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Dacia Duster Laureate 1.5 dCi 4x4

Click to view picture gallery“Renaults Dacia Duster is cleaning
  up in the budget-buy SUV market.
  Thanks to its value-for-money
  credentials it
s become a huge sales
  hit with European customers.
  Have you tried one yet?”

LAUNCHED IN THE UK in July 2012 at the high-profile Goodwood Festival of Speed, customer deliveries began in January 2013. To date, over 32,000 cars have found UK homes; 23,862 of them last year in 2014. That's an amazing near-40% increase over its previous first year on sale. All Dacia models are sold and serviced through Renault's 130 UK dealerships.

Today the Dacia range consists of the Duster five-door, two- and four-wheel drive SUV/crossovers, the Sandero and Sandero Stepway Supermini five-door hatchbacks, and the Logan MCV Estate. Dacia says these are all available at 'shockingly affordable' prices but add just don't confuse 'value' with 'cheap'. The rapid rise of UK sales volumes proves there is an eager buying public out there who know a bargain when they see one.

“Dacias are available
at ‘shockingly affordable’
prices —
just don’t confuse ‘value’
with ‘cheap’.
The rapid rise of UK sales volumes proves there is an eager buying public out there who
know a bargain when
they see one...
The latest 2015 model year Duster five-door family-sized SUV range prices start at just 9,495 for a 2WD model and 11,495 for a 4WD version. There is the choice of 1.6-litre 103bhp petrol and 1.5-litre dCi 105bhp (2WD) and 107bhp (4WD) turbodiesels. Both engines offer the options of 2WD or 4WD models. The petrol model is only available with the cheapest Access trim while the diesel-engined versions are available in Ambiance and Laureate specification.

The most expensive version in the budget range is the 1.5 dCi Laureate 4WD, priced at 15,495. If 2WD is all you want then the price is 13,495 for the same top level of trim with the 105bhp turbodiesel engine. More good news: there are no shocks in store for insurance costs: petrol models are rated 5/6E; diesel versions fall into groups 10/11E.

Before I get to the product, what about the brand? One of the questions we all ask ourselves is: How can Dacia models be so much cheaper than other brands? A significant part of the answer is that their models, like the Duster, have a 50% carry-over of components shared with other Dacia and Renault vehicles. Neither is there a baffling options list, plus there's a simple choice of colours and accessory packs to keep production line complexity low so allowing cost savings to be passed onto customers. There is also no haggling at dealers the price you see is the price you pay so none of the argy-bargy discounting that only harms residual values.

Another question: Are they reliable and safe? There's no worry about the warranty cover you get a three-year/60,000-mile mechanical warranty, two-year paint warranty, and six-year anti-corrosion cover. There are also five- and seven-year extended warranties available at extra cost.

Dacia Assistance (through the AA Recovery Service) is three-years/60,000-miles and included as standard. Servicing is the usual one-year or 12,000-miles period. As for safety, officially Dusters have a Euro NCAP three-star rating but UK versions have added safety features which if they had been tested would given them a four-star rating.

“The transmission has
three modes: 2WD; Auto,
(the rear wheels provide
drive as and when the
front wheels loose
traction); and 4WD Lock
which locks-in the rear
wheels for permanent all-
wheel drive for off-road
use and low-speed on-
road travel in snow...
So what do we get for our money? All three specification levels Access, Ambiance and Laureate benefit from a package of styling and trim upgrades for the 2015 model year. There's a more stylish chrome front grille surrounding the Dacia logo, 'Duster' branded roof bars (chromed on Laureate), and a high-quality black tailgate trim with 'Duster' branding above the number plate.

Laureate versions have new Tyrol 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured door handles and dark metal door mirror casings. Five new metallic colours (Mercury, Khaki, Pearl Black, Slate Grey and Cinnamon) replace the previous choices as alternatives to solid Glacier White on the Ambiance and Laureate.

There is also new upholstery and seats for every model, and while the emergency spare wheel remains standard on 4x4 models, it now becomes an option on all 4x2 versions.

Laureate spec also includes manual air-conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, seven-function on-board computer, heated and electrically-adjustable door mirrors, rear electric windows are added to the standard for all versions' front electric ones, piano black trim inserts for the interior, and door sill protection plates. Also included from lower spec versions are 60:40 split folding rear seats, front electric windows, Bluetooth, remote locking, ECO mode and gearchange indicator, Isofix child-seat points for the outer rear seats and automatic door locking.

