The Dacia brand arrived here four years ago as the budget line in the Renault stable. Then there were fears about build quality, but these evaporated as the basic equipment levels and finish, not reliability, were the initial concerns. Over the years, the Dacia range, which includes the Sandero and MCV wagon, has been improved with new design features and extra kit. The result is that 11,000 sales have now been notched up and the future looks bright, thanks to the constant upgrading programme but still with a tight rein on the low pricing strategy.
The Duster, a five-door crossover which rivals models such as Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti, can still be bought at entry level for €16,690, and this with an excellent 1.5-litre diesel engine which also serves well in Renault and Nissan models.
Dacia uses lots of tried-and-tested Renault parts, so the mechanical end of things are of proven quality. The basic look is now on the way out and the further up the trim level you go, the interior quality improves with new furnishings and technological aids. The Duster now comes in three trim levels, with the Prestige badge getting the top treatment. It now replaces the Signature Prime limited edition, which put the Duster on the road to a sales boost.
Phase 2 of the Prestige is now here and boasts a DAB radio, new headlights, new grille and new rear lights. Inside, there is more luxurious seat upholstery, a stylish dash with satin chrome centre console and piano black finishes. The Prestige and lower Signature trim level have the option of a 4X4 drive and an economical EDC automatic transmission is now available on the 4X2 versions. The Prestige 4X2 option sells at €19,890 just €1,200 more than the Signature version but adds sat-nav, reversing camera and parking sensors. Bluetooth is standard and a 7-inch colour screen caters for Apple's Siri voice recognition and live TMC traffic information. The system caters for streaming music, hands-free phone calls and can connect to social networks via a smartphone.
The big seller next year may well be the Prestige 4X2 at €19,890 but the top pick, the 4X4 version at €21,890, is a very tempting offer as it is the same price as a moderately kitted out family hatchback.
The Duster will not drive as well as a Ford Focus but it is comfortable with a high driving position. It will roll a bit on corners and will tell you quickly when the road is bumpy, but, all in all, you are in pleasant company. The 1.5-litre 110bhp engine is quiet and has plenty of pull at the bottom of the rev range. In 4X2 drive configuration it has a €200 road tax with 115g/km Co2 emissions. The 4X4 version attracts a €270 road tax with 123g/km of C02. Dacia claims about 60mpg for the Duster, slightly less for the 4X4.
It's not as sophisticated as more premium rivals but it's spacious and comfortable for carrying five and with a huge boot it beats small family hatchbacks hands down. Expect decent residual prices taking into account t