2018 Dacia Duster dCi 110 4x4 Prestige review: Better, smoother, Duster
Dacia has given its best-selling vehicle a thorough makeover, and we find it better in (almost) every way
Just like its brand philosophy, Dacia's approach to new model launches is budget-oriented — which is normal since we're dealing with a low-cost marque. That goes for the new Duster too, despite the fact that it looks pretty different to its predecessor.
The 2018 model uses the same platform as the original Duster, and that is easy to realize when you check out the engine lineup (identical), wheelbase and ride height (identical), and very similar dimensions. Still, Dacia designers did a great job hiding all that familiar hardware underneath a body that tricks you into thinking it's an all-new model.
And a good-looking one, at that. There's no question the new Duster looks better than its predecessor from any angle. It appears fresh, better proportioned, and more contemporary, and yet people will instantly recognize it as a Duster — further praise for the design team.
The interior sees a massive upgrade as well, perhaps even more consistent than the exterior. Besides an all-new dashboard design that's more modern and ergonomic, the cabin is now a quieter and more comfortable place to be.
But is the 2018 Dacia Duster the best possible version of itself? Let's find out.
Recommended for:familiesseniorsyoung and single
Created for:off roadall terrain
Hats off for:passenger spaceluggage spacecomfortmodularity
Bang for the buck:excellent
Our tester featured the range-topping diesel engine you can have in the Duster (in Europe at least): the tried and tested 1.5-liter that delivers 109 metric horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 260 Nm of torque at 1,750 rpm. It's the engine to have in the Duster, particularly when combined with the six-speed manual gearbox and the all-wheel-drive system.
It's reasonably refined and quiet for a budget SUV (even heard from the outside), but it fails to make the Duster a quick car. The sprint from 0 to 100 km/h takes 12.4 seconds, quite a lot for this day and age, especially since the Duster remains a featherweight among SUVs, tipping the scales at just 1,320 kg (2,910 lb). However, there's enough low-end torque for overtaking maneuvers and merging on the motorway.
While driving the Duster, you need to work your way through the six gears more often than you'd like, given that they're somewhat short — especially the first two of them (for off-road purposes). The top speed of 169 km/h isn't impressive either, but let's not forget the Duster's target group: people who want a dependable and rugged SUV with low running costs and an affordable purchase price.
Since we're dealing with the same comfort-oriented suspension as before and equally high ground clearance, the 2018 Duster continues to lean a lot in corners. That contributes to the feeling of slight disconnection you sometimes get when going through turns faster than you should.
Speaking of disconnection, a new electric power steering system replaces the previous model's hydraulic steering, and you can feel that. While it's more convenient to use around town because you can turn the wheel more easily and quickly, at high speeds it exhibits the same lack of feedback typical to your average electrically-assisted steering. When cruising at high speeds, though, the steering wheel has less play than its predecessor and thus feels safer.
While the Duster dCi 110 4x4 is a decent vehicle on the road, you only begin to realize what it's truly capable of when the tarmac ends. The short first two gears start making sense in rough terrain as they make up for the lack of low-range gearing (to some extent). Equipped with the right set of tires, the Duster is a competent off-roader — certainly more capable than any other SUV of this size and price. Even though the departure angle is down from 35 to 33 degrees, you won't feel that unless you're into serious off-roading. The new hill descent function and 4x4 monitor are welcome additions.
Unfortunately, the lack of structural changes to the budget SUV and the more severe Euro NCAP tests have resulted in a three-star rating for the new Duster. The previous model also got three stars when it got assessed in 2011. The protection offered by the 2018 model was rated at 71 percent for adult occupants, 66 percent for child occupants, and 56 percent for pedestrians.
And, since no safety assistance systems are standard besides the speed limiter, the rating for this category is only 37 percent — lane keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking are not available. There were no serious structural issues, though, with the passenger compartment of the Duster remaining stable in the frontal offset test, side barrier test, and side pole test. In the full-width rigid barrier test, however, the Duster was deemed to offer poor head protection for the driver.
As with the old car, the suspension is set up for comfort, but in the new Duster, you get more refined responses than before. When driving over severe bumps the suspension stays more silent and sends fewer shocks to the cabin than in the outgoing Duster. It's the sort of car that gives you the confidence to push harder on poor quality roads without the fear that something could go wrong.
The seats were horrible in the previous Duster but, fortunately, the new model solves that problem. The new seats offer increased lateral support, longer cushions, and increased height adjustment for a better driving position and less back pain after long drives. The driver's seat even gets a lumbar adjustment, a first for the Romanian SUV, and comes with an incorporated armrest too.
