A Dacia duster is, if nothing else, an intriguing proposition, but is the duster a good deal, or is buying cheap a false economy?
On a recent trip to Turkey, being a group of 6 we hired two cars. Going to the cheapest car rental site, and selecting the same “or equivalent” we were both expecting our Fiat Neverheardofits to arrive. As we stood by the side of the road, our cars were delivered. “What is that?” The back door said Logan. “It’s a Dacia!” I was laughing out loud. “I hope I get something better than than” I thought to myself.
Then along came our car, another white car, but this one slightly different. Steel wheels and plastic bumper! entry level spec. Romanian farmer’s car. There are so many crappy cars for sale nowadays that I lose track. I walked round the back to have a look. “Ha! It’s a Duster.” I was quietly pleased.
The Duster may be a bit of a joke, but being an SUV (apparently), it has a fair bit more road presence than the sleek family lines of the Dacia Logan MCV, to use its full name. If you’re wondering, MCV stands for Maximum Capacity Vehicle. I wondered why you would advertise load carrying capacity in a vehicle’s name. But it turns out the MCV’s load capacity is about the only thing going for it.
Being the only named driver of the Duster, I was never afforded the privilege of a shotgun ride in the Logan. If the name conjures up images of X-Men, Wolverine or a ripped Hugh Jackman, think again. My friend Ollie was driving Logan-X most of the time, and bearing in mind that he works in F1 and nearly became a racing driver, the way that he was sheepishly driving it round the grippy roads of Turkey spoke volumes about the cars inherent (lack of) ability.
The Duster, with its increased track, was taking the corners with more confidence. I explained a few times to my passengers that the car’s suspension was so cheap that piloting it down the road at speed was an exercise in controlling the level to which the car was out of control.
Over certain sections of knobbly road, the car would dance and skip over the surface as its wheels bounced up and down, unrestrained by its cheap shock absorbers. It was never alarming, indeed it reminded me of my early days of driving; my first car was a VW polo 1049cc from 1991, whose suspension behaved in exactly the same way. So I was not intimidated by the cheap setup, I just got on with the merry process of having fun.
It wasn’t until I got back to reality in the UK, with the holiday romance fading in the rear view mirror, as I stepped into an Audi Q3, that I realised quite how primitive the Dacia models are.
The Duster’s engine was frugal. Almost too frugal. The Duster certainly had a more powerful engine than the MCV, a 1.5 tdci Renault unit. It pulled strongly enough, and managed to get up the steep hills of Turkey without any issues. Anyone familiar with Renault engines, particularly their diesels will know they are parsimonious consumers of fuel.
The Turkish car hire place has a policy of return empty; convenient for them, but not so much for us. Having asked for a full tank of diesel at the petrol station outside the airport, I spent the rest of the week thrashing the car to try and get my money’s worth of fuel before returning the car. For half the week the gauge hardly moved.
The interior is a combination of cheap, brittle plastic and hard wearing fabric, tyre noise is fairly high, and the engine brash but not overly obtrusive for a car with as little soundproofing as this. The seats are not good, far too soft and not remotely supportive. A 4WD duster is available. But I’m not sure why you would bother buying one over a basic ‘farmer spec’ Skoda Yeti.
I wouldn’t buy a Duster. It is old technology, and while cheap it represents a pretty bad motoring experience. You’re better off with a second hand car of better lineage.
If I was given a Duster, and I absolutely had to keep it, I would replace the frankly shocking suspension with something half decent. Eibach springs and Blistein dampers would improve things markedly. I would also install some decent seats. There must be a few options from the Renault back catalogue that would fit on that hardware. Maybe some leather seats from a Laguna V6.
With the ride, handling and accommodation sorted, I could live with the rest of the foibles until I had enough to go out and buy myself a proper car.
So, it turns out that you do get what you pay for. I know these cars are cheap, but when you can buy a used VW group car for the same price, why would you opt for a car which shares the radio switchgear from a 1994 Renault Clio, (mind you so did the 2015 Renault Clio I hired in Madeira recently, so perhaps this is a Renault issue and not a Dacia one.)
If you fancy a laugh, check out Jeremy Clarkson’s review of the Logan MCV.