for a car that's not tuned for hill-climbing, but in fifth gear at 60 kilometers per hour (35 mph) the rev counter was already showing us almost 3000 rpm. In fifth gear!

In other words, you can use five of the car's total of six speeds and still drive under the speed limit, in the city! Of course, if you spend most of the time driving in the city it might get tiring eventually to keep shifting gears all the time, but maybe that's just us.

Overall visibility is better than we expected, with just a minor exception. The commanding seating position and the adequately-sized exterior rear view mirrors are more than enough to give you a good all round view, but the bulkiness of the rear wheel arches and the design of the rear windshield can obstruct some of the visibility towards the rear.

Other than that, the Duster 1.6 16v is pretty easy to handle in the city, considering it's visibly shorter than a number of other so-called compact crossover/SUVs at 4315 mm (169.9 inches). Of course, some parking sensors, at least for the rear, wouldn't be such a big thing to ask, at least until the driver learns to correctly appreciate the car's overall size from the inside.

We left the city with a few pre-conceptions about the Dacia Duster. First of all, the 12.8 seconds required to reach 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) from a stand-still weren't very encouraging, while the top speed of 160 km/h (99 mph) was a bit low considering modern standards. Immediately after we jumped on a highway we realized we weren't wrong about the performance expectations.

Even though all the gears of the six-speed transmission are very short, the engine's 105 horsepower aren't enough to give the Duster the vicious acceleration one might expect and the car struggles whenever you try to make a pass at higher speeds. Corroborating the short gear ratios with the rather small amount of sound proofing and the not-so-good drag coefficient of 0.42 translates into a highly... "auditive" experience at speeds above 120 km/h (75 mph).

On top of it, the same gear ratios are responsible for the car's rev meter showing no less than 4000 rpm at 135 km/h (84 mph). This also probably the main reason for the car achieving between 10 and 10.5 liters per 100 km (US 22.4-23.5 mpg) at highway but legal speeds. Those figures are quite a bit higher than the advertised 7 liters per 100 km/h (US 33.6 mpg). Still, we should mention that these numbers were achieved with the air conditioning unit on, since we were experiencing a tremendously hot weather during our test drive.

In other words, in case you're planning to use the Duster 1.6 16v 4x4 on long stretches of the autobahn you might feel a little bit discouraged by its performance, both in acceleration and sound levels, not to mention the rather poor fuel economy. So, is this an SUV to be used strictly in the city, condemned to only tackle speed bumps and roadside curbs on the way to the mall? We beg to differ, and here is why.

The moment we got off the highway and started cruising the countryside is when the Duster got to show its true credentials, or we should say purpose. Don't get misled by the fact that it doesn't look as off-road ready as a Jeep Wrangler, this thing can literally crawl over mountains if given the correct set of tires.

As soon as you hit what it looks as impassable terrain, all you have to do is turn the on-board switch from "2WD" to "Auto" or, if things get really rough, to "Lock" and you're in business. It still remains a front-wheel drive car in "Auto", but the moment a rear wheel starts losing traction the center differential will almost instantly reroute up to 50% of the torque available to the rear axle, thus helping emerge victorious from the mud you're in.

Helping its true off-road credentials are a ground clearance of no less than 21 centimeters (8.3 inches), an attack angle of 30 degrees, a break over angle of 23 degrees and a departure angle of 36 degrees. Put all that together and add a transmission with very short ratios and you get a highly potent little SUV with which you can really go off-roading.
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autoevolution Jun 2010
In the city
Open road
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55user rating 297 votes
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Photo gallery (85)
Dacia Duster center consoleDacia Duster sound system steering wheel controlsDacia Duster all-wheel drive settingsDacia Duster all-wheel drive settingsDacia Duster 4WD stickerDacia Duster rear suspensionDacia Duster engine bayDacia Duster wheelDacia Duster rear windows control buttonsDacia Duster sound system steering wheel controlsDacia Duster air conditioning control panelDacia Duster rear benchDacia Duster front seatsDacia Duster panningDacia Duster panningDacia Duster panningDacia Duster panningDacia Duster panningDacia Duster exterior rear view mirrorDacia Duster rear ride heightDacia Duster middle ride heightDacia Duster front ride heightDacia Duster rear ground clearanceDacia Duster front ground clearanceDacia Duster panningDacia Duster nighttime shot in the cityDacia Duster nighttime shot in the cityDacia Duster panningDacia Duster rear middle seat beltDacia Duster door handle, exposed screwDacia Duster strange stickerDacia Duster crank storage spaceDacia Duster spare tireDacia Duster luggage compartment with the rear bench foldedDacia Duster luggage compartment with one seat foldedDacia Duster luggage compartmentDacia Duster rear windows control buttonsDacia Duster rear benchDacia Duster front passenger doorDacia Duster interior, upper viewDacia Duster front seats, upper viewDacia Duster gear stickDacia Duster gear stickDacia Duster handbrake with mirror adjustment knobDacia Duster center consoleDacia Duster all-wheel drive settingsDacia Duster center console detailDacia Duster air conditioning control panelDacia Duster center console, side viewDacia Duster Blaupunkt audio system Dacia Duster center consoleDacia Duster gauges Dacia Duster sound system steering wheel controlsDacia Duster wiper control leverDacia Duster headlight control and horn leverDacia Duster steering wheel badgeDacia Duster steering wheelDacia Duster front seatsDacia Duster dashboard, high angle viewDacia Duster dashboardDacia Duster dashboard at nightDacia Duster wheelDacia Duster rear badgeDacia Duster rear badgeDacia Duster 4WD stickerDacia Duster taillightDacia Duster taillightDacia Duster exterior rear view mirrorDacia Duster exterior rear view mirrorDacia Duster front badgeDacia Duster headlightDacia Duster headlightDacia Duster front grilleDacia Duster side viewDacia Duster side viewDacia Duster rear viewDacia Duster three quarters rear viewDacia Duster three quarters front viewDacia Duster front viewDacia Duster three quarters front viewDacia DusterDacia DusterDacia Duster ConceptDacia Duster ConceptAro 10/Dacia Duster