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
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
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

    Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

    £96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

    £32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee