Blog : The rather acceptable Dacia Duster

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

We love value for money purchases at AROnline, and no new car sums-up this philosophy so well as Dacia. John O’Sullivan tries one for size in Ireland, and comes away impressed…

…and questioning whether Chinese-owned MG should be attacking our market in the same way.

Dacia Duster
Dacia Duster

For anyone who has been on holiday in Europe over the past few years, the Dacia brand will be very familiar. It’s Renault’s cut-price marque, which has been steadily carving out a loyal following over the past number of years. The company’s USP simple –  to offer customers who value good pricing, reliability and a back-to-basics motoring a viable new car to put on their drive way.

Now the time has come for Renault to introduce Britain and Ireland to Dacia. And to spearhead its launch into right-hand drive markets Dacia will be using the facelifted Duster and Sanderos. Currently the Sandero is unavailable to test drive, but I did manage to bag a long drive in a LHD pre-facelift Duster at Blackstone Motors Drogheda in County Louth.

There’s always a certain excitement when a new marque (or a familiar friend comes back – MG) enters the price lists, and the Dacia Duster is no exception. It’s also justified, as the Duster is the perfect car for today’s buyers in today’s climate of austerity. To say it offers a bang for your buck is an understatement.

The Duster is a solid-looking car, but not at all imposing. It’s also very functional, and gives you a confidence that the bargain price doesn’t reflect the quality of the car. All doors open wide, providing easy access, while the boot is a nice square size and shape. It’s perfect for families who will be in and out of the car on a regular basis throughout the day.

There will be a few changes for RHD models, such as an integrated stereo, window switches on the doors and improved interior plastics. The seats are comfortable and offer support, and in fact I have a sneaking suspicion that they are lifted straight from a 2001 Megane – including the dashboard plastics. There’s oodles of space for both front seat and rear seat passengers, too. Handling is also more than acceptable. The car drove well over a mix of roads, from winding B-Roads to motorways, and bumps and dips are dealt with easily by the Duster. This isn’t surprising given it’s raised ride height.

At this point you might be asking why I’m writing about this on a British car website. Well there are a number of reasons – a very successful competitor and relative – the Nissan Qashqai – is built in Britain for starters, and I reckon the Duster is going to tap into it’s success. I don’t think it will harm it however but it will certainly compliment it very well.

More importantly I started out my Dacia odyssey with a little race: I requested a brochure and test drive for a Duster and an MG6 at the same time. And I was sitting in a Duster within 24 hours, but I’m still awaiting an acknowledgement from MG. In fact Dacia went out of its way to help – I test drove the very first Duster available to any dealership. Even the salesman hadn’t test driven it before me, but he still ensured everything was right. And it was.

It’s the first pleasant experience I’ve had in a long time at a main dealer. I personally think the Duster is showing up the failings of the MG clearer than ever now. Both use old school technology, both are from ‘developing’ markets and both have cheaper interior plastics than we would like. But here’s the important difference – the Duster comes with a price tag which makes all of this acceptable – and sadly the MG doesn’t. In fact, the Romanian car shows just how overpriced the MG is.

I can confirm dealers have very tight margins on the Duster but I can also confirm they are very eager to do business.

So overall what are my thoughts about the Duster? I think it’s the perfect car at the perfect time with a very attractive price tag. So much so I’m considering selling my Rover 75 and purchasing my very first brand new car. I’d encourage everyone to go and have a look and see what you think of the Duster. It’s not perfect but it’s very easy to forgive with the price tag.

It’s back to basics motoring, and giving private buyers what they need.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

42 Comments

  1. maybe the city rover should have had a morris or austin badge on it to reflect its lower than rover quality and budget motoring. it may have been a success, who knows? and maybe a few grand cheaper…

  2. @1 The decisions made at Rover were idiotic, you are on the right lines, I remember saying at the time Rover should create a new sub-brand – perhaps called “Metro” or something similar pricing the car as a basic £4.5-5K runabout, every old biffer with a rusty Metro on the drive would have part-ex’d it for the new budget car – the press couldn’t have slated it at the price – instead they tried to double their money on a cheap nasty car with mere badge-engineering – Madness.

