heycar editorial team
- Very affordable crossover SUV
- More practical than a Focus-sized hatchback
- Some will love its no-nonsense approach
Not so great
- The cheapest models are more basic than Duplo
- Less refined than mainstream alternatives
- Its three-star safety rating lets it down
On the inside
How much does it cost to run
Prices, versions and specification
Overall verdict on the Dacia Duster
"The Dacia Duster is so cheap, it’s guaranteed to grab your attention on the used market. And it’s not a bad car. It’s comfortable, practical and won’t cost you a fortune to run. Unfortunately, it’s easy to see where costs have been cut, and you’ll need at least a mid-spec model to avoid giving the kids a harsh lesson in austerity. Entry-level models don’t even come with a radio."
Just like budget brand food items at the supermarket, the Dacia Duster does almost exactly the same job as more expensive alternatives but with less of the fuss. There’s no fancy packaging and it certainly won’t impress your neighbours, but the Duster is a versatile crossover SUV that offers plenty of space for not a lot of cash.
You may not be familiar with Dacia (how’ve you missed the TV ads?!), but the firm’s been selling cars in the UK for several years now. It’s Renault’s budget brand, meaning it shares many parts (including engines) with Renault models, while the Duster is based on the same platform as the previous-generation Captur.
Dacia models are produced in Romania and sold in the UK through no-nonsense dealers that don’t negotiate on price. What you see is what you pay. You can save money by looking at the used market, though, where Dacias are significantly cheaper than mainstream alternatives.
That means you can pick up a much newer Duster rather than something like a Kia Sportage. It even looks cheap alongside smaller crossovers like the Suzuki Vitara and Nissan Juke. It’s a similar approach to that taken by the likes of the SsangYong Tivoli and MG ZS.
The Duster is an ideal choice if you put practicality above things like brand image. There’s plenty of room inside, with a generous amount of headroom and space for three adults in the rear. The boot is bigger than you’d get in something like a Volkswagen Golf and access is easy.
While standard equipment is lacking on more affordable trim levels (you don’t even get a radio on the entry-level Access), mid-range models come with everything you need and nothing you don’t. High-spec and special edition models make little sense, really, as they cost more money yet still don’t feel as well-finished as mainstream alternatives.
To drive, the Duster continues its function over form approach. It’s refreshingly soft, with a wallowing suspension which skips (rather than crashes) over bumps in the road. You can choose from petrol or diesel engines - and there’s even an LPG option. The 1.3-litre TCe 130 petrol is by far the best all-rounder, though, combining excellent refinement with low running costs.
The Duster’s biggest weakness is the three-star result it achieved when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2017. Being a basic model, it lacks many preventative safety systems we take for granted in new cars today, such as lane-assist and autonomous emergency braking features.
We would say you get what you pay for but, in reality, the Duster does better than that. It represents very good value for money, offering a huge amount of practicality and a not-unpleasant driving experience. It won’t suit everyone, but the Duster still holds plenty of appeal for the right kind of buyer.
If you're looking for the older version, you need our Dacia Duster (2012-2015) review.
Comfort and design: Dacia Duster interior
"The Dacia Duster isn’t a car that’s been designed with flair or style in mind - and that’s most obvious in the cabin. It’s a functional cabin and not quite the mishmash of Renault parts that the previous model was, but it’s clear that costs have been saved here. "
Entry-level Access and Essential models are particularly spartan inside. Dacia makes little effort to make the big, ugly dashboard any easier on the eye, while even the steering wheel is ugly. Would it really cost that much to produce an aesthetically-pleasing steering wheel?
As its name suggests, the Comfort model is a little more acceptable inside. While the steering wheel isn’t wrapped in leather, it is finished in a ‘soft-feel’ material which is better than the rock-hard wheel of the standard car.
The Comfort trim level also comes with a few bits of chrome, such as on the gear lever and steering wheel. This does little to distract from the dank cabin, but it’s welcome nonetheless. Prestige models go a step further with higher quality upholstery and climate control, but it still feels downmarket compared to a Nissan Qashqai. And that’s not a particularly plush crossover.
