Best-selling SUV in Europe: Dacia Duster dCi 115 4x4 - a desert fox from the discounter

Dacia has visually upgraded the Duster; it also offers more facilities.

Best-selling SUV in Europe: Dacia Duster dCi 115 4x4 - a desert fox from the discounter

Dacia has visually upgraded the Duster; it also offers more facilities. The SUV also remains unbeatable in an important category: It is currently unrivaled in its price range. Not for buyers who value prestige, but for those who don't see the need to spend more money on an SUV.

The compact Dacia Duster has been the best-selling SUV in Europe for five years. A good year before the successor is to be unveiled, the traditional Romanian brand, once revived by Renault, has upgraded the model again. The Duster, which is available from 15,000 euros, is the first Dacia to carry a new logo, which is content with the two intertwined letters "DC" instead of the coat of arms. They give the look of the front end an unusual modernity.

Together with other cautious changes, especially in the top model, this should ensure a special status for all-wheel drive customers. Dacia never really wanted to be a status symbol, but has long since stopped advertising it.

With four-wheel drive, the Dacia is more expensive, but still miles away from the prices of the competition. It costs 23,200 euros with the 84 kW/114 hp diesel engine. But is it also a real off-road vehicle that can handle sand, boulders and dusty climbs?

There are, for example, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in the Agafay Desert in Morocco. Off the beaten track, jeeps, Toyota Land Cruisers and sometimes a Land Rover or Mercedes G-Class dominate there. The small and much cheaper Duster is by no means a foreign body in the illustrious group, after all Dacia has trimmed its appearance more clearly for off-road.

The new signature with the two letters "DC" contributes to this, simple and rustic at the same time. The two signs are open at the side and complement the LED daytime running lights, the hook of which ends in a Y. Together with the wide track, the visible ground clearance and the flared wheel arches, the arrangement ensures the desired bulkiness.

All-wheel drive in the Duster was inherited from the Nissan X-Trail, a recognized crossover that also belongs to the extended Renault family. The off-road technology has fewer electronic refinements than expensive premium SUVs, but solid mechanics from the analogue world. As if made for tours up to remote villages that are often only inhabited by a few families. Nothing is smooth on these slopes, the occasional rain cuts deep furrows into the landscape, flushing out massive scree. There are also high-edged embankments, dried-up rivers and deep holes, surrounded by real boulders.

If you want to get through here, you have to be able to take a lot. A no brainer in the eyes of real off-road freaks, but there would be no way for normal cars to get through. A wheel loader usually has to be used as a straightening iron so that people can come home in the next town after their weekly shop. So it's no wonder that there are many old four-wheel drive pickups with local license plates on the road here. But also many Dusters, sometimes behind a Subaru Forester, sometimes in front of smaller Japanese SUVs. Because the French Romanian is also considered a price breaker here.

The Duster only rarely needs detours on trips into the impassable. Admittedly, the 1.5-liter diesel with its 84 kW/114 hp is not the latest craze when it comes to noise development and revving ability. On steep climbs on loose ground, it sometimes has to switch to the extremely short first gear, but then it struggles somehow thanks to all-wheel drive and indestructible viscous coupling in slow motion upwards, the torque of 260 Newton meters is sufficient here. Even more important is the ground clearance of more than 21 centimeters, thanks to which normal obstacles can simply be rolled over. If the front or rear rumbles, an underride guard should prevent the worst.

The interior of the Duster conveys careful sobriety, but also offers some useful details such as a reversing camera, LED low beam, blind spot warning or automatic climate control. The options list is pleasingly short. So there is little doubt that the prettied up and still inexpensive Duster will survive the time until the model change, which is scheduled to arrive in dealerships in spring 2024, without any damage.

Dacia Duster Blue dCI 115 4x4 - specifications