► New 2023 Dacia Duster review
► Petrol, diesel or LPG, FWD or AWD
► Still a robust bargain from £14,845
The Dacia Duster has been on sale in the UK for a decade now and the range is marking its tenth birthday with the lightest of facelifts. It’s principally about upgrading the branding so the grille now features the latest Dacia ‘link’ badge, the D and C of the name interlinked in a chain motif. The logo is displayed in white on the front and spelled out on the rear, as the company turns its back on the ostentation of chrome and leather.
In truth, the 2023 revisions are modest compared to earlier facelifts. The engine line-up and technology are unchanged and this is more about the face of the brand – the Sandero and Jogger are also being upgraded simultaneously in what Dacia calls a world-first rebranding of the entire range.
Read on for our detailed Dacia Duster review.
Dacia Duster: mission tough and simple
The recipe stays reassuringly familiar, combining a variety of proven Renault engines and underpinnings with a chunky-looking body and rugged interior. It’s still identifiably a Duster – with a tough, almost Tonka-toy simplicity to its lines which have changed little in its first 10 years on sale. We like the chunky design and so do customers around the world, judging by the 2.2 million sales threshold recently surpassed.
Dacia has addressed criticisms from customers, so quality and equipment levels have improved in the past couple of years, accompanied by a modest price rise across the board. The Duster is still absurdly cheap, with prices from £14,845 for the Essential model. Putting that into context, its closest rivals are still approved used examples of more mainstream SUVs.
The SUVs and 4x4s
What engines can I get?
There are three turbocharged petrols – the TCe 90, TCe 130 and TCe 150 – and a single turbodiesel (Blue dCi 115). A Bi-Fuel TCe 100 version that uses LPG as well as regular petrol joined the range in the middle of 2020 and has been upgraded with a larger tank to extend the range by up to 155 miles.
The highest-powered petrol version is available with a new-to-Dacia dual-clutch automatic transmission, while the diesel is manual-only for now, although it does get the option of four-wheel drive. Throw in the standard Goodyear Vector 4 Seasons tyres (below) and you’ve a surprisingly capable off-roader.
Light weight plays a part here; this is a pleasingly trim SUV, with the entry model weighing just 1189kg; the diesel we drove comes in at 1308kg while the 4×4 version weighs a chunkier 1413 kilos. As ever, light mass = lower fuel bills, peppier acceleration and better handling on road and off, as we found out while researcing our Dacia Duster review.
Can a SUV costing less than £15k still drive well?
You better believe it, especially if you’re looking for comfort and long-legged cruising ability. The TCe 90 is at the lower end of acceptable performance, its 999cc three-cylinder engine mustering just 89bhp (103mph top speed/13.1sec 0-62mph). We’d generally recommend stepping up to the TCe 130 or 150, variations on a 1.3-litre four-cylinder theme offering 128bhp (120mph/10.6sec) or 148bhp (124mph/9.7sec).
Dacia is unusual in persisting with LPG dual-fuel factory options and Renault top brass has suggested these engines may not survive forthcoming EU7 rules. This is a shame, since the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel has a slick-shifting six-speed manual, eager-sounding three-cylinder engine and relatively low levels of road noise making this car feel feel a whole lot more expensive and mainstream than you’d expect. It’s not quick with a 0-62mph time of 13.8 seconds (15.1sec on LPG), but that’s not really the point in such a relaxing experience. Go looking for rough edges and you’ll be left caught short.
The TCe 150 can be specced with Dacia’s first dual-clutch automatic badged EDC. This is a useful addition, making stop-start driving easier, responding well to kickdowns and generally slushing through gearchanges for those who’d rather not DIY.
The standard manual transmission is fine for most though, and allows better car control if you’re off-roading.
Ride and handling
The 2023 Dacia Duster drives as you might imagine a greatest hits of the Renault parts bin would. If you’ve piloted a decent French family SUV in the past 10 years, you know more or less what the Duster feels like: comfortable ride, light steering, a degree of slackness engineered in to the controls, and an easygoing vibe that values passengers at least as much as the driver. In that, we think it strikes the right balance and should suit most families.
It’s still a simple, basic car, but the fundamentals are sound: big, square boot, economical engines, no-nonsense attributes throughout, and in that, we really rate it considering just how much you get for the money.
Revealed: the best family cars
Dacia Duster off-road: how does it perform away from the beaten track?
There’s a reason why the Duster sells well in the more rugged, northern parts of the Britain and Scotland: it has become a popular off-roader of the sort that has likely hoovered up some of the sales once garnered by Subaru or Mitsubishi (RIP) in areas where winter snow is a real threat and where muddy farm tracks a regular thoroughfare. Its unique blend of tough DNA, go-anywhere pluck and affordable prices has become a winning formula for farmers and rural folk.
CAR has driven the very latest 1.5 dCi 4×4 manual range-topper and found it startlingly good: we’ve driven it off-road in the UK and abroad – across a Moroccan desert even (see above) – and have been struck by its willingness and capability through ruts, up steep ascents and down awkwardly angled slopes.
The combination of high ground clearance, all-round cameras and impressive departure angles make this a very capable machine indeed and made us question the need to step up to a Land Rover, Jeep or Toyota tough-nut.
The six-speed manual gearbox gives an impressively low first gear, which really helps with off-road work, allowing you to idle over all but the most intrusive obstacles and Hill Descent Control lets you crawl downhill at a predetermined speed, feet off the pedals. A new off-roading display on the basic touchscreen shows an inclinometer, altitude and traverse angles to check what’s going on.
The Duster’s light kerbweight helps here, not putting too much strain on the engine, transmission or suspension. We applaud the fact that the Dacia Duster’s kerb weight has only risen by 29kg in 13 years, despite a host of extra equipment and bigger wheels added in that timeframe.
All-wheel-drive Dacia Dusters have independent rear suspension, which Dacia describes as ‘Pseudo McPherson’ and it allows for better wheel articulation and traction when the going gets tough. Be warned that it eats slightly into the boot space, trimming cargo room from 445 to 411 litres, however. The boot is a sensible, squared-off shape with a flat floor and no luggage lip.
Some Dusters are bought as farm vehicles, and a few for leisure off-roading. But even if you never intentionally go off road, it’s good to know that it can cope with all but the toughest terrains, even without a central transfer ‘box.
Dacia Duster review: verdict
The Dacia Duster remains utterly impressive. Given you can’t get close to even a basic Renault Captur or Skoda Kamiq at this price, it’s truly remarkable what you get for the money here: excellent comfort, refined engines and all the space a growing family needs.
The Bi-Fuel TCe 100 surprisingly emerges as our favourite model. Offering almost identical performance as the petrol-only TCe 90, but with the promise of being able to run it on cleaner, half-price LPG (and petrol) and a potential 700-plus-mile range when running on both, it’s hard to see a downside. Yes, LPG isn’t as easy to get hold of as it once was, but given Dacia’s move to sell this model at the same price as the TCe 90, this feels like the one to have unless you want off-road capability and more performance.
When we originally tested the Duster, we concluded that it was, ‘a handy, cheap and practical tool rather than a car to get excited about.’ Yet that’s underselling what this car offers for the money. Because, once you’re behind the wheel, there’s a satisfaction you get from driving one, feeling like you’re beating the system. It’s hard not to conclude that either the Duster is hugely under-priced, or the rest of the industry is taking us for a ride.
View Dacia Duster lease deals