Parkers overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 4.5
  • Feels nippier than on paper figures suggest
  • Compact 1.0-litre petrols feel punchy
  • No automatics this time around

Currently you've a broad choice of seven engine and transmission options for the Duster, but despite parent firm Renault's expertise with fully electric cars and, more recently, with hybrids, no such system is offered in Dacia's largest model.

Dacia doesn't publicise its engine sizes, instead using the terms TCe for petrols, Bi-Fuel for LPG and Blue dCi for diesel, followed by a number equating to the power output in horsepower.

Turbocharged petrol engines

Any brand new petrol-engined Duster has a small-capacity, turbocharged engine. Not only does this boost performance of the tiny motors, it ensures they work efficiently, too.

Entry-point to the range is the TCe 100, a three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine that produces its peak power at 5,000rpm and its 160Nm of maximum torque at 2,750rpm. While that's not high in isolation, it's a faster engine speed than other Dusters, meaning you'll have to work the standard five-speed manual gearbox hard to extract the most performance from the car. Dacia claims a modest top speed of 107mph and a 0-62mph time of 12.5 seconds.

Usefully, the larger capacity models make a better fist of things. Now with four-cylinders and a 1.3-litre capacity, the TCe 130 still produces its maximum power at 5,000rpm, but its higher torque figure of 240Nm is at its peak at just 1,600rpm. Combined with a six-speed manual gearbox, this is a much more flexible pairing, requiring fewer gearchanges when accelerating hard, such as during an overtake. Top speed is 120mph, while the 0-62mph time tumbles to 10.6 seconds.

Although the same physical size, there's a bit more extra grunt with the TCe 150, although its maximum power's produced slightly higher at 5250rpm. Torque sees a small increase to 250Nm at 1700rpm, which together result in a 125mph top speed and a 9.7-second 0-62mph time. This makes it the quickest Duster on sale, although that's somewhat academic in a car such as this.

Four-wheel drive fans can also choose this engine in TCe 150 4x4 - power and torque figures remain identical, but the extra weight of the drive system means top speed drops to 123mph, while the 0-62mph dash rises to 10.6 seconds.

Limited diesel choice

Just one diesel engine is available - with front- and four-wheel drive choices - in Blue dCi 115 guise. The 'blue' part of its name indicates that this diesel engine requires AdBlue to ensure it meets stringent emissions regulations. 

Maximum power is generated at 3,750rpm, with peak torque of 260Nm available at 2000rpm.

Front-wheel drive versions can reach 113mph and complete the 0-62mph sprint in 10.3 seconds. Opt for four-wheel drive and those figures become 108mph and 10.2 seconds, respectively.

LPG for Duster Bi-Fuel

Liquified petroleum gas (LPG) was popular in the 1980s and 1990s, due to the cost of the fuel being significantly less than unleaded petrol. For Dacia, it's allowed it to introduce lower CO2 outputs without the expense of engineering a hybrid package.

Based on the TCe 100, the Bi-Fuel can run on petrol or LPG, with an additional 38-litre tank housed in the spare wheel well under the boot floor. While power remains the same, there's a difference in torque, with 170Nm being developed at 2000rpm.

The extra 61kg that the installation brings dents performance. In petrol mode top speed is 106mph, while the 0-62mph time is a leisurely 14.4 seconds. It's a tad quicker in LPG guise, though at 13.8 seconds, but top speed dips further to 104mph.

Engines no longer available

The non-turbo 1.6-litre SCe 115 petrol engine produced 115hp and 156Nm of torque, using a five-speed manual gearbox to drive the front wheels. A top speed of 107mph and a 0-62mph time of 11.9 seconds don't sound sprightly, but it didn't feel as lethargic as the raw data suggests.

Opt for the SCe 115 4x4 and it becomes more pedestrian-paced; the extra 100kg of four-wheel drive mechanicals means that even with six gears and shorter gearing – something which normally boosts acceleration – this version required 12.9 seconds to hit 62mph from a standstill. The top speed fell to 105mph. 

Is the Duster good to drive?

  • Steering is light but lacks precision
  • Perfectly competent around corners
  • Easier to manoeuvre around town

The Duster is particularly easy to drive and manoeuvre thanks to its electric power steering system, though this lacks the weight and precision of its predecessor 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.

Is four-wheel drive worth the extra cost?

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.

In fact, 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 TCe 100 can haul 1,400kg of braked trailer, 1,300kg for the Bi-Fuel, while all other models can deal with 1,500kg.

Does the Bi-Fuel version feel any different to drive?

Unless you're aware you're looking a Bi-Fuel Duster, there's nothing to give the game away. Peer beneath the filler flap (below) and you'll find an extra inlet for gas next to the petrol cap, and inside you'll find a small gauge for gas level next to the headlamp adjuster. There's also a spare wheel-shaped gas tank under the boot floor, which means you can't get one in four-wheel drive form.

On the road, it feels much like any other 1.0-litre Duster. Revvy, eager and willing for those who like to drive hard, and not at all quick at low revs for those who don't. Swapping between petrol and gas is by the dashboard control and proves to be as smooth as you'd expect for a factory conversion. There's little difference between the way it drives between the two, although fuel consumption is higher when running on LPG, and the trip computer doesn't take into account gas being used for its fuel consumption read-out.

If you've never filled up with LPG, it's something of an experience – first you have to find an LPG filling station. Then you need to attach the nozzle and leave it to fill up – a slower process than petrol. But once acclimatised to that, the hissing noise as you release the pump, and the smell of the fuel, you'll enjoy £25 fill-ups for the 38-litre tank.