    As for the Duster, it would be a hit if they upped the price by £400 across the board and added aircon as standard – an option that’s only available by buying the top £15K model – stupid decision. I wouldn’t consider buying a car without AC and I wouldn’t pay 15K for a Dacia – bit of a non-starter!

  3. Echoing Frankie’s comment above, it is a shame that Dacia/ Renault resurrected the old Duster name- which brings back recollections of the appallingly built horror that was the old Renault 12-based predecessor.

    Not only that, but it does lend itself to ridicule- such as ‘Dacia Duster- the car that Brand X wipes the floor with!’

    Still, looks like a reasonable product, although the front end styling could have been better. And I agree that MG Motors are overpricing their cars by comparison. Good luck to them!

  4. That interior reminds me of a late rover 25/ZR, though the Dacias I have seen whilst on the mainland all looked like nice sturdy back to basics motors..

    Thing is I don’t want to go back to basics..not in a saloon car anyway.

    Think comparison with MG is also a bit unjustified.. Even the 6 in a completely different sector is in a different league.

    And though its been through the mill, the MG badge still has a certain cachet among the general public, even if the car nuts keep knocking it.

    You are spot on about the lack of attention from MG in regards to marketing though

  5. A budget Skoda Yeti rival. I hope it actually does well. Yup the front grille is a bit shonky, but it isn’t as ugly as a Datsun Qashcow or the Datsun Puke. It might wake he Chinese up into actually slashing prices, because I’m almost certain the 6 would sell if it was about £3k cheaper, even though it looks from the side very much like the old Primera, and a boat race only a mother could love

  6. I still don’t get the SUV craze (and there are times when, like football, I wished I was a fan to catch on to what the excitement is about) but have seen plenty of Logans in Europe and been impressed (even if it does look like a cross between a Clio and a 309) by it’s back to basics honesty, reminiscent of Skoda Felicias of old.

    Should be interesting if they decide to expand the range, given that Renault have cut back in the UK (no more Laguna, Espace or Koleos for example).

  7. I agree with John, I too am seriously considering this as a next purchase, you just cannot overlook the value you get for your money. It seems to manage to pull off that rare feat that Skoda did some 10-15 years ago – it has a kind of anti-establishment fashionability to it that somehow brands like Proton or Perodua cannot pull off. I would not be in any way embarassed to own this car, in fact I think I think it would make me feel quite smug – just as driving my Felicia (consistent award winner) or my first Fabia did all those years ago. I find myself with a much tighter budget than the last few years now and the value I get is now much more important to me, gone are the days when I don’t think about the price of the car more than the options and spec, and I suspsect for a lot of Britons, this is also true. I just hope they get the price of the MG3 right when it comes here because in such a crowded supermini market, a great car for little money is the only way I see them making any dent.

  8. @10 Spot on, value for money still seems to be missing from the UK market – most of the UK models seems to be overloaded with kit and priced accordingly, on the continent and in other markets you can still buy cheap, basic models without the frills. I don’t mind wind-up windows, but for winter demisting and summer comfort, AC is a must – especially with a bigger car where you cannot lean across to wipe windows. KIA and Hyundai were the value brands making good basic cars at the right price, now they are pushing upmarket. As you say the likes of Škoda used to produce value cars now they seem to be VAG prices-10% which isn’t good enough. The Felicia was a cracking car for the money, I used to really like the Estelle – rear-engined wackiness and all! Not a great car by any means but fun to drive, still wish I’d kept my Rapid coupé.

  9. I think the Dacia is an interesting opportunity for bargain basement motoring from the Renault-Nissan folk. I don’t think however that the way forward for the ‘MG’ badge is to closely follow suit; maybe ‘Austin’ or ‘Morris’ if ‘Roewe’ isn’t for us, but if you start to equate ‘MG’ too closely with cheap’n’cheerful then that is where the brand will be destined to sit for eternity…

  10. well done Dacia for not building a £15,000 “budget” car. A genuinely refreshing car just hope they never head upmarket like a certain Hyundai.

