Dacia Duster 4x4 Laureate Road Test

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DUST BUSTER


Since it appeared on the UK market, Dacia’s Duster has proven to be one of the most affordable SUV’s of its type. In 2WD form it’s allowed potential buyers to enjoy crossover practicality but without the heavy price tag. In AWD form the Duster is tangible proof that a capable 4x4 doesn’t have to cost a small fortune and that an all-round family car and load lugger can be had for under £20,000. The negative was, in comparison to the established brands, the Duster wasn’t especially luxurious, price and functionality the defining factors.


A cursory glance at the latest Duster will reveal few changes but they are there. Externally, the same profile has been retained from the bulging honeycomb effect headlights, the high waist, rounded four-door profile and full depth tailgate sat on McPherson style struts fore and aft suspension with multi-link at the rear and anti-roll bar at the front. Other familiar features are the high cut arches, silvered roof bars emblazoned with the Duster name, a steel skidplate and 16” alloy rims shod with 215/65 rubber.


Closer inspection however reveals the fit and finish of all the panels is much improved whilst badging has adopted a more subtle approach, the overall visual quality of the Duster significantly improved. The Duster’s off road credentials have also been retained, the 210mm ground clearance complimented by a 350mm wading depth and 360 and 300 approach and departure angles along with 230 ramp over, all of which give the Duster genuine off road figures.   


And whilst the exterior has benefited, so has the interior. Whilst the hard plastic surfaces have been retained, gone are the pale grey inserts. Instead, dark textured cappings with greater use of fabric on the doors have replaced them along with metal door handles, the original and oft criticized flimsy flaps now hopefully a thing of the past. Similarly the seating, the dark and light grey fabric trim now of a far higher and more durable quality, the driver’s seat and steering column more finely adjustable than on previous models, the cabin ambiance now brighter and airier with decent stowage and bins.


Certain interior items have been retained, the large round instruments along with a centrally mounted touch screen satnav and infotainment system. The familiar oversized knobs and controls have been retained ensuring operation of the stalks and rotary switches is a positive, reassuring operation although the AWD selector remains buried behind the gearlever meaning most drivers will leave the setting in Auto.


The cabin still provides more than ample room for five adults with decent head, leg and shoulder space along with about 500 litres of cargo space which more than doubles with the rear 60:40 split rear seats folded. There are no doubt roof rail and towing capacities but Dacia and in turn Renault doesn’t provide them, our advice being to contact your nearest dealer. There’s also a full sized spare and tyre as standard with the 4x4 versions, an option on the 2WD.


Beneath the bonnet the Renault supplied Euro6 spec turbo diesel, the 1,461cc 4-cylinder unit set back and mounted transversely. Delivering 109hp and 260Nm of torque, the engine is willing and reasonable economical returning a respectable 40.6mpg average under general motoring. And whilst at times it becomes a little thrashy when pushed, its ability to respond when needed never comes into question. Besides the automated AWD system that’s borrowed from the Nissan X-trail, it’s the 6-speed manual transmission you’ll have to become acquainted with.


Dacia would be far better to refer to the gearbox as a 5-speed plus an extra low ration since 1st is far better reserved for towing or when off road. The rule of thumb is set off in 2nd and always select a gear one higher than you’d think, a 3rd gear corner actually better navigated in 4th. If not you and the Duster will be a ratio down on what you need which until you’ve worked it out can become annoying especially at junctions.


On the road the suspension is a little soft although it has no particular bearing on the Duster’s overall performance. Mild understeer on bends but this aside the Dacia drives easily; the three and a third turns lock to lock assisted steering is nicely weighted. ABS disc and drum brakes haul the car to a convincing halt whilst the usual USB and Bluetooth facilities keep things fully connected. Its off road where the Duster AWD continues to surprise, the 1,325kg kerb weight, flexible engine, low 1st gear, excellent underbody protection and clearance figures allow the Duster to attain destinations many supposed more capable machines would baulk at. Choose your route carefully and the Duster will in all likelihood get you there and with a reasonable amount of ease.


With the noticeably increasing numbers of Dusters to be seen on the road it’s now obvious that there are a growing number of buyers able to see past the Dacia badge. The lasted upgrade has eliminated most of the criticisms no matter how minor, the end result being in the case of the Laureate dCi 110 4x4, an AWD SUV that’s the equal of any in its class and many of those above. Granted you don’t get a dimming rearview mirror, heated seats, automatic lights or wipers but we all got by quite happily without them only a few years ago.  


For £16,940 as tested you get one of the most practical and capable crossovers currently available with a Group11 insurance and a comprehensive warranty. I ask you, what more do you need or want?

            


By; Mark Stone

Dacia Duster 4x4 Laureate Road Test