First drive review: Dacia Duster
What is it?
It's the UK's cheapest SUV and marks the return of a car maker that's been absent from the UK since 1990. Previously only available on the continent, the Duster is the first model to appear from Dacia – Renault's budget brand. It'll launch in January with prices starting from a mere £8,995.
Duster customers will have the choice of just two engines - quite simply a petrol and a diesel, and either two- or four-wheel-drive. The range starts with a 1.6-litre 16v petrol unit delivering 103bhp, and returns either 35.3 and 39.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 165 or 185g/km depending on whether it's 2WD or 4WD. It gets to 60mph in 11.5 seconds (2WD) or 12.8 seconds (4WD). The diesel is a 1.5-litre unit shared with the old Renault Clio. It develops 107bhp, gets to 60mph in 11.8 seconds (2WD) or 12.5 seconds (4WD), emits either 130 or 137g/km of CO2, and returns either 56.5mpg (2WD) or 53.3mpg (4WD).
What's the kit like?
You get what you pay for. Spend £8,995 on the Access trim and you'll be getting black plastic bumpers and steel wheels. You can't choose the colour – white is the only choice – there's wind-up windows – remember them? – and there's no radio. And air conditioning isn't even an option. Ambience models kick in at £11,495 and get body-coloured bumpers, a radio, Bluetooth and USB and AUX connection, while top-of-the-range Laureate models start at £12,995. These cars get air conditioning, a few leathery bits, 16-inch alloy wheels and some piano black trim. Dacia expects the majority of buyers to opt for the Laureate trim level.
Bearing in mind its price, there's no like-for-like rival. The best comparison is between the top-spec Laureate and a two-year-old Nissan Qashqai. Which one is best comes down entirely to how badly you want a new car. We'd rather plump for the used Qashqai, though - it's British-built, more stylish and has more kit.
Is it any good?
There's no doubt Dacia is aggressively targeting British buyers with bargain prices. Our test car was a top-spec model and it was good to drive. The diesel is a tad noisy, but it's a strong performer. The tough-exterior looks are reflected inside too. The plastics are well-put together and it feels more than up to the job.
The AOL Cars verdict
The Dacia way is food for thought and is sure to make customers question why they should pay more for cars with more "prestigious" badges on their noses. But we think the Duster – along with the Dacia Sandero supermini coming later - will do well in the UK. You'd be a fool not to realise this is budget SUV transport - but it's cheap motoring at its most characterful.