On the plus side, the seats are comfortable enough, although lumbar adjustment isn’t available on any Duster. Access models don’t even have a height-adjustable driver’s seat or steering wheel, so make sure you test out the driving position before you part cash for one. It’ll suit some drivers but certainly won’t fit everyone.
It’s also a functional cabin. Everything is where you’d expect to find it, with simple controls for things like the heating system and air conditioning (on higher-spec models). Manual rear windows on the more affordable trim levels are a bit of a novelty - great for showing your kids what it was like in the olden days.
Handling and ride quality: What is the Dacia Duster like to drive?
"Pricier crossover SUVs like the Skoda Karoq and Nissan Qashqai have more sophisticated suspension setups, but we quite like the Dacia Duster’s old-school approach. That means it’ll bounce over bumps in the road and lean like a cumbersome old Land Rover through the bends."
The bouncy suspension and small wheels (with large tyres) means it’s quite a comfortable car and a pleasant alternative to all the sportier crossovers on the market. It’s not quite a magic carpet ride in the same ilk as the Citroen C5 Aircross, but it’s certainly acceptable on all but the bumpiest of roads. A downside of the soft setup is, on a windy motorway, you will feel it being blown about a little more than most modern alternatives.
And, of course, it’s not going to be as quick down a winding road as a SEAT Ateca. The unwieldy steering adds to the old school approach, although it’s also old-fashioned enough to have something we used to describe as ‘steering feel’. Remember that?
That means you’ll have an idea of how much grip there is on offer which, all too often, isn’t very much. That said, four-wheel-drive versions are excellent off-road, able to tackle muddy fields with ease. You’ll want a bit more ground clearance if you’re planning on following a Defender down a rutted track, but it’s surprisingly capable for a budget crossover.
It’s good around town, too, aside from its low-geared steering which’ll have you flapping your arm around as you wind lock on and off. Still, the high seating position and reversing camera on all but the most basic models makes it easy to tackle congested roads and tight car parks.
MPG and fuel costs: What does a Dacia Duster cost to run?
"Just as the Dacia Duster is cheap to buy, it should be cheap to run, too. If you’re after outright fuel economy, look for a two-wheel-drive model with the 115PS dCi diesel engine. Officially this’ll return up to 57.9mpg under WLTP tests (depending on spec). Real MPG data from Honest John suggests you won’t be far from achieving this in the real world - mid-50s should be realistic if you’re gentle with the throttle."
Four-wheel-drive models are slightly thirstier, returning around 50mpg - although this is still pretty good for a capable little 4x4.
If you don’t cover many miles and don’t need the torque of a diesel engine (i.e. for tackling steep hills, off-roading or towing), we’d recommend a petrol. All of the petrols can achieve mid-40s mpg, unless you’re running one of the bi-fuel models on LPG - in which case, expect mid-30s. The cheaper cost of LPG should negate this, but it’s a lot of hassle compared to topping up with petrol.
How much should you be paying for a used Dacia Duster?
"The Dacia Duster is a budget car when new, and you’ll be pleased to know that this is passed down onto the used market."
If you want an as-new car without the new price tag, look for a pre-registered Duster. These are cars which have been ordered and registered by dealers in order to meet targets. They’re then sold on with delivery miles for big discounts.
We’ve seen as-new Essential models with the 1.0-litre TCe engine on sale for just £11,500 - that’s only £500 more than a new Access model, and £1500 below list price. If you’d prefer something a bit flashier (if such a thing is possible in the used Dacia market), an as-new Prestige model with the TCe 130 engine will set you back around £15,000 - £1250 off list.
For bigger savings, look at older pre-owned examples. A Comfort model with the TCe 130 petrol engine and average miles on the clock will set you back around £12,500. The same spec with the diesel engine will be an extra grand.
Is the Dacia Duster right for you?
If you’d ordinarily be looking at a value hatchback like a Vauxhall Astra but the versatility of a crossover SUV appeals, the Dacia Duster is a good choice. It’s considerably cheaper than mainstream rivals like the Kia Sportage and Nissan Qashqai - and that’s evident in so many areas. It lacks the polish of these alternatives and the most affordable models are about as basic as you can get in a modern car today.