Another major improvement is related to noise levels, which have been significantly reduced. The cabin may not be 50 percent quieter as Dacia claims, but the reduction in wind, tire, and engine noise is decidedly perceptible.
Hard, scratchy plastics continue to dominate the Duster's interior, and the fit and finish are typical for a budget car. The good news is the plastics are well screwed together, and Dacia added better quality materials to areas passengers are most likely to touch, such as the steering wheel (which finally integrates the horn), the door armrests, and the chunky gear shift lever.
It's definitely a move upscale — the switchgear in the center console and the climate control dials with digital displays are miles better than what the previous Duster offered. The leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel is a welcome addition as well, and the new "Prestige" fabric upholstery doesn't feel cheap anymore.
Since the changes to this car are mostly related to style and comfort, space is more or less the same as in the previous Duster, which is a good thing. I'm six foot tall (183 cm) and I enjoyed plenty of knee room and headroom — not to mention the bench seat felt more ergonomic to sit in than in the old model.
Passengers also get more places to store their stuff, with the main additions being the rear door bins and the drawer underneath the front passenger seat (both absent from the outgoing Duster). On the downside, the cabin is slightly less airy because of the slightly smaller windows — a small sacrifice for the improved exterior appearance. The more massive dashboard enhances that impression too, even though the windscreen has been moved forward by 10 centimeters.
Cargo volume stays the same at 414 liters, but if you don't need the AWD system, it goes up to 478 liters. With the rear seats folded down, boot capacity increases to 1,559 liters (1,623 liters for the 2WD Duster). If you don't need all that space, you can just fold one third or two thirds of the bench seat independently.
As part of the totally redesigned dashboard with a driver-oriented center console, the 7-inch touchscreen display is now placed higher and slightly tilted upwards so that the driver can see and operate it better. The repositioning of the screen is a significant improvement, making it less distracting to use than before.
However, the Media Nav interface stays largely the same as before and continues to feature dated graphics, with the most significant updates being the new 4x4 monitor app and the eco-driving trainer. However, a new Media Nav infotainment system with a larger screen will arrive later this year. The color LCD in the center of the instrument panel also improves the interaction and moves the Duster closer to what customers expect from a modern car.
One of Renault Group's most fuel-efficient engines, the 1.5-liter dCi turbodiesel unit mated to the six-speed manual gearbox contributes a lot to the Duster's budget-oriented nature. It doesn't average 4.7 liters/100 km on the combined cycle as Dacia claims, but you'll be able to get 6 l/100 km if you like to drive in an eco-friendly manner.
After traveling around 400 kilometers in the city, on the motorway, and on off-road trails, the trip computer stabilized at 6.6 liters/100 km, a decent value for an all-wheel-drive car of this size. The most economical version is the one fitted with the six-speed EDC dual-clutch automatic, but that's partly because you can't have that gearbox with all-wheel drive — more on that later.
The Duster I drove was the range-topping Prestige trim level, so it came with all the goodies you can expect from a Dacia — and more. Standard equipment for this high-spec model includes automatic climate control (a first for the Duster), heated front seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel wrapped in black leather, the Media Nav system with 7-inch touchscreen, rear parking sensors and rearview camera, Prestige fabric upholstery, 17-inch Maldive alloys, tinted rear windows, and several satin grey exterior elements.
If you want more, the list of optional extras includes leather upholstery, a keyless entry system, Blind Spot Monitoring System, and a Multiview Camera system, among other things. The latter feature consists of four cameras that display images from all four sides of the vehicle on the central display, proving to be very useful in off-road and parking situations.
With all the work Dacia put into it, the 2018 Duster has become even harder to beat than before. You won't find an SUV of the same size and with similar off-road capabilities that costs €17,600 — the price of the Duster dCi 4x4 in Comfort trim level in Germany.
Even if you upgrade to the fully-loaded Prestige model you'll pay less than €20,000: the Duster dCi 4x4 Prestige starts at €18,900, leaving you with some change to splash on optional extras. While I can't argue with the Duster's value for money, I have a beef with Renault because it doesn't allow the budget SUV to be as good as it could. Let me explain.
Why didn't the parent company allow Dacia to use the more modern and torque-rich 1.6-liter dCi turbodiesel engine? It would make the Duster a much better SUV, no doubt about it. Then there's a curious absence in the lineup structure: you can't have an automatic Duster with AWD. Why is that, Renault? Could it be because a Duster equipped like that would steal sales from the Kadjar? We don't know that, but we'd sure love to see the Duster develop to its full potential.