The term ‘bland’ can’t usually be taken as a compliment, yet it’s one that applies to so many facets of our Dacia Duster. Despite this, I actually rather like it, because doing something in such a way that is utterly unremarkable isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a whole raft of cars out there that frustrate with their woeful performance, disastrous ergonomics, rubbish visibility or terrible packaging, but the Dacia doesn’t suffer with any of these. Instead, it’s unremarkable in just about every way – aside from the value that it offers, which is quite brilliant.
We’re now more than half way though our six-month loan, so the mileage is creeping up and we’re now getting under the Dacia’s skin. The odometer is heading for the 6,000-mile mark, so it’s now run in nicely, and fuel consumption has settled down to just below 50mpg. The Duster has a mysterious Eco button, just like the one on the Stepway that we ran before; we have no idea what it does, other than cripple some of the 114 horsesr. Press it and the performance is blunted noticeably; presumably fuel economy benefits at the same time. Since the car came in, we’ve run it in Eco mode almost exclusively.
The rest of the Duster’s dynamic package is equally acceptable without being especially inspirational. The steering doesn’t have a lot of feel and the suspension generally soaks up bumps pretty well, but catch a pothole mid-corner and the Dacia is easily deflected, while there’s also a bit too much roll in bends. The six-speed manual gearbox has a notchy gearchange and in a world of over-assisted braking systems, there’s a lot of travel before the Duster’s middle pedal does anything.
But all of these criticisms are outweighed by the fact that most of the time the Duster is perfectly decent to drive. The refinement is good and so is all-round visibility, although the Dacia suffers from something that I’ve never seen in a car before. Because the interior trim behind the C-pillar goes from white plastic to black, when you glance round it looks as though there’s a vehicle alongside, which makes pulling back into the inside lane on the motorway a bit tricky.
If Ford or VW had come up with the Duster, the car would no doubt be more polished, but at what cost? As it is, the Dacia is more than 90 per cent of the way there – yet it’s priced at more like 60 to 70 per cent of what its rivals charge. In that context, to be merely bland rather than sub-standard is an impressive achievement.
Date arrived 10th December 2018
Fuel economy 64.2mpg (NDEC combined) 48.9mpg (on test)
The six-speed manual gearbox has well-chosen ratios, and the change is good too, if a little bit notchy on occasions.
Sometimes the car chimes for no obvious reason. There’s no warning on the dashboard to say what it is.