From £18,2959

With a more sophisticated platform, design-savvy look and fresh tech, has this all-new version lost sight of the model’s value appeal?

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How much car do you really need? It’s a question Dacia has been answering quite expertly for the past decade by nailing the fundamentals and saving on the stuff that’s largely immaterial (soft-touch interior mirror, anyone?). It has resulted in cars that are almost uniquely fit for purpose.

The outgoing Dacia Duster was a bit of a breakthrough in this respect, just tipping over the edge from ‘feels cheap, but at least it is cheap’ to being a genuinely good car at an unbeatable price. Dacia UK sent me one for a few days before the launch event of the new, third-generation Duster, and actually they could have given the 2018 Duster a facelift with a more modern-looking interior and it would still be eminently recommendable. It’s a genuinely pleasant car to drive: it’s spacious enough, comfortable and easy to get on with.



dacia duster review 2024 02 panning

But Dacia hasn’t just given the second generation a facelift. This is a very substantially new car. As usual, the technical rundown reads like a greatest hits album of semi-recent Renault products. It moves to the CMF-B platform employed by the Renault Clio, the Nissan Juke and the Dacia Sandero and Jogger but adds the 1.2-litre mild-hybrid three-cylinder engine from the European-market Renault Austral. The 1.0-litre bi-fuel triple, which runs on petrol and LPG, is carried over from the outgoing Duster as the entry point to the range, and the 1.6-litre full hybrid from the Jogger and various Renaults provides the only automatic option. Diesels are out, but you can still have your Duster with four-wheel drive.

If the new Duster looks far bigger than the old one, it isn’t – not by much anyway. It’s only 9mm wider and 2mm longer than before. But it is quite a bit lower and, in combination with the more squinty headlights and almost Jeepish grille, it certainly looks meaner.


dacia duster review 2024 12 dash

Inside is where the outgoing car is feeling its age, being just a bit plain. The new one addresses that. It still doesn’t feel like an expensive, upmarket car: it’s all hard plastic in here, but it’s a bit more designed. The exterior has Y shapes as a motif in the lights and that continues with the interior air vents. Cheaper trims might be greyer, but our test car had a splash of colour on the dashboard and I was really charmed by the ‘jeans’ upholstery. There’s a good selection of trays and cubbies too.

More digital tech has sprung up, something I’d argue the Duster didn’t need. Entry-level trims have analogue gauges with a small screen between the dials, and a phone holder instead of a centre screen. I suspect that might be the best set-up. The test cars at the launch event all had a digital gauge cluster and a 10.1in central touchscreen. Both of them look good and work fine, but the driver display doesn’t really provide much added value apart from looking more modern for the sake of it.

The modular roof bars we know from the Jogger and the current Duster make a return and are joined by ‘YouClip’. There are attachment points throughout the interior to which you can clip various accessories, such as a phone holder, or a cupholder-cum-hook-cum-light. It seems quite useful and also allows Dacia to present customers with a lucrative accessories catalogue.

For the centre screen, I expected to see a version of the Google system in recent Renaults, but the Duster actually uses a bespoke system because it’s cheaper to make and doesn’t tread on Renault’s toes. It’s fairly basic and therefore easy to navigate but also quite laggy. A deficit in processing power is probably where the cost saving comes from.

Dacia has stuck with buttons where it counts, though, and that deserves praise. A panel of physical switches operates the climate control and there’s another bank of buttons to the left of the steering wheel. One of those sets all the driver assistance systems to a personal preset, which is the way all modern cars should work, really.

You can sit relatively low, on fairly supportive seats, but the placement of the steering column makes it more natural to sit higher, as does the view over the flat bonnet that this gives you. In combination with a slightly pillboxy view out (blame the lower roofline), it conjures up something of a baby Toyota Land Cruiser vibe.

The engineers say that the switch to the new platform has allowed them to create more interior space within the same footprint. Indeed, rear passengers have a little more leg room and boot space has risen from 445 litres to 594 litres in front-wheel-drive models.


dacia duster review 2024 24 performance

Dacia predicts that the hybrid will take half of all sales, with 40% going to the front-wheel-drive TCe 130 mild hybrid, and the four-wheel-drive TCe 130 taking the remainder.

