Nearly a thousand miles down the road since last month, I finally got into my stride with the Duster. Much of this mileage can be put down to pure mpg obsession: with an official innings of 57.6 for this model, I’ve been fixating on how close I might get to the official figures on the paperwork.
The usual answer to such quests, I have to say, is simple: forget it. The gap between what makers proclaim and what our right feet actually achieve might be narrow, but can be obstinate. Or so I thought. In fact, having inherited 52.0 or thereabouts, I now have 57.3mpg displayed radiantly from the facia. Not quite on the money, but definitely a cigar. Had our tenancy been extended another few weeks, I’m sure we’d bust the official barrier in the next tank or so of fuel. So, beyond my obvious skill at finding and prodding that Eco button on the dash, why is this?
My postcode certainly takes no honours. For every free ride downhill, there’s an evil incline ahead. An enthusiastic stop-start mechanism adds an incremental advantage; this one seems keener than many to shut down in the traffic crawl and remain that way. But it’s the engine, freed from the burden of driving all wheels, which takes the bow here. It’s as keen to deliver a hearty helping of torque when pressed as it is to dig deep and supply just enough traction when you’re eking out every last teaspoon of the black stuff. And because this car isn’t togged up to its ears beneath a welter of sophisticated, expensive infrastructure, you feel closely connected to what’s actually happening, so gear changes and degree of throttle pressure can be decided and fed out with confidence.
During the valeting for the final pictures, a woman approached me (no, not like that). Should she consider chocking in her Nissan Note for a Duster? Wary as I am of all those Duster owners who keep banging on about how clever they were, I could find nothing to stop me from saying that this is, at this price, a no-brainer. No, I replied, pausing to think of all the other SUVs driven in the last year, all of them more expensive: I couldn’t think of a decent reason not to buy one. Two months ago though, I’d have thought such advice would be purely budget-based: if you value economy motoring, it’s inescapably true that you’re going to wish to avoid blowing pointless pounds at the front end of your SUV adventure.
But there’s something going on here that’s more than you doing the maths, as the maker likes to say. In this second incarnation, the Duster has been bumped up from no-frills status into the frills-as-standard category. But that’s not an elevation simply achieved through throwing in extra kit; it’s more deeply about making the car quieter and smoother at speed, more comfortable on your weary limbs and – perhaps most crucially of all, given our brand obsessive country – building in more polish and panache, the latter a step change boosted by credible new light clusters. Put simply, the Duster is no longer the automotive equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Of course, there are a few caveats to that: not every square inch of plastic convinces your fingertips; that non-retractable key fob feels punitive; the parcel shelf is lumpen and, as the previous incumbant, Richard Dredge found, the fuel filler cap – perhaps by under-usage? – would sometimes refuse to communicate with the in-cabin lever you needed to tug to open it. But at this price? In an era when we’re conditioned to pay up and pay a-plenty, the Duster’s taught me that no rules are hard and fast.
Date arrived 10th December 2018
Fuel economy 64.2mpg (NDEC combined) 57.3mpg (on test)
Expectations of 1978 Technicolor fuzz are banished by this excellent high-definition reversing camera.
Oh for the trouser-friendly delights of a flick key. Dacia’s unretracting fob design disappoints.