Test-drive: Dacia Duster, it's worth the detour
Cross our hearts, there are no dodgy plays on words here (i.e. with the Duster Detour concept car revealed at the Johannesburg Motor Show), just a comprehensive test drive of Dacia Duster phase 2, unveiled at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show. Along with a restyled front end, the upgraded Duster features new equipment, a new dashboard more in tune with its “go-anywhere” looks, and a new TCe 125 petrol engine, all for the same low price.
Duster, an international success story
Duster’s name refers to its off-road abilities and the dusty roads it feels so at ease on. But not many people know that it is also a nod to an all-roader vehicle marketed by Dacia in the 1980s.
Dacia Duster has won over some 450,000 customers since 2010 with its adventuresome looks and stock in trade of always bringing motorists more for the same price. Duster is like a Swiss army knife. It is sold under the Dacia brand in Europe and some Mediterranean coutrnies, and under the Renault brand in other countries. It is available in a range of special versions (with different styling, equipment, gearboxes and engines) precisely matching local needs, to meets the expectations of customers the world over.
"The great thing about Duster’s positioning is that it has strong potential in mature and emerging markets alike."
- L'épopée Logan by Bernard Jullien, Yannick Lung, Christophe Midler.
In India, where it is produced at Chennai, Duster accounts for a full two-thirds of Renault sales in the country and ranks second in the SUV segment. Jointly developed with Renault Design India (the first bona fide design studio by a foreign carmaker in India, based in Mumbai), Indian Duster is fitted with an air conditioning booster in the back seats, a particularly comfortable rear bench with a built-in armrest, a beige interior and a two-tone dashboard.
In Russia, Duster is available in a “severe cold” model with reinforced loading, mudflaps and an automatic gearbox to meet the demands of local customers.
Duster is sold in over 100 countries (including 43 under Dacia brand) : Europe (launched most recently in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Cyprus and Malta), Turkey, the Maghreb countries, the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon), Egypt, other African countries, and since 2011 in the Gulf States. It is also sold in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Peru and Central America, since 2012 in Russia and India, since June 2013 in South Africa and since September 2013 in Indonesia.
A roomy all-roader with even "more for less"
So let’s get down to it. We took to the wheel of New Duster in Provence back in November. The first thing we noticed was how much bigger it feels inside than it looks outside. It’s so spacious it makes you feel small at the wheel. You even feel like pulling to the right a little so that you can let oncoming motorists by! Which is silly when you realize its dimensions, at just 2 meters wide and 4.31 meters long – the same size its predecessor. Huge improvement on this phase 2 aka acoustics. 3 sources of noise have been reduced here: road, engine & wind noise, dividing by 2 the overall noise level on board New Dacia Duster.
Load volume is up, with a boot volume (in the 4 x 2 version) of 475 liters and an added 3.3 liters of interior storage compartments. Above all, the possibility of loading objects measuring up to 2.7 meters long. Yes, that’s right, we checked it ourselves. Using a minimum of elbow grease, we turned the seat-tilting wheel and folded the seat back as far as it goes – perfect for transporting furniture by a certain Swedish brand, fishing rods for a rustic weekend trip, or surfboards this summer!
In terms of roominess for money, Duster is more than impressive. We give it 10 out of 10 (though you might say that we’re not entirely objective!).
Now let’s talk about new features on the 2013 model. In terms of styling, New Duster has a new grille with chrome-finished strips, a new, lower air-intake grille, and new double-optic headlights with daytime running lights. It is also fitted with Duster-labeled roof bars and new “Dark Metal” 16-inch alloy wheels and “Mud and Snow” tires.
The cabin gets a range of new equipment (with levels obviously depending on the version), including a speed limiter/cruise control system. It also features rear parking assist (sound signals) using sensors in the rear bumper. In another new touch, the power window controls have been moved to the doors, front and rear, with pulse mode on the driver’s side. The Media Nav system now fitted on Sandero and Logan is also available as an option.
Duster is at ease in town, but really comes into its own on muddy, up-and-down terrain (the 4x4 version at least). It has excellent off-road abilities, both in “Auto” setting, which automatically balances torque between the front and rear axles depending on grip conditions, and in “Lock” setting, which permanently sends 50% of torque to the rear wheels. We climbed up a seriously slippery 10-metre 45° incline, forded a river, did hairpin bends, and successfully negotiated an axle crossing and a sideways sloped incline, where we thought we were going to roll over, but didn’t. Duster was agile and capable in all these situations, which surprised most everyone given its more than affordable price tag.
Duster’s impressive off-road abilities mainly owe to its reinforced underbody, raised clearance (210 mm), large angles (approach 29.3°, ramp 23°, departure 34.9°) and a 6-speed gearbox with a very low first gear (5.79 km/h for 1,000 rpm).
Dacia Duster relies on the vehicle and mechanical engineering expertise of the Renault group. We tested the TCe 125 model, a downsized engine with a capacity of just 1.2 liters – and a real alternative to the diesel engines that dominate the SUV segment. Quite exclusive within the Renault-Nissan Alliance, since it was developed for Dacia Duster only. It’s a quiet unit, thanks to the extra soundproofing compared with the phase-one model, boasting plenty of torque, with 90% of the 205 Nm total available from 2,500 rpm. The car is a swift accelerator, especially in the lower gears. We also found it to be a flexible performer on mountain roads, and a pleasure to drive. Fuel economy is also impressive, averaging out at 7 l/100 km for our “combined” route that included mountain roads, town and highway.
A 1.6 16v 105 LPG version is available as standard, as an economical alternative to Diesel, with lower running costs.
"Starting at €11,900"? How is that possible?
Our teams reinforced the key basics. Dacia has acquired the credibility allowing it to form partnerships with suppliers on the basis of high volumes. For example, the multiplex technology used on New Duster comes from the revolution that took place between Logan phase 1 and Logan/Sandero phase 2.
In addition to the strong commitment of suppliers and local sourcing, Duster also benefitted from Renault-Nissan Alliance carry-over, reducing costs by seats from Sandero phase 2, Nissan Murano's active electromagnetic coupling etc.
Features that are used occasionnally like the wing mirror adjustment controls or front seat height seat adjustments, appear somewhat “rustic” yet functional and enabled us to bring our customers a well-equipped car with all the key basics and unrivalled roominess for money.