The hybrid powertrain is the same combination of a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder and the weird unsynchronised four-speed automatic gearbox that we’re familiar with from the Dacia Jogger and a number of Renaults. It’s quite pleasant and smooth if you take it easy and let the electric motor take the strain, but any dynamic driving or long uphill sections can confuse it and cause it to behave erratically. It has the potential to be very economical as long as you stay away from the motorway.

We would choose the mild hybrid, however, and view the full hybrid as an automatic option that doesn’t carry a fuel economy penalty. The TCe 130 feels like the right engine for this car. Although overtaking uphill on a motorway does require a few downshifts, it’s just quick enough once you push through the initial deadness in the throttle pedal. The three-cylinder has a not-unappealing thrum at higher revs but, like other Renault mills, it can sound slightly broken at lower revs. The gears are well spaced, which helps with keeping the engine on the boil.

Having a manual gearbox on an international press launch feels like a bit of a novelty, but once that wears off the Duster’s gearchange is just okay: quite long of throw and not the most mechanical, though with sufficient texture to make it precise and satisfying enough.

We’ve not tried the new Duster with the TCe 90, but it’s looking likely that it won’t be offered in the UK. It’s a familiar engine from other Dacias and Renaults and while it’s ideal in a Sandero, we suspect it might struggle in the bigger, heavier Duster.


dacia duster review 2024 25 rear cornering

The engineers say that the platform switch has given them a load more chassis stiffness to play with, and you can feel that in the suspension. The handling is much more precise, eliminating the bit of roll and lurching that afflicted the old one. They have resisted the temptation to inject any fake sportiness, though: despite a similarly quartic steering wheel to recent Renaults (why?!), it doesn’t have any of the nervousness of those cars. There’s no feedback to speak of either, mind.

The new Duster also retains the old one’s fairly soft springing, which makes for a mostly plush ride, even if the wheels still clunk through potholes – cheap car, cheap dampers. One other area where you still notice that this is a budget car is noise isolation: there’s a lot of wind noise on the motorway.

Off-road notes

We got only limited time in the 4x4 model – which uses the TCe 130 mild hybrid – and it was mostly off road, to assess its capabilities.

The 4x4 version has a multi-plate clutch to send up to 50% of the torque to the rear wheels and gets a terrain select switch, on top of a higher ride height, all-season tyres and a different front bumper to improve the approach angle (31deg, versus 24deg for the 4x2). Departure and breakover angles are 36deg and 24deg respectively and the wading depth is 450mm.

It won’t challenge an Ineos Grenadier, but it can navigate fairly acute dips, scrabble up slippery hills and use its traction control to extricate itself from situations where there’s one wheel in the air. Over some obstacles, the traction control was noisily working overtime, and something with low gearing would be more effortless, but a four-wheel-drive Duster is surprisingly useful off the Tarmac.


dacia duster review 2024 01 cornering front

UK deliveries are predicted to begin in November, so Dacia UK hasn’t set prices yet but promises that it will start from “comfortably under £20,000”. Judging by prices in mainland Europe, call it £18,500. Having said that, buyers tend to go for higher trim levels, and you’ll need to if you want the mild or full hybrid. Dacia residual values are also good, so expect finance to be very competitive too. It should still undercut alternatives such as the Skoda Kamiq, Hyundai Kona and Peugeot 2008, if not by the staggering margin we have more or less come to expect from Dacia.


dacia duster review 2024 27 front static

Is the Duster still all the car you need? With some of the added trinketry being introduced on this third generation (some voluntary, such as the displays, some enforced, such as the lane keeping assistance), it might just be drifting into offering more than you need, or indeed want, and one way or another, you’re paying for that.

But maybe that’s being too philosophical about a compact SUV. At the end of the day, this car is at least as good as a Hyundai Kona while costing a few thousand pounds less. And that’s hard to argue with.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.