  11. Just occured to me that the front reminds me of an Allegro – same body wrapped around the lights look. Difference is the Duster doesn’t look like a deflated Yorkshire Pudding…

  12. Funny how they can take a Kangoo, stick some big wheels and a modern interpretation of the Lada Niva front end on and make a new car – have I not seen this before some where….

    If the interior is as shoody as the Megane’s then it won’t last long, but at the price they are charging you can’t grumble. Just don’t expect Focus handling from a converted 4×4 van

  13. The Nissan Juke may be willfully fugly, but for some bizarre reason people are buying it. Mind you they are also the same people who buy Jesse J CDs and think that TOWIE is entertaining….The Dacia is a good, honest hack in the same vein as the Berlingo, Yeti and some other van/SUV/people carrier thing. It no doubt is very competent, and very cheap. It will appeal to people who have to buy their own cars, and who value simplicity and ruggedness above style, power and gadgets. If Renault can build the thing to a decent quality to equal the Japanese and Korean competition, then it should succeed. The MG6 is not a competitor by any means. It is part of a bigger picture, far removed from the European market. The MG6 is all about providing a sub-prestige brand for the emerging markets and China.

  14. I had a good look over one of these at Hartwell in Kidlington, Oxford last Friday night. It was 2WD but LHD leather spec.
    Quality wise the interior looked and felt fine.I crawled underneath and it did look a bit “hand finished”.
    I couldn’t care less about lack of aircon on a car that is <9k new, the base model has no radio, but as the salesman said it is wired for and has speakers. A CD/Radio/memory card/bluetooth unit is £50 at Argos.
    The boot is big too.
    The bad thing is that a diesel 2WD is a full £2500 more than a petrol, and you can only get base model in white.
    Might just chop the Aveo in for one next year.

  15. In fact, if they had left that grille all black, or dare I say it all chromed, then it could look like a much nicer car… (photoshop anyone?)

  16. In Moscow most of the Taxis are Renault (Dacia) Logon’s built at the old Moscovitch factory in Moscow.

    I have been in a few with intergalactic mileage and impressed at how they have stood up to the abuse. It’s a tough simple car which would I think will find a ready market in the UK as motorists become more cost conscious.

    • @Graham: The Dacia Logan and MCV (Estate) prove to be very popular Taxis here in Germany too. It is said, that they are not as durable as Mercedes (which seem to have gone better since the bad times in the early 2000s), but way better than VAG or Opel products. The other interesting Taxi seen on our roads more and more often are Prius. These proved to be 100% reliable and very economical once the driver’s adjusted themselves to using the benefits of the Hybrid drive train.

  17. As my learned friends have already said, there are bags of these around Europe. In the flesh, they look pretty good and I like the idea of uber-basic cars….I think that what this car lacks in creature comforts, it more than makes up for in character and personality….and anything ‘anti-image’ is a plus point I think!

    However, if I did have 9k to spend on a car, what could I get nearly new?

  18. I didn’t see any Dusters but other Dacias (& Dacia built Renaults) seemed popular in Turkey.

    I’ve seen at least one Prius used as a minicab here in the UK.

  19. No one bought the dacia denim aka renault 12 (a fine car in its day)will they buy this?as some magazines have commented it is outrageously priced.Im on the fence with this one.

  20. My local Renner dealer has one right at the front of the showroom in a sort of sandy metallic colour. It doesn’t look too bad. Need to pop down for a good old nosey

  21. The exterior is designed by Nissan Europe, you can see that it has a bit of the Qashqai and X-Trail at the front. The 4X4 version is an old and reliable Nissan unit, and the Duster has a pick of Renault engines that have been around the block a few times.

    Almost every major component has been deployed before in another Nissan or Renault model, so the development costs are low and hopefully they should be reliable.

    I haven’t driven one, but I’ve read several positive reviews. If I was in the market for something of this size then I’d certainly consider it..

  22. Dacia is not new to the UK! There was a Dacia dealer in the village next to mine when I grew up in the 80s! They even sold the ‘Duster’ which was a very boxy looking 4×4 at the time. And what looked like an old 70s Renault. It possibly did not do that well as it was shut by ’85 and had become the village video library

  23. It seems the Duster is a value for money car but also one with quite a bit of appeal beyond pure finances. I imagine you would appreciate it for what it is and grow quite attached to it. I reckon this is due to the Renault influence. Thoughts of 4s and 5s – simple cars with chracter & appeal.

    However, Keith, trading your 75 for one seems a step too far. The 75 is in another world to that of budget, more objective motoring!

    Also, I know MG is now coming from a developing motoring nation but surely it can aim a bit higher. The 6 is hardly a huge price and in my opinion the car justifies it – I like the Duster but the 6 is just a bit classier!!

    Regarding CityRover pricing. Most certainly it should have been badged Austin, Morris and sold at a budget price. Higher volumes would likely have more than offset the lower margin. Also, no harm to the Rover name. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Back in 2003, the Phoenix 4 probably thought reasonable volumes, massive margins, desparately needed income. Back in the eighties there would have been outcry at the Rover badge being applied to a Civic saloon – but look at the success, especially later 216 & 216 EFI models. The CityRover was, I guess, a potential cash cow, and in desparate times the risk with the Rover name just had to be taken.

  24. It does seem that the budget car sector could easily be a growing market, as everyone belt tightens. We have Geely waiting in the wings with their cheap Chinese offering, which will be about the same size as the Rapid, and probably a bit cheaper.

    A ‘back to basics’ small family car will probably do well, because let’s face it,the more gadgets & gizmos you nail to the dashboard, the more potential for something to go ‘wibble’, and land you in a courtesy car, plus all these toys add weight, thus harming fuel economy.

  25. I accept the MG could learn a lot from Dacia about marketing, but then Dacia could learn a lot from MG on styling.

    Good value, but I need a saloon, not a Tonka car.

  26. @30: Keith isn’t thinking of trading in his 75 for a Duster. I am. I wrote the article. The simplicity and honesty of the car appeals to me.

    @comments regarding my comparison with MG. I understand the two cars are from different segment but in the eyes of the general public I would think the faux SUV is currently in high demand while a relatively bland hatchback and saloon that sit between a Focus and Mondeo in size aren’t. Dacia have the right car, at the right price and at the right time. Finally the are marketing the car. I think MG6 sales figures back that all up. Personally I’d prefer the MG6 but I couldn’t justify spending my own money on one.

    And for the record…………..I got my MG6 Magnette brochure yesterday, two weeks after I placed the request. A bit longer than the 24hrs it took Dacia to put me into a Duster.

  27. It’s very similar to the MG6 in one respect however. You need to see it in the flesh to understand how good it looks. I still consider the basic one in white with steel wheels and black bumpers I spotted in Turkey to be my pick of the bunch.

  28. If they add a LCV version to the Duster range, I could see the fleet market being very interested, especially for companies like ‘Nitwit Fail’ and UK Power Networks (National Grid in old money), who often need vehicles to plough through muddy fields. There were quite a few Freelander LCV’s made after all

  29. @ 33 , again.

    “The simplicity and honesty of the car appeals to me.”

    I know where you are coming from here. I’ve recently traded my 75 1.8 Club SE for a low mileage MG ZR 105. The sale was ultimately forced by signs of HGF (again!). I’m absolutely loving the ZR and the more minimal, simple aspect is part of the appeal.

  30. I just love the look of the very most basic version with steel wheels. I’m so fed up with trying not to scratch expensive cars around the lanes that surround me I’m seriously considering having one of these and just wacking it around with abandon. I reckon constantly bubbled tyres from huge pot-holes would be a thing of the past too. That really would make for care free motoring.

  31. @38 – Ironically , VW have now added a nice looking pair of Alloys to the new Beetle which are made to look like classic steel wheels – except they are alloy and will cost a bomb if scuffed??

  32. Dont do it. I got a Dodge Calibre , based on prix, worst car ever had, if you want good and affordable go Kia

  33. 4 years on and the Duster seems to be selling extremely well, right in the crossover craze and in at the right money. Have even seem some commercial versions being used by the local rail operator.

    One thing though, in Europe some taxi drivers have taken to the Logan MPV, yet UK taxi drivers don’t seem convinced enough to be prised out of their Octavias. (Interestingly though, the Logan competitor – Skoda Rapid – seems to not sell well at all)

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