Still, it’s got a functional interior with plenty of space. It should handle day-to-day abuse fairly well, and it’s refreshingly comfortable in its approach thanks to its soft, wallowy suspension.
What’s the best Dacia Duster model/engine to choose?
We’d recommend the Dacia Duster in Comfort trim. This is the best combination of value and, well, comfort. It comes with all the features most buyers will want to make day-to-day driving more bearable - a navigation system (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), a rear-view camera and cruise control.
The majority of buyers will find the 1.3-litre TCe 130 engine suits their needs best. It’s economical and good to drive, with peppy performance and good refinement levels. Avoid the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol, while the bi-fuel models are a waste of time and money. The 1.5-litre DCi is fine if you absolutely must have a diesel, but it’s not very refined.
What other cars are similar to the Dacia Duster?
If a Dacia Duster is on your shortlist, we’d also recommend the SsangYong Tivoli. Like the Duster, this is another affordable crossover that most car buyers won’t have heard of. Unlike the Duster, it comes with a seven-year, 150,000-mile warranty which can be passed onto successive owners.
You should also consider the MG ZS. While, if you don’t need the practicality, look at smaller, mainstream alternatives like the Suzuki Vitara, Renault Captur and Ford EcoSport. You could also get a slightly older Kia Sportage, Jeep Renegade or Nissan Qashqai for the money.
Quality and finish
Just like the Duster’s cabin is functional rather than stylish, it’s also not particularly cosseting. Dacia’s made little effort to furnish it with soft-touch materials, but that would kind of go against the brand’s ethos. There are hard, scratchy plastics everywhere - the likes of which would normally attract our wrath, but you’ve got to admire the brand’s no-nonsense approach.
On the plus side, it does feel like it’ll stand up to day-to-day abuse very well. People buy this Romanian workhorse to take their families camping or for even more arduous activities such as use on the farm, and they take the abuse fairly well. The interiors can be wiped cleaned and don’t require special treatments to keep them looking fresh.
Infotainment: touchscreen, USB, nav and stereo in the Dacia Duster
While we take flashy infotainment systems as the norm these days, entry-level Access models don’t even come with a radio. They do come with all the wiring required for an aftermarket radio and speakers, so it shouldn’t be too big a job to pop down your local motor factor and get a cheap sound system fitted.
Essential models come with, well, all the audio essentials - so, a DAB radio with Bluetooth connectivity and controls on the steering column. There’s no navigation, though.
For that, you’ll need to look for a Comfort model, which comes with a seven-inch infotainment system. As well as including navigation, this also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We’d rate these systems highly… they allow you to mirror apps from your phone, meaning you can use things like Google Maps on the move. You can access your own music playlists too.
The seven-inch system isn’t the slickest we’ve ever used. The graphics make it look pretty low-rent, while it’s a bit slow to respond. It’s kind of like a budget tablet you can buy from the supermarket. It’ll do the job, but no one’s going to mistake it for an iPad.
Space and practicality: Dacia Duster boot space
For the cash, the Dacia Duster is massively practical. It might be cheaper than small crossovers like the Suzuki Vitara, yet it’s almost as spacious as cars like the Kia Sportage and Skoda Karoq.
Thanks to its high ride height and seating position, getting in and out of the Duster is easier than low-down hatchbacks. This is great if you’re reaching the age when your joints aren’t quite as flexible as they used to be, or if you have kids in car seats that need helping into position.
There’s plenty of room in the front although, as mentioned above, there’s limited adjustment in the driver’s seat and steering wheel on the cheapest models. The tallest of drivers might find legroom limited, too, as the seats don’t slide back as far as rivals.
While the cup holder is poorly positioned to prevent spillages (in front of the gear stick), there’s enough storage dotted around the cabin. The door pockets are pretty big, but the glove box is a pretty meagre offering.
Three adults can squeeze into the back in reasonable comfort, providing they don’t mind rubbing shoulders. There’s a reasonable amount of headroom back there, while ISOFIX points on the outer seats help when fitting child seats.
