Nearly every manufacturer has the aim and ambition to go premium – not only with their cars, but also with their prices.
But where does that leave buyers who are on a tight budget? Well, in a rather good place with offerings such as Dacia’s latest Duster.
The firm entered the UK market in 2013 and quickly established itself for making cheap and dependable products, with the Duster being one of its key players. While the latest model might have moved ever so slightly upmarket, it’s still unbelievably affordable.
With prices starting at £9,995, it undercuts nearly every supermini and even some city cars. Many models at this price are rather sparsely equipped, but to get a new crossover for that price is mightily impressive.
The latest model features chunkier styling, new alloy wheels and distinctive cross-shaped rear lights. Smart-looking LED lights are also fitted across the range, while the interior and underpinnings have also been refreshed.
A small turbocharged petrol engine is likely to join the Duster line-up soon, but for now there’s just two engines to choose from – one petrol and one diesel.
Our test car was fitted with a naturally-aspirated 113bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine lifted from the old Duster.
At low speeds it’s pleasant, with a smooth enough power delivery and an excellent five-speed manual gearbox, but at higher speeds there is a lack of punch which is to be expected with a car at this price.
If you regularly drive on motorways or on fast A roads, the torquier 1.5-litre dCi diesel engine is a far better choice, while for those wanting a petrol engine, the arrival of a turbocharged petrol engine can’t come soon enough.Enquire Now on a new Dacia Duster
Ride and handling
Remarkably the Duster is impressive behind the wheel. It’s not what you would call dynamic but there’s little to complain about.
The new electric power steering is a leap forward compared to the old model’s hydraulic rack and while it’s not brimming with feel, it sticks to the road well with limited body roll. The chunky tyres and soft suspension also absorb bumps well, although the low-speed ride is overly fidgety.
It’s also available with all-wheel-drive, which makes it more capable off tarmac than nearly every car at this price point.
Interior and equipment
For a cheap car, it’s unsurprising that there are plenty of cheap hard plastics. But for £10,000, durability is more important than the luxury offered by soft-touch plastics. Just like the last version, though, it feels well screwed together.
Dacia keeps its costs down by raiding the parts bins of old Renaults, which means the switchgear is a mixed bag. The seven-inch touchscreen fitted to high-spec cars is a highlight, although is lacking Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Space is excellent, with enough room for four adults and a decently-sized boot.
Equipment on the entry-level Access trim is bare, and doesn’t come with air-con or radio. Essential trim adds air-con and a DAB radio but Comfort is where most buyers will spend their cash, with these models coming with 16-inch alloy wheels, a colour touchscreen, a reversing camera, sat nav and cruise control.
There is the range-topping Prestige version, but that adds things which you probably don’t need on your Duster, including 17-inch diamond-cut alloys, part-leather heated seats and keyless entry.
Any car of the Duster’s size which starts from under £10,000 is seriously impressive – regardless of how sparse it is. As already mentioned, it undercuts many superminis and city cars, and it’s great to see Dacia still pricing itself as a budget manufacturer, albeit an exceptionally competent one.
Our Comfort grade car with all its bells and whistles came in at £13,195 which is still excellently priced. It’s only the top-spec Prestige that cost over £16,000 that just seem a bit too expensive considering its foibles, which are forgivable at a cheap price.
The petrol engine is thirsty with a claimed fuel economy figure of 43.5mpg, and CO2 emissions of 149g/km, but the diesel engine makes up for this with CO2 emissions of 115g/km and an economy figure of 64.2mpg.
The new Dacia Duster is a big step forward, but lags behind rivals with its cheap interior and poor petrol engine. But the Duster shouldn’t be compared to other cars, as at this price point it’s virtually in a class of its own.
It’s impeccably cheap, yet still drives well, is practical and providing you choose the right trim level, it’s excellently well-equipped for the money.
For the price, nothing can match it and that's why we decided to rate the bargain crossover top marks.Test drive a new Dacia Duster