With the launch of their compact 4 x 4, Dacia certainly hit the price marks again: the Duster drives the cobwebs out of your assumptions what a fully grown up and sturdy off-roader should cost.Dacia achieved this using available off-the-shelf Renault technology, without sacrificing anything in styling, mechanical refinement and reliability, and last but not least, without neglecting finish and overall build quality. This Duster will surely throw up some dirt, and this not only in Europe.
We drove the four wheel drive 110 HP Diesel version, and needless to say, we were (very) impressed.
Hans Knol ten Bensel
The Duster is being built at the Pitesti factory in Romania – for the world. In 2010, the car has been introduced in Europe , Turkey, Africa and the Middle East . Next year, it will be launched as a Renault Duster in Brazil , Russia and the Gulf states. For these specific markets, the Duster will be built locally, of course.
It will be built alongside the Logan, Sandero and Sandero Stepway in Curitiba, Brazil , for distribution in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Chile.
The Duster will later be manufactured at the Avtoframos plant in Moscow for delivery on the Russian market. But the Romanian Pitesti factory will also build the Duster for the Gulf States .
…starts close to home
Of course we drove the Duster on our Belgian roads, and we were impressed by its comfort, its excellent ride, its flexibility, pulling power and quality.
The “Prestige” version which we drove looks very pleasing both from the in- and outside, with its cabin interior neatly finished with (imitation) wooden inlays and leather seats throughout. Interior space equals the Logan, and this means that the car can easily seat five persons. The seating position is quite good, the Gallic experience of making cars with good seating comfort shows here, literally.
The Duster project marks another milestone in collaborative engineering between Renault Technologie Romania (RTR) and Le Losange (new name of Renault’s Technocentre site near Versailles) in France .
The design process began at Le Losange, but Renault Technologie Romania engineering resources were devoted to the Duster project from the beginning.
Le Losange and Renault Technologie Romania collaborated closely to make the vehicle production-ready.
From the stage of the second fleet of prototypes (roughly one year before the launch of Duster), the nerve centre of the project moved to Romania to be closer to the factory.
Vehicle design was conducted at Le Losange, in cooperation with Renault Design Central Europe (abbreviated RDCE, being the satellite design facility in Bucharest ).
Tried and tested Renault engines, and a clever six-speed gearbox
Our test car was equipped with the familiar 110 HP dCi engine, and sported 4 wheel drive. A 2 wheel drive version is also available, for people who just want the heightened ride and some off-road ability.
The four wheel drive version can tackle serious off-road terrain, as the Duster has not only good ground clearance, but also short overhangs (822mm at the front, 820mm at the rear) and last but not least big clearance angles (30 degrees for approach angle; 23 degrees for ramp breakover angle, 36 degrees for departure angle).
The Duster is also a lightweight for its size, only 1,160kg for the 4x2 version and 1,250kg for the 4x4 version.
This results in quite brisk performance with the 110 HP Diesel, and excellent economy in stop-start city traffic. The figures speak for themselves: 145g of CO2/km and fuel consumption of 5.6 litres/100km for the 4 x 4 version, an acceleration from 0 to 100 km in a mere 12,5 seconds, and a top speed of 168 km/h.
More telling is the way the car performs. We found not only a smooth and willing engine, but also a six speed gearbox with delightfully low gears, which are so useful in our crawling everyday city traffic.
The very low first gear is worth mentioning here. The Renault/Dacia engineers have chosen this very low gear (5.79kph per 1,000 rpm) in their new TL8 gearbox for the 4 x 4 version, instead of a transfer box, which reduces the number of gears engaged (and thus the mass) for a maximum level of performance.
The 4x4 running gear uses tried and tested components, sourced from the Alliance (Nissan rear axle and coupling, with the new six-speed TL8 gearbox derived from the TL4 gearbox that has been well-proven in the Renault and Nissan ranges.
The gearchanges are smooth, and all the other ratios are well suited to the low first gear. This results in excellent flexibility, and good pulling power at low speeds in almost any gear. Needless to say that the 4 x 4 Duster is very well suited for pulling caravans, boats, etc.
The 4x4 control located on the lower part of the centre console is delightfully simple to use, and allows three modes:
- In AUTO mode, the front/rear torque split is calculated automatically as a function of available grip. This mode has been developed to provide the best compromise between road holding and traction, no matter what the level of grip may be. In normal conditions, the torque is transmitted through the front wheels only.
If traction is lost, or when grip is at a premium, some of the torque is transferred to the rear wheels. This split is performed by an electromagnetic torque converter supplied by Nissan.
- In LOCK mode, the driver electronically locks the transmission in 4x4 mode. In this mode, throttle control and braking are also adapted for 4x4 use. This mode is recommended when grip is low (snow, mud, dirt, sand) and at low speed.
- In 2WD mode, the transmission is locked into two-wheel drive. This mode is suited to driving on good roads and reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
…With good (off) road manners.
French engineered cars have above average comfort combined with excellent roadholding, and the Dacia Duster proves no exception here. At the front, the pseudo MacPherson-type suspension with wishbones is identical to the layout employed by Logan and Sandero, although strengthened for off-road use.
At the rear, the 4x4 version's rear multi-arm arrangement was specifically developed for Dacia Duster, while the programmed-deflection flexible H-beam favoured for the 4x2 versions is strong and allows a large boot. Dacia Duster's boot capacity – up to 475 cubic metres VDA (depending on version) – is also very good given the vehicle’s compact dimensions, and with the rear benchseat folded, the car offers an impressive carrying capacity of up to 1,636 cubic metres VDA (depending on version).
The Duster is an excellent open road cruiser, a good companion on long (holiday) motorway trips. Loise levels and vibrations are also kept down to a very acceptable level.
Keeping costs down…
Using the Duster is no burden to your wallet. The servicing intervals the dCi 110 diesel engine are every 30,000km/two years. The OCS (Oil Control System), newly introduced in the Dacia range, warns the driver, by means of an oil-change warning light, should the next service need to be brought forward, depending on how the car is driven.
In order to underline its high build quality, Dacia Duster is backed up by a three-year or 100,000km warranty in the majority of its European markets.
As we said, the Duster really drives the cobwebs out of the shelves of the neat 4 x 4 showrooms, and surprised us in many ways.
Hans Knol ten Bensel
The "Prestige" version we drove was very well finsihed...
with wooden inlays and...
leather covered steering wheel...
...and gearchange lever.