The boot is similarly practical, offering 445 litres of luggage capacity (dropping to 411 litres in 4x4 models). It lacks any real party tricks, although the rear seats drop easily. The rear seats in most models split 60:40 (allowing you to carry one or two rear passengers and have extra boot space), but the entry-level Access model makes do with a one-piece bench. With the rear seats dropped, there’s up to 1623 litres of space available. That’s pretty generous.
Access is easy enough, although you’ll obviously have to lift items higher than you would in a conventional hatchback car. There’s only a small lip for hoisting items over, and the boot is usefully square in shape.
The Duster doesn’t come with a spare wheel as standard, although a space-saver is offered across most models as an optional extra when new. A Dacia dealer should be able to sell you one of these if required, and there’s space to store it under the boot floor. That’s not the case of bi-fuel models, though, as there’s an LPG tank in the spare wheel storage well. These come with a tyre-inflator kit.
What engines and gearboxes are available in the Dacia Duster?
If you’re searching for a used Dacia Duster on a budget, you’re probably going to see the entry-level TCe 100 petrol engine coming up in results. Even the most leisurely of drivers will find this lacking - indeed, its lack of gusto means you’ll end up working it hard just to keep up with traffic, and good luck trying to join on a motorway on a short slip road. It’s just not pleasant.
From early 2020, Dacia offered this engine with a bi-fuel option. This means it can also run on liquid petroleum gas (LPG), which is cheaper than petrol and reduces emissions. The aftermarket LPG market was rife about 20 years ago, with drivers looking to save money in running costs, but it’s not so popular now. As such, we suspect most dual-fuel Duster drivers will just run them on petrol most of the time. Don’t bother with one of the bi-fuel models unless you have an LPG station nearby and really want to bank the £10 a year saving in road tax.
Most buyers will be best looking for a TCe 130 petrol engine. This is the best combination of frugality and performance, with plenty of oomph for motorway driving. Its 10.6 second 0-62mph time sounds less than brisk, but it’s perfectly acceptable for a budget crossover. There is a more powerful 150PS version of the same 1.3-litre unit but it’s pricier, thirstier and a little pointless.
If you spend a lot of time traipsing up and down motorways or need to lug a caravan, look for a diesel. With 115PS, the 1.5-litre Blue DCi isn’t particularly powerful, but it feels punchier than the petrols in the real world.
While most Duster models are two-wheel drive, you can also get it with power distributed to all four wheels. Four-wheel-drive Dusters are difficult to come by on the used market but that’s no great loss - they’re thirsty and don’t offer many advantages unless you really need to venture off the road. If you’re concerned about driving in wintery conditions, a two-wheel-drive Duster with a set of winter tyres would be a better option.
There isn’t an automatic option on the latest Duster, with all coming with a five- or six-speed manual gearbox. These feel a bit stodgy to use but a light clutch improves matters.
Refinement and noise levels
Thicker glass, extra sound insulation and thicker door seals mean the latest Duster is more refined than the old model, but it’s still not up to the standards of cars like the Skoda Karoq.
The diesel makes quite a grumble at idle but, fortunately, stop/start is standard - turning the engine off automatically at a standstill. On the move, there’s a surprising amount of vibration through the pedals and gearstick. This is another area in which the Duster feels surprisingly old-school.
The petrol engines are better. Being a small three-cylinder unit, the entry-level TCe 100 is quite vocal, and that’s not helped by only having five gears. On the motorway, the engine will be screaming away at high revs, which isn’t great for fuel economy or your passengers’ relaxation levels.
The quietest engine is the 1.3-litre TCe - either with 130 or 150PS. You’ll notice a bit of chatter if you work it hard, but it’s no less refined than the small, turbocharged engines used in rivals.
Chunky tyres mean there isn’t much in the way of road noise, but there is a significant amount of wind noise - especially at speed. It means that, whichever engine you choose, the Duster isn’t a particularly relaxing long-distance companion.
Safety equipment: How safe is the Dacia Duster?
The majority of new cars on sale today achieve maximum five-star safety ratings from Euro NCAP. The Dacia Duster was awarded just three when it was crash tested in 2017 which, on the face of it, is pretty poor.
It’s worth taking a little time to understand the results before you dismiss the Duster entirely, though. Euro NCAP awarded it a 71 per cent rating for adult occupants, which is acceptable (if not class-leading). It lost points for what NCAP described as ‘marginal protection against whiplash’ and various other faults which, admittedly, you probably wouldn’t see as minor if you were in a crash.
