Dacia is like Renault’s Tesco Value range. They’re quite big in Germany apparently. As of January 2013 they go on sale in the UK with two models. This sort of soft-roader is one of them. It’ll start at £8995.
Day 1: The Duster turns up at the office. It’s in absolute bog basic spec in white (the only option on the bottom model) with minimalist steel wheels (also the only option although, generously, they do give you four of them). The UK base model will have electric windows and central locking but this German-spec test car does not. There’s no stereo either. It’s like a special edition inspired by the Amish. Although I suppose if that was the case it would also have no engine. On a dark and gloomy drive home the Duster feels like a carefully preserved 12 year old car. Which, in a way, is what it is. Maybe that should be the advertising slogan: ‘Dacia Duster – The second hand car you can buy new’.
Day 2: As you poke round the Duster you can spot the ways in which they’ve saved money in making it. Unlike most modern cars, for example, it doesn’t appear to have a pollen filter in the ventilation system. I know this because it was parked under a tree last night, a load of blossom fell on it and when I turned the ignition on, half a kilo of the stuff blew into the interior. On the plus side, I might have been a bit cruel to describe it as driving like a 12 year old car. On closer acquaintance there’s nothing particularly wrong with the way it drives. It’s not the most exciting thing in the world but nor is it awful. It’s just a normal car. I was hoping the ride might be really bungy like on a French car from the 1960s but it isn’t. It’s not bad though. Many things about the Duster are not bad. It feels sturdy too. The dash is a bit rough but right-hand drive cars are getting a nicer one apparently. I hope it’s not too nice. Especially if it’s going to keep getting covered in rotting blossom.
Day 3: The Duster I’ve borrowed is the basic 4×4 version. It has a six-speed gearbox with a very low first in lieu of a proper low range ‘box. It’s so low that on the road if you’re on even the slightly downhill slope you can set off in second and not feel like you’re bumming the clutch. Also, you can pretend you have a dogleg ‘box, just like an old M3. Even so, the lowness of the gearing is slightly annoying. My mate Dan has a two-wheel drive Duster on test and lets me take it for a quick drive. It only has five gears but they’re better suited to normal roads. The steering feels a bit lighter and nicer too. And it’s two grand cheaper.
Day 4: A black mark against the Duster: In mainland Europe, where the car has been on sale for a couple of years, you can get up-spec models in very excellent metallic brown paint. But this won’t be offered in Britain because our Dusters will come from a different factory, one in India, and they’re keeping things simple by doing just five colours, none of which are brown. Boo hiss. On the plus side, my dog seems to like the Duster. She wasn’t available in brown either.
Day 5: Finding the Duster increasingly appealing. I think because it’s so simple. It doesn’t turn itself off and on again at traffic lights, it doesn’t have an automatically disengaging electronic handbrake, it can’t Bluetooth recipes to your phone as your drive past Waitrose. You work all the controls yourself and they all do as they’re bloody told. Which, for a new car, is refreshing. Although I would like a radio.
Day 6: People who like cars might sneer at the Duster and point out that if they had nine grand they’d spend it on something second hand and interesting but there are a lot of people who don’t give a monkey’s anus about cars and find the process of trying to buy a used one an absolute and utter ballache. I suspect they’ll like the idea of Dacia. And actually, there’s something quite appealing about getting a decently sized brand new car for such a relatively low price.
Day 7: I’ve just remembered something. In the late 1980s an ad agency offered $200,000 if New Order would re-record the vocals to Blue Monday so that they promoted the soft drink Sunkist. The band agreed, but when they got into the studio vocalist Bernard Sumner couldn’t sing the new words without laughing. After several failed takes their manager wrote $200,000 on a piece of card and stuck it in the vocal booth, after which Sumner suddenly found himself able to concentrate. If I had a Duster I’d stick a piece of card with £8995 on it to the dash and look at it every time I wondered why I’d bought it. Which, actually, might not be that often.
This car was a Dacia Duster Access 4×4 with a 1.6-litre, 103bhp engine. It can do 0-62 in 12.8 seconds and on to a dizzying 99mph. It costs £10,995.