Motorhub went to Paris to test the revised Dacia Duster, which has just gone on sale in Ireland from €19,990. We were given the first opportunity to test a number of interesting models, in particular the new automatic version with its 150hp engine. On the menu was the TCe100 Bi-Fuel Duster, an AWD ‘thinks its a jeep’ dCi115 diesel Duster and the ‘sit back and relax, I’ve got this’ Duster TCe150 petrol automatic.
So the Duster has got a few styling tweaks to freshen up the exterior and interior with no change in its key dimensions. The design changes come on the back of the new Sandero and Stepway alongside the international reveal of Dacia’s new MPV the Jogger. The Duster gets new LED head and tail lights with a new light signature help the latest Duster stand out. Under its skin there are no changes but there has been some work done to make the steering feel a little more refined at speeds above 70km/h plus some engine electronic mapping trickery. Inside the cabin the display is improved and the nearby single USB is replaced with two, repositioned USBs up front. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto feature and when combined with the newly available larger touch screen the cabin feels a good bit smarter.
First up for a spin was the Bi-Fuel Duster. It has two fuel tanks obviously one for petrol and one for LPG that amount to 100 litres! Most cars have 45-55 litre fuel tanks. The LPG tank is located where the spare wheel would be. This car is capable of a staggering 1,225km range! Finding LPG fuel in Ireland is another story but in certain European markets the fuel never went away and also has tax benefits due to its CO2 saving over petrol emissions of circa 9.5%. The Duster never claimed to be a sporty SUV and is softly sprung. It drives like a budget car and when cornering it tends to lean more than most, but in a straight line or at modest speeds it is perfectly adequate for most needs. We tackled motorway and urban areas on our test route. The transition form Petrol to LPG and vice versa is done seamlessly via a push button. Our left-hand drive test cars have a lovely amount of space for your clutch foot to rest but the centre console annoyingly digs in to your right leg if you try to brace it against it – thankfully those are not issues with Irish RHD cards. The TCe100 engine produces 100hp and 170nm of torque. Nippy and eager best describes the feeling the little engine delivers. It is quickest running on LPG with a 0-100km/h time of 13.8 seconds versus 15.1 seconds on petrol. Our next stop was to tackle an off road course in the AWD version.
Climb every mountain! While the AWD Duster is available to buy most buyers overlook it and opt for the standard front wheel drive version. Driving the 115hp/260nm diesel only AWD a.k.a. four wheel drive Duster reminded us of how good a budget off-roader can be. While the Duster is not as cute as a Fiat Panda 4X4 or Lada Niva it should be considered among them as it is very capable and relatively cheap. We didn’t try it but the DCi115 can sprint from 0-100km/h in 10.2 seconds. We took the diesel all wheel drive model fitted with all season tyres around a short but challenging obstacle course in rural France. In a matter of minutes we were bowled over by its ability. The course was dry with a mostly loose gravel surface featuring the obligatory side banking – where we drove at close to a 30 degree angle (I hate side banking), tackled a steep decent and climb and traversed tricky axle articulation obstacles.
The course was one that you’d expect to see serious off-roader vehicles tackle – not budget SUVs! The AWD has a 4×4 Monitor system that sends various types of information to the centre screen. You can see the lateral inclinometer that displays the angle between the left and right-hand sides of the vehicle. The ‘Pitch’ angle: this uses Hill Start Assist and Adaptive Hill Descent Control data to keep the driver informed during steep descents and climbs. Compass: now available with the vehicle stationary and Altimeter: the altitude is displayed on one part of the screen, the climb-descent log on the other part. The diesel AWD Duster has a low idle and with my feet off the pedals the car would plod along in first gear traversing all sorts of challenges and banking angles with ease. We even had a camera view of our projected front wheel position displaying on the centre screen – handy on blind hilltops and crests. Now here’s the thing with Duster AWD – you don’t need to be an off road enthusiast to get the best out of the car – a simple rotary dial allows you select the way the Duster distributes its power and this makes driving it off road really easy. The Duster AWD can rightly claim to be the best non transfer case 4×4. Note to self, give a nod of admiration to any Duster AWD driver.
After lunch and a look at some of the comprehensive accessories you can get with the new Duster we drove a very civilised test car. It has been too long since an automatic gearbox Duster was on sale in Ireland and even then only a few were brought in. The new six-speed dual-clutch automatic EDC gearbox Duster should be a big hit with buyers who want an easy life. The Auto delivers this in two ways. The fact you don’t have to shift manual gears makes life so much easier in day to day use. Secondly the auto Duster gets the most powerful engine in the range with 150hp and 250nm on tap. Motorway cruising and overtaking are dispatched with ease and this is particularly pleasing when you remind yourself you’re in a budget car – unless you’re overtaking another Dacia. We found keeping up with or setting the pace in open road or urban traffic was dispatched with little effort. The 0-100km/h time of 9.7 feels quite quick behind the wheel. Enthusiastic cornering is not something the Duster is known for and really the automatic Duster’s ample power should be used simply to cruise.
A good list of safety ADAS systems are available such as blind spot warning, park assist, multi-view camera, adaptive hill descent control and hill start assist. Bi-fuel and diesel engines make up the engine range in Ireland, and there are three trim grades available: Essential, Comfort (from€22,090), and Prestige (from €23,990). Comfort is the predominant grade here but in France 80% of buyers choose Prestige. The AWD starts from €24,290, the automatic starts from €25,590. As ever with Dacia its easy to be critical of the car next to rivals but when you factor in the far lower price point of the Renault-owned brand compared to the usual suspects it is hard to argue. The new Dacia Duster remains a most democratic and accessible new car.