At 4,315mm long, Duster is big for B-SUV segment

At 4,315mm long, Duster is big for B-SUV segment

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You say DAY-see'a, I say DAH-chee'a, others say Datch-ya. The pronunciation hardly matters, and nor does the odd Duster model name when Renault's low-cost brand is doing so well, especially in the UK.

Last week’s SMMT registrations figures contained yet more good news for both Renault and its Romanian brand. Sales for Dacia have now reached 22,359 vehicles for the year to date with market share of 1.0 percent during November thanks to 1,729 deliveries. Critics might wonder if market share is being bought via dumping into daily rental fleets but no, fully 91 percent of registrations for the year to the end of November were from private buyers. 

The best selling model in Britain is the Sandero Stepway but the Duster is also finding more favour thanks to the recent facelift. Left-hand drive European markets had this update in late 2013, the restyle having been first seen at the Frankfurt IAA in September 2013. However, until three months ago, cars for the UK and Ireland were sourced from India and the nip and tuck didn’t apply there, so we went without the facelift until just recently. Renault decided to switch sourcing for Britain to Dacia’s main Pitesti plant in Romania so as to help clear a backlog of Duster orders in the Indian market.

In October, the three millionth Dacia to be sold worldwide was delivered to a customer in Spain, with this achievement attained in under a decade. Renault doesn’t talk too much about the pre-1999 era before it bought the company, preferring instead to dwell on the period since the brand came under its control. This subsidiary is also most of the reason why the French OEM is lately seeing better financials. 

The company reported a seven percent lift in its revenues for the third quarter, boosted it said, by higher demand for the Captur crossover and several Dacia models, including the Duster and Sandero. Income for Q3 was 8.53bn euro compared to 7.99bn euro a year earlier.

Aside from the 350,000 unit capacity Pitesti plant, and Oragadam (Chennai), the Duster is built or assembled in a handful of other locations. The big one is São José dos Pinhais in the city of Curitiba where production at the Ayrton Senna plant began in September 2011. Assembly also takes place in Colombia (Envigado) and Russia (Moscow) and will be added by Indomobil, Renault’s Indonesian partner, at a facility in Jakarta from 2015. Incidentally, Nissan India’s Terrano SUV is a rebadging of the Renault original.

Unlike the latest Sandero and Logan, the Duster is based on Renault Group’s older B0 platform but it should switch to a more modern architecture for the next generation model. While the UK wasn’t one of the launch markets, the car originally went on sale in Europe, Turkey and the Maghreb region (Algeria, Morocco) in April 2010, followed two months later (as a Renault) by Ukraine, the Middle East and selected African markets.

As noted above, the facelifted model is a recent arrival in Britain and one of the main reasons for the ongoing sales rise. The styling updates are mild but they do keep things looking, well, not exactly state of the art but, there again, not locked in the past either. Yes, you’ll find all manner of bits and pieces from older Renaults - door handles, column stalks, updated engines and gearboxes - but so what? 

The old-school soft ride that used to be part and parcel of most French cars is there too. This is one very comfortable car and you can see why it sells so well to people who value practicality over cutting edge style and technology. And yet, my iPhone 5 connected to the infotainment system in an instant, nothing felt too old-tech, plastics aren’t that hard.

The cost savings can be found but they're mostly out of sight: you can place your hand under either of the front seats as there’s no valance to stop you feeling where the fabric is stretch-joined. The last car I found I could do this in was a Camaro and the Dacia had just as good a fit and finish as the high-priced Chevrolet. This sort of thing is very much in line with the whole “making an enemy of the unnecessary” philosophy that keeps cost and weight out of Dacia models. One of those things is drum rear brakes for all versions but you’ll also find them in many versions of the nation’s best seller, the Ford Fiesta.

Push the Duster into a corner and it leans, big time, but it’s fun more than scary. The diesel engine has ample torque and the gear change was excellent. Like a BMW i3, if you build up speed, it’s really satisfying to late-brake into roundabouts and then laugh as you haven’t really got quite enough power to charge out but still it’s stable and entertaining. A lot like a Citroen Berlingo or Peugeot Partner. Except this one has 4x4 drive. The test car was powered by Renault’s K9K 898 1,461cc diesel which produces 80kW (109hp) and 240Nm. If you instead choose the 4x2 version, torque is the same but power drops slightly to 79kW (107hp) and the engine designation changes to K9K 896.

Should you prefer petrol power, there’s a 77kW (105hp) 1,598cc unit but its CO2 numbers, at 165g/km (4x2) and 185g/km (4x4) are at something of a disadvantage compared to the diesels: 130 and 137 respectively. A new TL8-series six-speed manual is standard for all, with the exception of the petrol 4x2 which has only five speeds. As for weights, these vary from 1,160-1,294kg. You can wade to a depth of a claimed 350mm, and unladen ground clearance is 205mm (4x2) or 210mm.

So what’s next for this model, apart from seemingly inevitable further global sales success? A pick-up is expected to be built in Brazil from 2015, this according to a news report which we published on 30 June 2014. The Renault Duster Oroch, a five-seater concept, previewed the production model when it was revealed at the Sao Paulo motor show in October 2014. It won’t be the first version to have a load tray, however: a special run of 500 Dacia Duster pick-ups is being built by the Romanian coachbuilder Romturingia. Sadly, none is headed to these shores. 

We should see facelifts for the Logan and Sandero/Stepway in 2015, with mid-cycle refreshes for the Lodgy/Stepway and Dokker/Stepway in 2016, to be followed by the next Duster one year later.