Dacia Duster Comfort

SCe 115 4x2

Dacia Duster, front
Dacia Duster, dynamic
Dacia Duster, rear
Dacia Duster, dashboard
Dacia Duster, interior
Dacia Duster, boot

WITH more than 120,000 vehicles sold since it launched here five years ago, bargain brand Dacia has struck the right note with austerity-era car buyers in the United Kingdom.

Back in 2013 it was the Duster which introduced the Romanian cut-price car maker to the nation, so it was fitting this summer that the no-nonsense SUV also became the first of its models to get a makeover.

Despite Dacia's insistence that not one body panel is carried over from the previous generation, however, the new Duster may not look much different from the old one to the casual observer.

Closer inspection, though, reveals updated light signatures front and rear, including LED daytime running lights; a bolder grille and new bonnet featuring sculpted crease lines; a larger front skid plate; a higher belt line and a more steeply raked windscreen.

It's subtly done but the overall effect is to give the new Duster a more rugged and imposing presence than its predecessor - especially when you factor in the chunky wheel arches and, on all but entry-level versions, the fashionable roof rails.

It's fair to say the Duster has all the SUV design boxes ticked. It even earned complimentary remarks from my brother-in-law who, as a Hyundai Tucson driver, has an affinity for this type of motor.

Four trim levels - Access, Essential, Comfort and Prestige - are available across a ten-version line-up which offers a choice of petrol or diesel power and the option of four-wheel drive on some versions.

Whichever combination you plump for, as always with Dacia, price remains very much the unique selling point.

The entry-level car will cost you just £9,995 but, with steel wheels, no air conditioning and not even a radio, it does take the no-frills approach to the extreme.

Stepping up a couple of grades to Comfort trim is the sweet spot in the range and gets you a perfectly serviceable family motor that can be had for about £6,000 less than the cheapest Nissan Qashqai and £7,000 below parent-company Renault's Kadjar.

Just £13,195 for a petrol-powered, two-wheel drive model gets you such niceties as alloy wheels, leather-bound steering wheel, driver's armrest, seven-inch touchscreen multimedia system, digital radio, navigation and a reversing camera.

And while the interior may have a plasticky feel with very little by the way of soft-touch surfaces it is, nevertheless, a spacious and comfortable place to be, with improved seats over its predecessor and room for five adults.

At 445 litres on two-wheel drive variants, the boot is also generous enough to cope with most day-to-day family needs, with a 60/40-split rear seat adding some load-carrying versatility on all but Access models.

Without the assistance of a turbocharger, the 1.6-litre petrol engine, mated to a five-speed manual transmission, is frustratingly slow at times.

SUV buyers aren't generally looking to win races, though, and it proves a capable and relatively hushed performer in town traffic, where new power steering makes manoeuvring fairly effortless. At motorway speeds it cruises along tidily enough, although a sixth gear would definitely help here.

Handling, similarly, would best be described as steady rather than dynamic but a soft and supple suspension, while it does mean some body roll in corners, ensures a comfortable ride and overall the Duster is an easy an uncomplicated car to drive.

FAST FACTS

Dacia Duster Comfort SCe 115 4x2

Price: £13,195

Mechanical:115ps, 1,598cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 5-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed:107mph

0-62mph: 11.9 seconds

Combined MPG:43.5

Insurance Group: 11

C02 emissions:149g/km

Bik rating:30%

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

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