The All-New Dacia Duster at the prepress release Test Drive day on 22nd June 2018. Invitation event, attended by Renault Owners’ Club Deputy Editor Shaun Whent alongside our Treasurer and Membership Secretary Michael Chambers.
The All-New Dacia Duster…
As a young person renowned for his pure love for old motor cars, even I thought that my decision to accept an invitation to test a brand new model might be just slightly mad. My usual attitude is somewhat negative, preferring simple old cars I can fix wherever I happen to breakdown, all be it very rarely in my own that are well maintained!
However we all must try new things, for the world is evolving around us rapidly everyday. So 22nd June 2018 myself and a fellow member of the Renault Owners Club committee embarked on the 60 mile journey to WildTracks Outdoor Activity Park in New Market, north of where we both live in Essex.
I had never really taken much notice of the old Duster, so to my untrained eye the latest unlaunched model did not look any different. A closer look found the typical Dacia family design features, the grille and C pillar.
With around 40 people present the organisers had a system in which us guests were broken down into 2 more suitably sized groups. One group headed for the offroading circuit, our group stayed for the close up walk around. To start with this was a little set back, but as we indulged further into the details of the car, the more it become a big step forward. After all, i think more about the engineering perspective, so getting to see this aspect first enabled me to understand the mechanics behind this model, allowing for a more productive test drive later.
So what is new?
The all new duster actually remains mostly unaltered, with thanks to practical real life consumer feedback on the old model. Just a few tweaks to improve aerodynamics, fuel economy and practicality in the design.
Now sharing the front grille as the rest of the Dacia family, wider covering of the face to give the Duster a wider more rugged appearance and a longer more reclined windscreen fitment matching the latest Logan and Sandero models, whilst fitting in the European SUV market. Also adding to this; the front and rear light units enlarged and brighter, and pushed further out to the corners of the car, the look and feel of a wider more rugged car, without the impractical extra width.
Side indicators now incorporated within a side protection panel, fitted within the curvature of the front wing panel. Offering protection to the side of the car, without ruining the exterior styling.
Real daily life practicality was thought of deeply in the design of the exterior styling panels. Moulded as the colour they appear, not coloured after moulding. This genius idea makes the car more useable, with the thought of everyday scrapes and scratches not being as prominent as the colour hides the damage within the depth of the panel. Not that you will encounter this though, because along with standard parking sensors the all new duster is fitted with ultrasonic sensors to keep your blind spots covered too. Indicated by a light within the door mirrors to remain subtle, whilst functional.
For added practicality and rear view visibility, the rear windows enlarged, additionally the C pillar and rear door frame a thick chunky design for the ultimate rugged look.
This very functional SUV sits on 16 or 17 inch alloy/steel wheels(depending on model), fitted with standard road tyres, though do not think these dismiss it from off road duty! In fact, the cars we would later take for a test drive were all fitted with standard road tyres, yet within a few moments on the track they filled you with complete confidence.
Inside the car, styling and design comments from the previous model taken on board very seriously and rectified, making the new improved version much more user friendly.
Starting with the dashboard, a simple case of repositioning the instruments, the touch screen entertainment system raised 75mm so the driver has a better view whilst driving, the rest follow with additions. The top line of the touch screen occupied with a USB and auxiliary socket, along side the up and down volume controls and power button. No overcrowding, just simple.
Previously the duster only had Air Conditioning, the Prestige model now features a full climate control system as standard, organised across 4 piano key like push switches and 3 knobs. All of the standard controls laid out easy to identify above with the same piano key like styling. 5 high level air vents to more than adequately cool or heat the passenger compartment to the occupants desires.
The driver is in for a treat with the steering wheel, loaded to ensure the essentials are at their fingertips at all times. Safety and control was at the heart of the design, with cruise control, speed limiter and full trip computer located by the padding neatly where your thumbs will rest at the 2 and 10 o’clock positions, guaranteeing you maintain positive control whilst making full use of the electronic functions available. A large screen within the speedo binnacle with good visibility through the steering wheel to ensure you can safety use the instruments whilst minimally taking your eyes off the road.
Comfort has been thought of too, do not worry! Redesigned seat frames, more durable foam and firmer bolsters make you feel more secure whilst tackling even the toughest off road challenges, making the smooth open road feel like a floating carpet. Quieter thanks to the sound deadening, thicker glass all round and improved quality trim with a few added beauty touches.
Rear passengers have not been forgotten either, measuring at 5’7” I put the driver seat where I would have it and then sat in the back, how else does a consumer test such practicality? Good leg room with your average tall person in the front seats, electric windows (Prestige model) to let in an effortless breeze when you want it and overall, more storage space, including rear door pockets. Head restraints can sometimes be badly positioned and really not represent the real position a back seat passenger will sit, however in the Duster they do and for a 5’7” male like myself, it is comfortable with plenty of head room.
