Dacia Duster (2021) review: a rugged bargain

Published:15 September 2021

Dacia Duster (2021) front view
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Keith Adams

Devout classic Citroen enthusiast, walking car encyclopedia, and long-time contributor to CAR

By Keith Adams

Devout classic Citroen enthusiast, walking car encyclopedia, and long-time contributor to CAR

► Facelifted model gets more tech, loses Access model
► Petrol, diesel, LPG Bi-Fuel, FWD or AWD
► Price goes up but still starts at £13,995

The big-selling Dacia Duster has been given a light facelift, model realignment and tech upgrade. As you’d expect for a model that’s doing so well, the styling gets the slightest of tweaks and a more powerful flagship model with new automatic transmission join th range. Otherwise, the recipe stays reassuringly familiar, so it combines a variety of Renault engines and underpinnings and a chunky-looking body and ruggedised interior.

With these latest updates, Dacia aims to address the few remaining criticisms from customers, so the quality and equipment level have been improved again, accompanied by a modest price rise across the board. But putting that into context, its closest rivals are still approved used examples of more mainstream SUVs.

Dacia Duster (2021) interior

So, tell us more about the facelift…

There was little to criticise the old model for, so the facelift tweaks are predictably light. And it’s all about upgrading the equipment levels, and repositioning it a little higher up the food chain, now that Dacia’s an established budget brand.

But there are some light subtle tweaks. At the front, it gets new headlights and a bolder-looking 3D chromed radiator grille, while reprofiled bumpers result in a slightly better aerodynamic performance. But it’s all about maintaining the Duster’s personality without introducing change for change’s sake. We love it for that.

Despite new features it remains one of the UK’s cheapest SUVs, losing the stripped-bare Access entry-level model in the process. Canny buyers love its simplicity, its functionality and its ruggedness, and that continues as before. As does its impressive off-road ability in four-wheel drive form.

Inside, there are more changes. There’s a selection of more inviting seat trims and colours, while a new centre console hides a useful sliding armrest, more storage room and a choice of two new infotainment systems. New features include the availability of automatic main beam headlights, onboard computer and cruise control with speed limiter function.

Dacia Duster (2021) driving through mountains

What engines can I get?

There are three turbocharged petrols – the TCe 90, TCe 130 and TCe 150 – and a 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 EDC automatic transmisssion, while the diesel is manual-only for now, although it does get the option of four-wheel drive, which as we found surprisngly capable when fitted with off-road tyres.

There are three trim levels, named with a Ronseal clarity: Essential, Comfort and Prestige. The old Access has gone, with Dacia UK figuring it no longer needs the model to tempt customers in to showrooms in order to be upsold into higher-spec models. Mid-spec Comfort is probably the best balance at £14,495, but it’s worth it for the sat nav, better upholstery, USBs, trip computer and various other items of equipment that many a modern buyer would expect to be included.

Can a SUV costing less than £15k and drive well too?

You better believe it, especially if you’re looking for comfort and long-legged cruising ability. We’ve driven the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel, TCe 150 EDC and (briefly off-road) the Blue dCi 115, and all are capable, impressive and very worthy of your attention, regardless of their bargain-basement prices. 

Starting wiith the mid-spec TCe 100 Bi-Fuel Comfort, once on the move, the slick-shifting six-speed manual, eager-sounding three-cylinder engine and relatively low levels of road noise conspire to make this car 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 (15.1 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 EDC adds performance into the mix, and although it’s a welcome reduction in its 0-62mph time to 9.7 seconds (and a 123mph maximum), it doesn’t really bring much else to the party in terms of refinement thanks to its rather flat-sounding four-pot. The new EDC automatic transmission is a welcome addition to the range in traffic, responding well on the road, and generally behaving without comment.

Ride and handling are exactly what you expect them to be – if you’ve driven a decent French family SUV in the last 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 boot, economical engines, no nonsense, and in that, we really rate it considering just how much you get for the money.

Dacia Duster (2021) off-road driving

How does it perform off-road?

We had a brief and very controlled off-road expedition session in a dCi 115 model, and once again were impressed 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.

The six-speed manual gearbox gives you an impressively low first gear, which really helps with off-road work, allowing you to idle over all but the most intrusive obstacles. Underpinning it all is the Duster’s light kerbweight – 1413kg – which doesn’t put too much strain on the engine, transmission or suspension.

All-wheel-drive Dusters have independent rear suspension, which Dacia describes as ‘Pseudo McPherson, and that eats slightly into the boot space but gives the necessary rear wheel movement.

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.

Dacia Duster: verdict

The Dacia Duster remain as impressive a tool for your money than ever. Given you can’t get close to even a basic Renault Captur or Skoda Kamiq at this price, it’s truly remarkable what you fo get for the money – 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 idential performance than 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 than 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

Dacia Duster (2021) rear view, driving

Specs

Price when new: £11,475
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 999cc 3cyl, 99bhp @ 5000rpm, 192lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 104mph, 12.5sec 0-62mph, 52.3mpg, 124 g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1191kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4341/2052/1693

Photo Gallery

  • Dacia Duster (2021) driving through mountains
  • Dacia Duster (2021) interior
  • Dacia Duster (2021) off-road driving
  • Dacia Duster (2021) rear view, driving
  • We review the new Dacia Duster
  • We review the new Dacia Duster
  • Dacia Duster (2021) review: a rugged bargain
  • Dacia Duster (2021) review: a rugged bargain
  • We review the new Dacia Duster
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  • Dacia Duster (2021) review: a rugged bargain
  • Dacia Duster (2021) review: a rugged bargain
  • Dacia Duster (2021) review: a rugged bargain
  • We review the new Dacia Duster
  • Dacia Duster (2021) review: a rugged bargain
  • Dacia Duster (2021) review: a rugged bargain
  • Dacia Duster (2021) review: a rugged bargain
  • Dacia Duster (2021) review: a rugged bargain

By Keith Adams

Devout classic Citroen enthusiast, walking car encyclopedia, and long-time contributor to CAR

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