Dacia Duster (2012-2017)


5-door SUV [1.6 petrol / 1.2 TCe turbo petrol / 1.5 dCi diesel]



At its launch in our market in 2012, Dacia’s Duster was easily the most affordable SUV you could buy. But, a few years down the line, how does this Romanian-built Renault-engineered product stack up as a used buy in first generation form? Let’s find out.

The History

Old-era Dacias were Renault models built under licence. Modern ones have unique Dacia design with Renault running gear under the skin and the Duster used that formula in targeting the growing market for Qashqai-like Crossovers designs and Freelander-style compact SUVs. Depending on the rival you had in mind, it was typically between 25% and 50% cheaper when new. The MK1 design was announced in 2009, but didn’t make it to the UK until 2012. In 2016, a 1.2-litre TCe turbo petrol engine was introduced and at the same time, a top level of ‘Prestige’ trim was added to the range. In the same period, the original 105hp 1.6-litre petrol engine was replaced by a slightly more modern 115hp SCe unit. This MK1 model sold until early 2018, when it was replaced by a new MK2 Duster.

What To Look For

Things to look out for are, first and foremost, elements that tend to apply to all Dacia models. We came across some faults with the engine management systems and occasional issues with rust. Catalytic converter light failures are well known on Dacias, preceded by a warning light on the dash. And there’s plenty else to look out for too. Some owners report various rattles - from the seat belt holder to the steering wheel. The wiper blades are of poor quality - but Dacia will apparently change them if owners complain. Some owners found that the car seat head restraint area material was ripped and damaged. The problem may be caused by head restraint clips being fitted before seat back cover was put on. There were stories of door protectors and wheel arch protectors fitted loose and/or incorrectly. One owner complained of the driver’s seat having too much play and movement.

On The Road

Cut back on cost and you also cut back on expectations. Admit it - you didn't think the Duster was going to be any good at all to drive. It may well come as quite a surprise then, to learn that the market consensus in Europe is that this Dacia has the sort of ride/handling compromise that would shame rivals many thousands of pounds more expensive. Some French, German and Italian writers have gone as far as to say that on broken tarmac, the ride is better than a Land Rover Freelander. We’re not sure we’d go quite that far – there’s only so much you can do with a stretched old generation Renault Clio floorplan and underpinnings – but you certainly wouldn’t jump from a small SUV into one of these and feel significantly short-changed.

To be fair, Freelanders, Suzuki Grand Vitaras and the like don’t set too high a dynamic standard for this Dacia to have to match. Qashqai-like Crossover models though - cars that can get close to matching the ride and handling accomplishments of the finest family hatches – well, they’re a different story. A Duster offers a lot more body roll than something like that, nor is its steering as sharp. But for what it is, the ride and handling package remains quite acceptable. Especially for a vehicle that can do what no Crossover model can properly manage: decent off road capability.

That’s if you opt for a 4x4 model of course: 2WD is standard fare unless you pay an all-wheel drive premium. It’s well worth considering. The extra cash gets you an impressive Nissan-engineered three-mode system, selectable via a rotary controller in front of the gear stick. Most of the time you’ll be in ‘2WD’, but in wet or icy conditions, there’s the peace of mind of being able to switch seamlessly to ‘Auto’ so that extra traction will automatically cut in when necessary. For mud-plugging meanwhile, you’ll want to keep all wheels turning permanently by switching to the ‘Lock’ setting. It’s in these kinds of conditions that you’ll appreciate the useful 210mm of ground clearance and the impressive clearance angles - 30-degrees of approach, 36-degrees of departure and 23-degrees of ramp breakover. It’s all enough to make quite a few allegedly more serious 4x4s look a bit self conscious.

As for engines, well you’re probably not going to spend too long agonising over them as there’s not much choice. The stripped-out entry-level variants get a rough and ready 105bhp 1.6-litre petrol unit that has to be revved pretty hard to get to get anywhere near quoted performance figures that suggest the 2WD version to be capable of rest to sixty in 11.5s on the way to 104mph. A slightly more modern 115hp 1.6 SCe engine replaced this unit in 2016 and about this time, Dacia also briefly introduced a 1.2-litre TCe turbo petrol engine as an option, but few of these variants were sold.


The MK1 Duster was designed to give its buyers almost everything they really needed – and nothing they didn’t. The things it can’t offer – cutting edge handling, hi-tech equipment levels and a soft-touch trendy cabin – become irrelevant when you consider the asking price. A figure that in 4x4 models buys you off road ability that betters that of some rivals costing nearly twice as much. And in whatever guise you choose, you’ll find a Duster smartly styled, practically finished and affordable to run.

Our doubts relate to build quality that inevitably was completed down to a price. In our ‘What to look for’ section, you’ll see that it’s easy to end up with a Duster that’ll cause you a few headaches, though to be fair, most of the issues are fairly minor ones. Find yourself a good one though and you’ll get yourself solid no-nonsense dependable family transport.