6 passenger compartment airbags including side curtains feel you with confidence that in an accident you will be safe, if the general feel and look of the car doesn’t already!
The engineering perspective…
As an engineer by trade this took my main focus and my usual fascination for understanding everything bolted to the chassis took over. I had never seen a press team so surprised, isn’t it normal to get down on my hands and knees for a look?
The front features traditional proven reliable Macpherson struts with rectangular lower track control arms and anti roll bar. To improve the handling and increase response time the anti roll bar uses drop links to bolt onto the lower part of the Macpherson strut, similar for the rear axle on the 4×4 model. Also aided by the wheels being located close to the corners, minimising overhang for better off road clearance and positive direct steering, making manoeuvring that bit easier and how it feels to drive so much better!
Meanwhile at the back on the 4×2 models; solid rectangular beam, bulky and robust yet flexible, with programmable deflection for a smooth ride. Vertically mounted shock absorbers alongside coil springs provide a confident base for transporting passengers and luggage on family outings.
The real genius of the car is in the Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control (ESC / ASR).
This system makes even an amateur offroader like me look like a pro. To reduce the chance of scraping while offroading it is essential to keep the suspension at its full height, maximising ground clearance. By using the series of sensors that fill the instruments on the media screen with information, it knows your ascent and descent angles and just how close you are from tipping over! Really; this suits the cars very tight lined sleek wheel base and front and rear bumper design, which maximises its off-road capabilities whilst still managing to look the part! The wheel base also favours a remarkably tight turning circle for the size of car.
Keeping the suspension at its full height, speed is very important and keeping it down makes all the difference, because by descending too fast, the force compresses the suspension reducing your ground clearance resulting in you scraping your bumpers. By reducing that speed you retain your ground clearance and your bumpers.
The system is of course set up differently on each car, so results do very from time to time.
Put in the interest of the average consumer understanding what it does. It applies the brakes automatically on descents, resulting in a smoother safer ride with full control. And on the 4×4 model, in the situation of off roading the Traction Control varies the drive given to each individual wheel, so the drive goes to where you need it the most. Rather than to the wheel of least resistance, the drive is sent to the wheel with resistance, how else are you going to get out of that muddy puddle or off that uneven hill? Of course your not always going to be off road, so depending on the terrain severity you can choose between, 2WD, Auto and Lock. Leaving you confident that it will always get you to your destination.
As a result, you are driving a car that is engineered for more than its marketed purpose. As a family SUV it will never fail to impress you and you will never be able to outzone it.
Last of all; the powertrain, what makes it go?
Depending on the model you choose, there is 3 options:
Naturally Aspirated 1,598cc 4 cylinder Petrol with a 5 speed manual gearbox 4×2
Naturally Aspirated 1,598cc 4 cylinder Petrol with a 6 speed manual gearbox 4×4
Turbocharged 1,461cc 4 cylinder Diesel with a 6 speed manual gearbox 4×2
A detail I always note is the free space within the engine compartment, in this case, it is remarkable. Almost as if the designer thought like me; no excessive or unnecessary use of plastic. Very open and airy with surprising working space for on a modern car. Simple service parts like the oil filter easily visible from the top with practical accessibility. Unlike most modern cars it is very bare, something I admire a lot. Another way they have kept the overall weight very minimal to maintain fuel economy.
Today I drove the Diesel version, proves itself as a strong reliable lump out in the battle field. I found that compared to a typical offroader it lacked torque at the lower rev range, resulting in the need for more revs on steep inclines, of course this could have been due to my lack of experience driving in the environment and the fact that typical offroader’s would have a low range setting. But looking past this detail, for a family SUV it does impeccable well and I was truly stunned! You really do not expect such ‘go anywhere’ practical versatility from this car.
Finally, to give you an idea on value for money. You can buy a Prestige model with all the extras for less than the basic price of a small city car on offer from other manufacturers! The low cost Prestige model features everything as standard and furthermore, by using proven Renault parts they reduce costs in production and development.
Consequently, they deliver a reliable SUV with all the goodies for a fraction of the cost of their competitors!
Between the entry spec Access model and the all singing all dancing Prestige models, stands just £6,400. For just £9,995 you can drive an Access model home.
The Access spares some of the luxuries and the 4×4 system, but retains the build quality and natural practicality of the car. For the consumer wanting 4×4 capabilities without too much expense, the Essential model offers this from just £13,595. Comfort provides more 4×4 fun from £15,195. Then just £1,200 separates you from the Prestige model at £16,395. No matter how you look at it, the All-New Duster is remarkable value.
I would recommend the Dacia Duster to anyone looking for something they go anywhere in without spending a fortune.