It’s all going very well at Dacia. The Romanian-based Renault sub-brand has grown all across Europe, and now has an impressive one per cent market share in the UK. For comparison, it sold five times as many models as Alfa Romeo in 2017, and more than twice as many as Lexus. In total, Dacia has built over two million cars since it relaunched in Europe in 2010.
The no-nonsense Duster SUV has proven to be one of the maker’s most popular cars. However, for 2018 Dacia is injecting some style. The new model, which was revealed at September’s Frankfurt Motor Show, will appear in UK dealers in mid-2018.
It’s built on the same platform as before, and the dimensions remain virtually unchanged. The design is fresh, but while there’s more jewellery and the odd upmarket trinket, it’s still recognisable as a Dacia. The striking honeycomb grille, LED daytime running lights, 17-inch wheels and square tail-lamps give it a look not dissimilar to that of the fresh and funky Jeep Renegade SUV.
The cockpit is new as well, and it’s been visibly upgraded for the New Year. The nav screen is now higher up and closer to the driver’s field of vision, and the instruments are large and clear. Even the buttons and switches have been upgraded, and are subsequently more attractive than before.
The seats are much improved, too. Until now they’d always been a bit spongy, but the new ones are bigger, better contoured and more firmly trimmed. However, while there’s plenty of room in the front, rear space is restricted. Boot capacity has also dropped slightly, from 475 to 445 litres, while 4×4 versions are smaller still. Folding the seats reveals a 1,478-litre load bay (down from 1,636 litres) – still slightly ahead of the Vauxhall Mokka X and MINI Countryman.
Engine options are unchanged for the revised car, with a decent range of petrol and diesel units. The entry-level model comes with a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol motor, while a single 108bhp diesel joins the 1.2 TCe tested here without the pricey 4×4 option.
For us, the 123bhp 1.2-litre petrol is the pick of the range. This modern turbo is a detuned version of the TCe 130 unit found elsewhere in the Renault range, and it’s pleasantly quiet and cultivated; it works diligently and accelerates adequately.
Speaking of quiet, the latest Duster exhibits a noticeable step up in refinement. Dacia’s engineers have used more sound insulation, as well as adding thicker windows – and you can tell. High noise levels had been a major point of criticism in the past, but are no longer an issue.
Also new is the electrically assisted steering, which replaces the spongy hydraulic power set-up that featured previously. This represents decent progress as well, with the SUV responding more directly and giving extra feel through the wheel. Yet while this makes the Duster better to drive, it’s still not all that much fun. The soft suspension means it’s quite comfortable, but ultimately this is a practical crossover rather than a sporty SUV.
UK specs for the new Duster haven’t been revealed, but with a starting figure in Germany of 11,290 Euros, we don’t expect it to stray too far from the current model’s £9,995 sticker price. Even after adding our car’s optional blind-spot warning and multi-view cameras – 450 Euros (£400) – as well as automatic air-con (200 Euros, £175), there’s no cheaper or better-value SUV on the market.