Dacia Duster: cheapest model driven

Dacia Duster

We're not sure what the Dacia Duster's parents were thinking with the name, but it's an interesting proposition if you're after a small, affordable SUV.

Similar in size to a Skoda Yeti, with prices starting at £8995 the Duster costs nearly £5000 less.

The entry-level model has front-wheel drive and a 1.6-litre petrol engine, but not much else. The only colour available is white, the windows are operated manually, there's only 'preparation' for a stereo, and air-conditioning isn't even an option.

Dacia, which is owned by Renault, is taking pre-orders for the Duster now, for a £100 deposit. Prices are guaranteed until December 2012 and first deliveries are planned for January.

What's the 2012 Dacia Duster 1.6 Access 4x2 like to drive?

Pretty much everything in the Duster comes from Renault; including this model's 1.6-litre petrol engine, which produces 103bhp and needs plenty of revs.

The ride is more impressive, soaking up most bumps well. However, you pay for this with a fair amount of body roll in corners, and the steering is both slow and vague.

The petrol engine drones noisily at motorway speeds, too, and you can hear a significant amount of wind noise from around the door seals.

What's the 2012 Dacia Duster 1.6 Access 4x2 like inside?

The good news is that, by the time cars start to be delivered to British buyers, the Duster will have been given a face-lift that includes a much smarter dashboard with a more modern centre console and switchgear, and upgraded (but not soft-touch) plastics.

What won't change is the amount of space you get, and that's a good thing, because six-footers have plenty of room in both the front and the back of the Duster.

True, you don't get a height adjustable driver's seat on entry-level cars, but the basic driving position is good, so most people will still be able to get comfortable behind the wheel.

Front-wheel-drive models have 475 litres of boot space, which is more than you get in rivals such as the Skoda Yeti and Nissan Qashqai, while even four-wheel-drive Dusters offer a competitive 400 litres.

On the downside, the rear seats fold in one piece on entry-level cars, limiting versatility, and they don't lie completely flat.

Should I buy one?

The Duster's main strength is the fact that it offers SUV space for supermini money. However, we wouldn't go for this version because it's so poorly equipped.

The range-topping front-wheel-drive model makes far more sense; it costs just £12,995, yet comes with most of the kit you're likely to want and swaps the entry-level car's 1.6-litre petrol engine for a more flexible and efficient 1.5 diesel.