Fleet challenger test – Dacia Duster: a TCO buster
WLTP is increasing vehicle taxation and new models are becoming ever more expensive. Perhaps the time has come to consider brands and models that offer both value for money - to please the CFO - and agreeable SUV looks - to seduce the user-chooser. Like the new Dacia Duster.
If anything, the Duster of the first generation has been Dacia’s chicken with the golden eggs. Since 2010, the competition in the B SUV segment has toughened considerably though, pushing Dacia to step up its game. To fight off rivals like the Citroën C3 Aircross, Hyundai Kona, Kia Stonic, Peugeot 2008, SEAT Arona and even its cousin, the Renault Captur, the Duster stuck to its basic principles while enhancing its look & feel and adding more modern features.
Look & feel, practicality: 13/20
At first glance, the Duster II looks more like a thorough facelift than a new model – until you get inside. The dashboard makes a far better impression, even though the fit and finish remain low-budget. The platform hasn’t changed, so neither has the interior space or boot volume, but the latter remain best-in-class. Less impressive is the fact that the load sill is quite high because of the boot’s raised edge and that the loading area is not flat when you fold down the rear seats.
Infotainment & HMI: 12/20
The Duster’s Media-Nav system comes standard on the top model and excels at simplicity and ease of use. Unfortunately, Apple Car Play or Android Auto are not in its dictionary and we found that it is impossible to command a Samsung S8 with the Duster’s voice control. Dacia took the wise decision to integrate the central display higher in the dashboard. To save costs, the USB and aux ports are positioned next to the screen instead of in the centre console. The Bluetooth connection worked flawlessly.
Safety and ADAS: 10/20
Another area in which Dacia cut costs, is safety. The new Duster has not been developed to obtain 5 EuroNCAP stars. In fact, it just got 3 stars, which is probably 1 star short of what Dacia had anticipated. 71% for adult occupants, 66% for children and 56% for pedestrian protection are below average, but the real blow comes from the Safety Assist rating: 37%. The Duster cannot be equipped with Autonomous Emergency Braking or a Lane Assist system. At best, you get a blind spot monitor and 360-degree parking camera. In today’s world, that’s inexcusable, especially if you know that the technology is at hand at mother Renault.
Driving fun & street cred: 13/20
Even though it’s the cheapest B SUV on the market, it looks pretty good. But the drive must be horrible, right? Not exactly. Our 125 hp 1.2 petrol engine proved to be sparky yet thrifty (6.8 l/100 km) and work together well with the 6-speed manual transmission. The steering wheel feels rather vague and the suspension is clearly comfort-oriented, but that is a justifiable choice. The most striking evolution compared to its predecessor is the NVH performance. The Duster keeps engine, wind and suspension noises well at bay. The only false note came from a squeaky roof liner.
TCO & fleet cred: 15/20
The Duster remains the unbeaten champion in terms of equipment to price ratio. For the same budget as a basic Peugeot 2008 or Renault Captur, you get a ‘fully loaded’ Duster – but don’t go expecting luxuries like an electric tailgate, a heated steering wheel, a sunroof or electrically foldable door mirrors. Service intervals and warranty are pretty conventional. Dacia has an outstanding reputation as it comes to reliability and servicing costs. There are plenty of Dacia sales and service points, too. RVs of the previous Duster are quite solid. CO2 emissions are average, resulting in an attractive TCO.
The bottom line: 63/100
The new Dacia Duster is quieter, more comfortable and better to drive thanks to its modern powertrains (even a dual-clutch transmission is available) and improved NVH control. It has all the goodies a company car driver needs and boasts attractive TCO figures. There is not much to dislike, except for the fact that autonomous emergency braking is not available. In its basic form (AEB City), such a system costs just €200 on a VW Up. Peanuts if you know that it can save you costly repairs.
Comfortable and quiet drive, roomy cabin
Value for money and good looks
Disappointing safety performance
Mediocre fit and finish, some squeaks and rattles
High load sill, no flat loading floor
Explanation of the rating: 12/20 = average/satisfactory; <12/20 = below average/disappointing; >12/20 = better than average/exceptional. All ratings take into account the category/size of the tested car.
Picture copyright: Dacia, 2018