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The Warsaw Voice » Society » June 30, 2011
Dacia Duster Laureate 1.5dCi 4X4
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Cheap Does Not Equal Nasty
June 30, 2011   
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The Duster has a lot going for it—a stylish body, a spacious and functional interior and reliable engines. Its most valuable asset, however, is its price.

There was no end to the jeering when Dacia, which had by then been acquired by Renault, unveiled its first “new” model, the Logan, in 2004. The box shape, no-frills fittings, and cheap finishing materials were all reviled. And no wonder. The Logan was never meant to be anything other than a cheap vehicle for Eastern markets, a car that could find a use for all those hand-me-down Renault components once the models they were designed for had been taken out of production. But the car defied all expectations and was given the thumbs up by well heeled Western Europeans and others least suspected of being likely to take a shine to it. The benefits of simple design, solid build and, needless to say, a very modest price tag won out over frumpy styling when purchasing decisions were being made. After the success of the first Logan, the company’s next offerings—the seven-seater Logan MCV and the Sandero—were treated with a little more respect. And all the jeering stopped when Dacia revealed the Duster, a small, compact SUV at the Geneva Motor Show two years ago.

The Duster’s styling, like that of its forebears, is not exactly the last word in refinement but a certain elegance cannot be denied. For all its compact dimensions (432 cm long, 170 cm high and 182 cm wide), it managed to retain a proportionally balanced body with no redundant outlandishness or unnecessary stylistic surprises. The raised body sitting on 16-inch rims, the clearly accentuated wheel arches, and the chassis guards, roof bars and racks, and other stylistic components are all meant to give the car an off-road vehicle kind of look. And they pull it off brilliantly.

The interior is spacious and can seat five adult passengers comfortably. The trunk has a capacity of 408l, which is respectable enough for its class. But fold the back rests down and you can jack that up to a whopping 1,570l. The finishing materials are not exactly of a quality fit for kings but they are not that much worse than those used by other manufacturers. Driver visibility is excellent in all directions. The dashboard is pretty much the same as the one in the Logan, i.e. it’s made of hard plastic, fitted more or less OK, and slightly slanted ergonomically.

For example, you’ll find the horn on the indicator lever which, in turn, is on the steering column (a throwback to its Renault forebears), the window control buttons are in the central console, while below them are the manual air-conditioning knobs. But who would have thought of looking for the electric knob that adjusts the outside mirrors in the central tunnel under the handbrake lever. All you need to do now is to remember where everything is and learn how to adjust to suit and you should be in for a pleasant drive.

The model we test-drove had a 1.5 l/109 hp Common Rail turbodiesel engine under the hood. Given the vehicle only weighs 1,294 kg, the engine has more than enough grunt to get it around town and keep it moving along the open road. The car can accelerate to 100 kph in 12.5 seconds and has a top speed of 168 kph. Low fuel consumption is a definite plus. This never averaged more than 7l/100 km during our test-drive. 4WD electric power steering earns another tick. A steady direct drive is transferred to the front axle but, just in case of slippage, the rear axle kicks in with the aid of a multiple-plate clutch. The Duster can manage quite well so long as the terrain is not too demanding and the weather doesn’t cut up too rough. Despite the stripped-down suspension arrangement (McPherson struts in the front and twist-beams in the rear), you can rest assured of a reasonably comfortable trip.

But we’ve saved the best bit for last. A top-of-the-range Duster Laureate with a 1.5 l/ 110 hp Common Rail diesel engine, 4WD, six-speed manual transmission and all the trimmings, including ABS, four airbags, manual air conditioning, CD/MP3 player, fully electronically controlled windows and mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels, and tinted windows will set you back zl.65,950. A basic Duster with a 1.6 l/105 hp gasoline engine, front-wheel drive and standard fittings costs zl.39,900. This makes it the cheapest SUV on the market. But cheapest does not mean nastiest. Take it from us.
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