Dacia Duster

If Ned Ludd were seeking a car, he might go for this

Sometimes I worry that I'm becoming a Luddite. New cars are loaded with ever more technology intended to make our driving lives easier, although it often has unforeseen and undesirable side-effects. Electric parking brakes that scupper uphill parking manoeuvres? Stereos that won't do as they are told? Automatic wipers which don't wipe when they should? Parking sensors whose beeps cause the radio to go quiet just when the news headlines are being broadcast? You get the idea.

One of the reasons I like classic cars is they do what you tell them when you tell them, and they don't try to second-guess your intentions. You're in control, and you don't have to develop strategies to fox the electronic tripwires. You are not welcomed on board by an electronic screen message, and you have the joy of inserting an ignition key and turning it. Ned Ludd would have loved that.

Please welcome heartily, then, the Dacia Duster. The Romanian Dacia company used to build previous-generation Renaults under licence, and I remember seeing a bunch of Romanians, post-Ceausescu, plundering every dead Renault 12 in my local scrapyard for pieces to fit their Dacia remake. Nowadays Renault owns the entire operation, which builds simple, low-cost cars of unique Dacia design but with Renault-derived parts. The Logan saloon and Sandero hatch are very popular in Eastern Europe and many developing-world markets.

The Duster is a new compact SUV, which is hardly a groundbreaking concept until you realise that it costs about the same as a typical supermini. Like the other Dacias it is based on the previous-generation Clio's underpinnings, in this case strengthened and optionally available with Nissan-engineered four-wheel drive. A good base for a Luddite-pleasing car.

There has been a Dacia Duster before, a crude off-roader sold in the 1980s and of which, according to Practical Classics magazine, just two survive in the UK. But this is a proper job, and will be available here in 2012, by which time Dusters will be raising dirt-road dust from Brazil to Siberia. Will it be worth the wait? Or will buyers be so brainwashed into the "need" for techno-gimmickry by then that the Duster will be doomed?

The Laureate top version of Duster will cost around £13,000, though the range will start at about £10,000. A quick tour gives strong clues as to where the money has been saved. Even the top-but-one Laureate trim level of the car tested here has simple painted metal for its boot sill, rear seats whose folding bases reveal their foam filling when folded, no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, and no automatic continuation of the electric windows' movement after one firm stab of the button. Much like my own Peugeot 205 GTI, then.

The electric window and mirror controls are on the centre console (it saves tooling up for separate left-hand and right-hand drive parts), the radio is a separate unit like something from an accessory shop, and hard plastic abounds. Once over the shock of such bare-faced functionalism in a new car, it feels oddly liberating. Besides, the dashboard looks perfectly modern, the exterior styling likewise and the seats are very comfortable and, yes, it does have air-con and central locking.

There are three Renault-sourced engines: a 105bhp, 1.6-litre petrol unit and a pair of 1.5-litre turbodiesels of 85 or 107bhp. This last is fitted to our front-wheel drive test car, which proves lively and rather more refined than you might expect. The gearbox – with an extravagant six gears – has a particularly short, neat shift action.

There's a suppleness to the ride that's a joy in a world of jittery new cars on unsuitably big wheels and firm springs, yet the tallish Duster doesn't flop over when taking corners. The only trade-off is the somewhat vague steering, but you get used to it.

Here's a compact SUV standing as a courageous antidote to overspecified, overpriced rivals. It has all the equipment you could reasonably need and it costs the same as a Clio. Drive a Duster, and suddenly the world seems easier to understand.

The rivals

Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi: from £14,000.

Looks like a 4x4 but isn't. Urban survival-module looks have an appeal, diesel engine is excellent.

Skoda Yeti 1.2 TSI: from £13,990.

Cheapest Yeti uses small but turbocharged petrol engine. Well made, fun to drive, ride is firm.

Toyota Urban Cruiser 1.4 D-4D: £17,050.

Curious city car-cum-4x4, that looks quite cute but is far too expensive, so no one buys it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Head of Digital Marketing, Hampstead,London

    To £55kpa (12 Month Contract): Charter Selection: Major household name charity...

    Head of Digital Marketing Manager, Hampstead,London

    To £55kpa (12 Month Contract): Charter Selection: Major household name charity...

    Service Technician

    £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

    Energy Sales Co-ordinator

    £20000 - £25000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Day In a Page

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil