- Petrol 4x2 feels nippier than figures suggest
- Diesel offers greatest on-paper acceleration
- Diesel should provide strongest in-gear punch
Just three engine and transmission options are available initially; a two-wheel drive, five-speed manual 1.6-litre petrol, the same engine with a six-speed manual and four-wheel drive, plus a two-wheel drive, six-speed manual 1.5-litre diesel.
The 1.6-litre SCe petrol produces 115hp and 156Nm of torque, while the dCi diesel matches it for power but produces far more low-down muscle, with 260Nm of torque.
Fastest of these is the diesel, which accelerates from 0-62mph in a reasonable 10.5 seconds and can keep going until 111mph. Next in line is the two-wheel drive 1.6-litre petrol; 0-62mph comes up in 11.9 seconds – though it feels more responsive than that figure suggests – topping out at 107mph.
In terms of Dacia Duster performance, slowest is the four-wheel drive petrol; the extra 100kg of four-wheel drive mechanicals means that even with six gears and shorter gearing – something which normally boosts acceleration – this version requires 12.9 seconds to hit 62mph from a standstill. The top speed falls to 105mph.
While not fast, the petrol engine is quiet enough to work hard without feeling strained and the gearbox is very slick, making it a satisfying car to drive. As a result, regularly having to use the throttle’s full travel and changing gear regularly on faster roads is no hardship – especially considering how much cheaper it is than the diesel.
We’re yet to drive the diesel on tarmac but off-road it felt impressively refined for such a cheap car and had a similarly slick gearbox to the petrol. A turbocharged 130hp petrol is likely to arrive at the start of 2019. Providing the pricing isn’t too much above the 1.6-litre petrol, this is likely to be the pick of the range, offering stronger acceleration, reasonable fuel economy and we imagine lower pricing than the diesel.
Dacia is also planning to introduce an automatic gearbox for the diesel engine, though it hopes to develop one for at least one of the petrol models too, though there is no date for this at the time of writing.
- Steering now lighter but less precise
- Perfectly competent around corners
- Easier to manoeuvre around town
The Duster is particularly easy to drive and manoeuvre thanks to a new electric power steering system, though this lacks the weight and precision of the previous car when on faster roads. There’s nothing wrong with the new set-up, though it doesn’t give you the best idea of how much grip the front tyres have when cornering at higher speeds.
Despite this, the balance between comfort and roadholding is well judged for most drivers, as the Duster is untaxing to drive, parking is similarly easy and it handles tidily enough around bends. Yes if you carry too much speed through low-speed corners the stability control cuts in abruptly to limit power as you reach the relatively low limit of front-end traction.
The suspension is reasonably soft, but keeps the body in check reasonably well through turns. Aiding this is the fact that the Duster is reasonably lightweight for an SUV of this size, so while it’s not been designed to be thrown around corners, it shouldn’t get you into trouble either.
Meanwhile, the Duster is more capable off road than most drivers could ever want. Ground clearance for four-wheel drive versions is a decent 210mm – 205mm for two-wheel drive models – and with short overhangs it’s surprisingly capable over rough terrain.
The four-wheel drive system provides good traction, the ground clearance is sufficient for all but the most challenging surfaces and it’s possible to have hill-descent control for safe downhill progress off-road.
The only area where the Duster tangibly lags behind more serious off-roaders is in the level of water it can wade through – that’s capped at 350mm. Venture deeper than this and you might end up with soggy carpets, as the door seals aren’t designed for this level of immersion.
While not the most obvious towing car – due to its relatively light weight and none-too-powerful engines – the Duster is a better tow car than anything vaguely similarly priced. The two-wheel drive 1.6-litre petrol can haul 1,400kg of braked trailer, with the four-wheel drive petrol and two-wheel drive diesel raising that to 1,500kg.
This compares with as little as 800kg for the far pricier Fiat 500X to 1,100-1,200kg for the SEAT Arona, 1,300kg for the Kia Soul, 1,200kg for the 1.6-litre petrol Suzuki Vitara – though a decent 1,500kg for the diesel. The only affordable model that poses real competition to the Duster at launch is the SEAT Ateca, which can tow 1,500kg in entry-level petrol form and 1,700kg with the 115hp diesel engine under the bonnet.