Dacia Duster to wipe the floor with SUV rivals on price

By Philip Hedderman
We love a challenge.
The bigger, the better … so bring it on.
The email simply read the Dacia Duster – “shockingly affordable”.
Hmmmm, a car company set up under a murderous dictator which bought the rights to reproduce old Renault models like the 8 and 12?
The cars were so bad they made rival Ladas look like luxury limos.
But that was then.
Since 1999 the regime has been taken over by the French car giant and they are hoping to do here what VW achieved with Skoda.
Now, looking at the pictures and marketing blurb we found ourselves for once agreeing with the suited, tangereen spivs who write this nonsense.
A reasonably good looking, chunky SUV for the price of a B-segment runaround.
Yep, for 15,000 of your hard-earned euros you could be behind the wheel of this bus.
Where’s the challenge in this I thought … and then it arrived.
Sitting in the car park is a gleaming white hulk, with blacked out windows in the rear, alloy wheels, fog lamps and aluminium roof rails.
It even came with a factory-fitted tow bar.
Just above the hitch came my first clue – a strange yellow and blue registration plate.
So my mission, should I choose to accept it is to drive a left-hand drive Romanian-based, Luxembourg registered, French-made SUV around Ireland for a week?
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy … or so I thought.
Climbing on board one is taken aback at how simple and easy the dash is.
No complicated sat nav colour touchscreen infotainment system to distract you, cruise control or park assist to faff around with.
It’s then that you begin to “get” the Dacia ethos of if you don’t need it wee don’t give it.
The entry level Alternative is basic enough and comes with central locking, electric front window, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel controls, ABS and  driver and passenger airbags.
Opt for the Signature and you’ll get air con, leather steering, on-board computer (with fuel consumption, trip etc) electric mirrors and rear windows, chrome door handles and alloy wheels.
The super executive 4X4 gets Electronic Stability Control and a spare wheel.
So, Audi levels of comfort we won’t be enjoying but how does this bargain bucket drive?
Surprising well in fact.
We were looking forward to putting the 1.5 litre, 110bhp diesel to the test – especially when we discovered that it is the same unit powering the Renault Megan and more importantly, its biggest rival, the Nissan Qashqai.
Bearing in mind too that the controls are on the wrong side, we allowed for the odd slip-up like selecting fifth instead of third and worse again, second instead of fourth.
This happened quite regularly, but that is driver error rather that a design fault.
There is no doubting that the gearbox is straight out of a Megane and could do with being tighter and more precise.
Despite its small size, there is more than enough torque and power emanating from the 4-pot diesel to handle pretty much anything.
She zipped around city streets with ease and proved a comfortable cruiser on the motorway – until we reached the toll booth where the driver had to climb over the passenger seat at full stretch to pay our dues.
If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, we were left red-faced at the airport car park when comedy descended into farce.
Unable to reach the protruding ticket, this driver had to climb out, run around and retrieve the card.
Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough and the barrier came down before this roly poly reviewer made it back.
The CCTV boys had a good old giggle, then let me through suggesting I should reverse in the next time.
Again because of the alien driving position the Duster tended to wallow a bit while cornering and the steering was less than informative.
But lets not get too sniffy about the drive dynamic as this is after all an SUV with real 4X4 capabilities.
Operating is easy with three driving modes – 2WD, Auto and Locked (4X4).
Front wheel 2WD is the most fuel efficient in normal road conditions.
The Auto mode will distribute torque to wherever needed should the condition deteriorate and Locked is continuous all-wheel drive at low speeds (under 80kph).
From a family car point of view the Duster is way out front with oceans of space for that ever-growing brood.
The boot is generous at 475 litres (65 litres bigger than the Qashqai) and with the 60/40 split rear seats down,  a gargantuan 1,636 litres is available.
Couple that with a low sill and getting a fridge/freezer in there is possible.
It’s pretty easy on the juice too – returning a very decent 45mpg while residing in Tax Band B (€225 a year).
If that doesn’t seal the deal then the low servicing costs and a 5-year unlimited warranty will.
And when the first snows of winter and spring come, you’ll be Dusting her off and going about your business while the rest of the snobs are hoofing it.
This really is a whole lot of SUV for very little cash.
RHD versions are in production and will be in showrooms for January.
Prices for the Dacia Duster start at €14,990.
Prices in the UK start at  £8,995.