The fresh-faced Duster is more appealing than ever, even if it is a little pricier

Verdict

The facelifted Dacia Duster is pricer than it used to be, but judge it by price rises from other brands and it still looks incredibly affordable given the level of kit it offers and the choice available, plus the practicality a small SUV like this brings. The market is moving towards Dacia, just as the brand is really starting to hone in on what its customer want at this crucial time, without losing sight of what got it there in the first place: value.

The market has moved to Dacia. While new-car prices are rising for all brands, Dacia's focus on value means it's products are more appealing to a greater group of people than ever – and with the recently revised Duster range starting from a still low £15,295 despite Dacia adding an extra dash of lifestyle focus, does the Duster still make sense as an inflation-busting new car?

Absolutely, it does. The main updates centre around Dacia's rebrand. It knows its customers and their active lifestyles so is moving the brand in this direction, and as such its model range for 2023 – including this newly updated Duster SUV – receives a fresh look.

You'll first notice Dacia's new 'link' logo, which combines the D and C for a smarter look, surrounded by fresh grille inserts finished in the same off-white as the new badge.

The new grille is flanked by the same pair of light units with LED running lights that featured on the updated Duster released last year, while the car's skid plates front and rear, as well as the roof rails, are finished in a new Monolith Grey colour.

There's new tailgate badging with D A C I A spelled out across the boot lid, but beyond this the car remains as is – which is by no means a bad thing.

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We tried the Blue dCi 115 4×4 model in high-spec Journey trim, which at £22,145 is pricier, but given the kit on offer it still represents great value. Climate control, a multi-view camera as part of the eight-inch touchscreen featuring sat-nav and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, cruise control, parking sensors and blind spot warning, heated seats and 17-inch alloy wheels are all included. When the price of even a low-to-mid-spec supermini is around the same as this, it shows just how much car you get for the cash with the Duster.

Not least because it offers impressive practicality inside, with plenty of room in the front and good space in the rear; the added ride height means it'll be easier to strap children into car seats if this will be a purchase for a young family. The maximum boot volume of up to 467 litres is strong too.

While the all-wheel drive 113bhp 1.5-litre turbodiesel option might not exactly take the lion's share of sales (also, politically it's not exactly a popular option, but you can't argue with claimed economy of 53.3mpg), it was refreshing to drive a diesel manual car on our Moroccan test route, and it proved that when done well this tech can still have a place – even if it's roll is now a dwindling one.

The Renault Group's 1.5 dCi unit has had decades of development, to the point where it's now a smooth, refined performer. With 260Nm of torque from just 1,750rpm it pulls strongly and delivers impressive flexibility, so you don't have to work the six-speed manual gearbox all that hard.

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This is no bad thing, as the shift action isn't the most positive or precise, but it's far from a baggy-feeling transmission and the interaction the manual gearbox brings, along with the light and fairly precise steering, means you feel involved to just the right degree behind the wheel of the Duster.

Forget any notion of serious performance – the official 0-62mph time is 10.2 seconds – it's the in-gear pull that's most important. This is reinforced by a ride that delivers a decent balance between body control and comfort. Again, it's far from the last word in sophistication, but remember the entry price, as compared with cars costing 50 per cent as much again the Duster acquits itself admirably.

It's comfortable and compliant, and also superbly easy to drive, with great visibility thanks to its jacked-up ride height, which also allows for plenty of travel in the suspension. This also means in 4×4 form it has much more off-road capability than you'd probably ever fancy putting to the test, as we found out.

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It's not all positive, however. Occasionally the underpinnings run out of ideas and the wheels thump around and unsettle the body, the seats could be more supportive, the in-car tech still leaves a little to be desired (so we'd suggest integrating your phone instead) and material quality inside the cabin is best described as 'robust'. But then what do you expect from an affordable small SUV? Especially when Dacia's rivals seem to be deserting this space in terms of price, yet the brand is adding to its offering with a more appealing look?

Judged by that criteria the newly rebranded model line-up should be a success – and the Duster will be a key part of that.

Dacia Duster Journey

1.5-litre 4cyl turbodiesel

Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive

53.3mpg/139g/km

Model:
Price: £22,145
Engine:
Power/torque: 113bhp/260Nm
Transmission:
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Top speed: 108mph
Economy/CO2:
On sale: Now

Now read our list of the best off-road cars…

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