My test car also had a media-SatNav system which costs an extra 300. Other additional-cost packs include leather upholstery (995), protective mouldings for the sills and wheelarches (595), a pack to include alarm, rear parking sensors and a bootliner at 665, and a touring pack which includes a towbar, transverse roof bars and a front central armrest for 555.

Inside the Duster there is lots of hard textured plastic trim but hard is durable and the overall design looks quite modern with plenty of storage spaces. The seats are comfortable with good support and the visibility out of the vehicle is unobstructed thanks to the large windows.

“The 1.5-litre turbodiesel
is a version of the
same unit as used in the
Nissan Qashqai —
in the Duster 4WD it
delivers a 104mph top
speed, 0-62mph in a
relaxed 12.4 seconds and
averages 45.6mpg...
The instruments are generally well arranged although the heater and ventilation controls are fiddly. It's a roomy vehicle both front and rear with a good-sized 475-litre boot and, which with the rear seats folded down, provides a 1,636-litre load area. For the record it will also pull a braked 1,500kg.

Outside the Duster doesn't have the now commonplace sharply creased SUV wedge-shaped body; it's more rounded with bulbous wheelarches and it looks more workmanlike that a styling statement.

On the downside, the doors sound a bit tinny when closed firmly; there is significant wind and road noise intrusion; the heater fan is very loud, as too is the tailgate window wiper motor. It just lacks a little finesse and in these areas it shows why it has a budget price.

That said, these minor issues have not put off customer from all over Europe seeing the advantages the Duster offers. Travel as I do widely through mainland Europe, I see plenty of these Dusters being used in rural cities, towns and the countryside they seem to have become the do-it-all vehicle of choice from family transport to off-roader workhorse to commuter travel.

The 1.5-litre common-rail turbodiesel engine is a version of the same unit used in the similarly-sized Nissan Qashqai crossover (with only 2WD available for that model) and the Qashqai is almost 10,000 more expensive.

In the Duster 4WD it produces the same 107bhp with 177lb ft of torque delivered from 1,750rpm. Top speed is 104mph and nought to 62mph takes a relaxed 12.4 seconds. Officially, this unit will return 53.3mpg in the Combined Cycle my ten days of test driving resulted in an acceptable average 45.6mpg. With CO2 emissions of 135g/km, road tax is 130 each and every year.

Okay, it's not the quietest or smoothest diesel around, especially from cold start-up, but it warms to its task. It's responsive in the low- to mid-range but gets a bit breathless at the top end of its rev-range.

“Only at higher speeds
on winding roads can
some body roll be
felt but for the most part
the Dacia 4x4 provides
a comfortable and secure
ride — comfortable for
the body and comfortable
on the pocket!
The noise intrusion and vibration can be put down to the less sophisticated installation within the vehicle over the Qashqai, but by no means should it put off cash-conscious owners wanting a very good value 4x4.

The transmission uses a six-speed manual gearbox, with 4WD models having a lower first gear ratio for better off-road uphill and low-speed downhill control. This lower first gear ratio helps negate the reason to use a costly and bulky high/low ratio transfer box.

The transmission has three modes: 2WD; Auto, which allows the rear wheels to provide drive as and when the front wheels loose traction; and 4WD Lock which locks-in the rear wheels for permanent all-wheel drive for off-road use and low speed on-road travel in snow.

The handling might not be the sharpest but it's only at higher speeds on winding roads that some body roll is felt and for the most part it provides a comfortable and secure ride. So, comfortable for the body and comfortable on the pocket!

Technically the latest Dacia Duster 4WD might not be a state-of-the art 4x4 family-sized SUV, but in terms of real value for money, interior passenger and load space and the comprehensive specification, it has the ability to be the class leader, as its huge sale success is already proving.

What you'll like: Practical and impressive value-for-money family-sized 4x4, proven Renault-Nissan Alliance technology, comfortable, well equipped, already a huge budget 4x4 sales success throughout Europe.

While it's a bit less sophisticated in some areas (hard plastic trim, noisy heater fan and wipers), and there's no five-star safety rating, for the price and its genuine 4x4 capabilities, who cares?
David Miles

Dacia Duster Laureate 1.5 dci 4x4 | 15,495
Maximum speed: 104mph | 0-62mph: 12.5 seconds | Test Average: 45.6mpg
Power: 107bhp | Torque: 177lb ft | CO2 135g/km