It was awarded 66 per cent in the child occupancy test. Parents would be right to dismiss the Duster on this basis, but don’t expect an old, more mainstream alternative to be any safer. NCAP’s report suggests that protection of the child-size dummies was classed as good in most of the tests. It lost points for not having Isofix points on the front passenger seat, while those in the rear aren’t clearly marked. They are there, however.
The Duster lost the most points for its safety assist features. While most mainstream crossover SUVs are packed with standard features designed to prevent you from having a crash, Dacia’s skimped on these. Highlights include a seatbelt reminder and a driver-set speed limiter. There’s no autonomous emergency braking system, no lane guidance feature and no rear cross-traffic assist. Only high-spec models get a blind-spot warning system.
While these features are desirable and could prevent you from being involved in a collision, the Duster’s no worse than many slightly older crossover SUVs.
Insurance groups and costs
The Dacia Duster ought to be pretty cheap to insure, appearing in insurance groups 11 to 15. The cheapest to insure is the bi-fuel TCe 100 engine with LPG, although the savings are likely to be negligible - try getting some quotes if you’re concerned. The priciest models are those powered by the 1.5 dCi diesel engine with 4x4, although these are still in lower insurance groups than the equivalent (smaller) Suzuki Vitara.
VED car tax: What is the annual road tax on a Dacia Duster?
Under the latest car tax rules, petrol and diesel Dacia Duster models attract the flat rate of £150 a year for car tax. Bi-fuel versions, which use a combination of LPG and petrol, are classed as alternatively-fuelled, so attract an annual VED rate of £140. Yup, you’ll save a tenner a year.
Trim levels and standard equipment
For a brand which prides itself on keeping things simple, there are quite a lot of Duster trim levels available.
The standard Dacia Duster Access is one of the most basic cars you can buy today. It doesn’t even come with a radio. It does, however, come with pre-wiring for a radio (and speakers) when new… so it’s fair to assume that, on the used market, most Access models will have had some sort of aftermarket radio fitted.
It does have electric front windows (the rear windows are old-school wind-up affairs) along with 16-inch steel wheels and, erm, that’s about it. We told you it was basic.
Unless you really want to torture yourself, we’d suggest looking for an Essential model at the very least. This adds such luxuries as body-coloured bumpers, manual air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel, and a DAB radio with Bluetooth connectivity.
The Comfort builds on this with cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, electric windows and a seven-inch touchscreen navigation system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s a rear-view camera with parking sensors and the passenger even gets a little vanity mirror in their sun-visor. Opulent.
Topping the range is the Prestige model, with 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, keyless entry, heated and electrically-adjustable door mirrors and posher upholstery.
Despite only being on sale since 2018, there have been a few special editions, too. The Techroad edition of 2019 sat above the Prestige trim, available in two new colours (Fusion Red and Highland Grey) with some bespoke side decals and red exterior (and interior) detailing.
The 2020 SE Twenty featured blue interior and exterior styling highlights, as well as a multi-view camera and blind-spot detectors.
On the inside
How much does it cost to run
Prices, versions and specification
Ask the heycar experts: common questions
Who makes Dacia engines?
Dacia has been owned by Groupe Renault since 1999 so despite being a Romanian brand, all its engines, both petrol and diesel, are borrowed from Renault and can be found in various Renault models such as the Clio and Captur.
Who makes the Dacia Duster?
The Duster is produced jointly by the Renault and its Romanian subsidiary Dacia. In certain markets it is badged the Renault Duster while in others, such as the UK, it is known as the Dacia Duster. It is built in Romania.
Are Dacia Dusters reliable?
Dacia models may be cheap but they use proven parts from Renault and the Duster has proved surprisingly reliable mechanically with very few problems reported. In the 2020 HonestJohn.co.uk Satisfaction Index, Dacia was placed 6th ahead of Porsche and BMW.
Reviews of similar cars
Quality checked, all cars less than 8 years old and warranty included
Looking for other Dacia cars?
Quality checked, all cars less than 8 years old and warranty included