Renault's budget brand Dacia had planned to launch in the UK in 2010, but the bank-fuelled recession soon put paid to that. Now Dacia is coming to Britain in autumn 2012 and this'll be the first model: the Duster faux-by-four. CAR's been out to test the new Duster in Morocco, read on for our first drive review.
The new Dacia Duster: sounds like a new furniture polish!
Yes, yes - look past the unusual name and you've got a Golf sized soft-roader. The Duster is a chunky looking thing and there's something pleasingly utilitarian about it. A no-nonsense design that the likes of Skoda have forgotten how to master.
There's a simple line-up at launch in 2012: pick from a petrol or diesel engine, both available as two- or four-wheel drive. Sharing the low-cost Logan's architecture has kept costs down and, priced from around £10,800 for the petrol 1.6 in 2wd form, the Duster will from 2012 expand SUV-lite territory to a wider audience than just the Qashqai/Yeti mob.
Cheap, cheerful... How does the Dacia Duster drive?
Pretty well actually. This is an uncomplicated car based on Dacia's no-nonsense Logan hardware. The four-wheel drive version has different rear suspension and will challenge mountain goats for go-anywhere cred. We drove one on an off road course designed by Dacia to ensure it wouldn't get stuck and - guess what - it's grippy and grunty enough to get up and down the most ridiculous angles. Mini SUV plaudits intact.
How does the Duster perform on road?
Of rather more import are the road manners. This car will sell to families and those wanting practicality on a budget. And this is where the new Duster scores highly. The cabin is large, the boot clutter-dispatching, and the cabin plastics so rubbish you won't mind scratching them.
We drove the 2wd 1.5 diesel first (four wheel drives will be minority interest in the UK) which stands out for a cushty ride. This is a comfy place to sit, and refined too. Wind bluster from the brick dynamics is the biggest intrusion.
It's entirely as you expect to drive: thrills are few and far between and three cheers to that. It steers accurately enough and there's something of The Van about the gearchange, but the structure feels really stiff and the car rides patchy African roads and tracks with aplomb.
And what about the petrol Dacia Duster?
UK sales are predicted to be evenly split between the petrol and diesel. Expect the unleaded version to be priced from £10,800 while derv Dusters will add around £1200.
We tested the 1.6 petrol in two-wheel drive form and can report it's somewhat noisier than the relaxed dCi. That's amplified by the need to rev the petrol engine for its 114lb ft of twist arrives at 3750rpm. We'd pick the relaxed diesel if funds permit.
The Dacia Duster is a deliciously focused device. We didn't hear the word Nurburgring mentioned once, but there was plenty about affordability, low running costs and emissions and practicality. These the Duster serves up in spades.
It's one of the biggest surprises of the year: a car that's so resolutely fit for purpose that it rather took us aback. If this is a taste of things to come - and the next-gen Logan and Sandero will also be ready in time for the UK launch - then we can't wait to welcome Dacia to the UK. It's just a shame there's such a long wait.
Only one question remains: how on earth have they more than doubled the cost of the donor Logan in transition from three-box cheapy to family-friendly soft-roader?