€15,990 is the headline-grabbing entry-price for the five-door Dacia Duster in Ireland. Dacia is owned by Renault and marketed as an economy brand. €16,000 is a relatively modest sum when you consider it gets you a big, front-wheel drive, five-seat SUV that looks pretty tough, too.
Duster sits on a Renault/Nissan platform and it features an exterior that is quite good-looking. The car sits on a wide track (axle width) that, when viewed from the rear, looks purposeful. The wheel arches bulge and suggest toughness and muscularity. There is also good ground clearance should you ever need to wade through a stream. The high door sills make access to the cabin a little tricky, and you can easily get dirt on your trousers exiting - if the car isn't clean.
Duster is clearly built on a budget and one look at the size of the huge fuel filler flap will actually make you smile. Generally, Duster looks the part and this allows owners to happily park beside more expensive SUVs.
The cabin seats five and the soft seats offer reasonable comfort on short journeys. The flat boot hides an inflation kit or, with the AWD version, a full-size spare wheel. The switchgear is all from the Renault/Nissan parts bin. The dashboard features a number of hard plastic grades. Ergonomically, I would prefer higher set ventilation/heating controls, but otherwise, Duster's interior is on a par with most basic Renaults.
My AWD test car featured some luxuries like air con, USB connectivity (to the 'Mono' CD-Radio), Bluetooth connectivity (standard on range), steering column audio controls and a leather steering wheel that did a good job of feeling like a plastic one. The steering wheel only adjusts for height and not reach, so finding that perfect driving position is compromised somewhat.
For a premium you can get some actual off-road ability with the AWD (four-wheel drive) version for €19,990. The driver can use the Nissan-sourced four-wheel drive set-up through a rotary dial. One can select 'Auto' (automatic four-wheel drive) that keeps the car in two-wheel drive most of the time unless wheel slip is detected. An 'AWD lock' mode is there for the mucky stuff. You can also select '2WD' to maximise fuel saving. There are two trim levels: Alternative and Signature.
Power comes from one diesel engine: the tried-and-tested, 110bhp, 1.5-litre dCi from the Nissan-Renault alliance. It does an adequate job of hauling the Duster around but no more than that. 0-100km/h takes 12.5 seconds in the AWD version and top speed is 168km/h (104mph). The cabin could do with more sound-proofing, especially for motorway use.
On the road, Duster is a less-than-inspiring drive. Progress is tolerable, but never enjoyable. On bends and twisty roads there is poor lateral support for the driver. Only the top spec AWD gets ESC (stability control) as standard.
Duster is a budget machine and the driving experience reflects this. For many, if not all Dacia buyers, dynamic performance is irrelevant. If you must have a brand new SUV at all costs, then Dacia is doing you a service by offering the Duster at such an attractive price. But after a few hundred kilometres of mixed driving I was happy to give the car back.