Second Coming

In a week where we’ve been subjected to further SUV-related atrocities, we seek comfort in a UK debutante from Romania.

2018 Dacia Duster. Designer, Erde Tungaa second from left. Image credit: (c) autodesignmagazine

This week’s new offerings from Ingolstadt and the Petuelring are both in their way equally disgusting, each vying with one another to out-pummel and preen, their decadence only matched by a barrenness of spirit as depthless as it is vain. But confronted by a seemingly unending series of vulgar behemoths to emerge from their rocking cradles to slouch towards Bethlehem, where is the hapless commentator to turn?

Is ‘the ceremony of innocence’ drowned or merely drowning? Do we, horrifying as it seems, by mere mention of these heaving monstrosities in some way dignify them? It’s an appalling thought so let us therefore turn our horrified gaze away and seek solace where we can.

In a market of ever-widening polarities, Romania’s Dacia illustrates the virtue and dignity of modesty, having ploughed a quiet, if increasingly fruitful path on the fringes of the motoring landscape since it became part of the Renault-Nissan alliance in 2004. Having suffered a brief tail-off in fortune during 2015, the value brand has since belied forecasters, posting combined European sales this year of 176,098 to the end of April, a rise of 18.5% over the same period last year.

With worldwide sales of 655,235 vehicles in 2017 (up 12.2%), 460,891 of which were sold across Europe, Dacia has subtly become an automotive force to be reckoned with. Dacia’s main export market is France, where over 120,000 were sold in 2017, followed by Germany, with 64,918, and Italy, with 63,374 delivered.

Offering a small, mechanically related range of compact hatchbacks, estates and utility vehicles, Dacia offers a riposte to the likes of FCA’s Sergio Marchionne who claims to see no future in not only building, but selling inexpensive mainstream cars in mainland Europe.

With Audi and BMW having simultaneously revealed their monstrous Q8 and X5 offerings respectively, it is perhaps fitting that this week also sees the UK introduction of what has become the defining Dacia model. More of a raised estate than a pure SUV, the Duster, first introduced in its current form in 2009 has to a large extent fulfilled a similar role to that of the lamented Renault 4.

Image credit: (c)

Combining a no-frills, mechanically tough functionality with an honest charm, the Duster has demonstrated itself to be a sum which has belied its humble parts, posting a European sales gain in the year to April of almost 30%, even with a new model roll-out still ongoing.

The 2009 Duster was created at Dacia’s own Romanian studios by designer, Erde Tungaa, a graduate from the esteemed ‘école de le Quément’. Tungaa, a cultured Mongolian with an academic background in history and psychology and who speaks five languages, created a vehicle rooted in solidity, robustness and versatility.

Also responsible for the reskinned 2018 model, Tungaa’s 2018 Duster combines the outgoing model’s virtues, while broadening its appeal beyond pure functionality into the sort of product landscape once ably served by Mladá Boleslav’s missing in action Yeti.

While today’s Duster starts at a shade below £10,000 for the entry-level model, it’s possible to specify it in bells and whistles Prestige form at £14,395, which, according to Autocar, still comes in at only slightly more than an entry-level Ford Fiesta. The UK weekly cite Duster sales as making up around a third of Dacia’s UK total and given most UK buyers appetite for austerity, is expected to be predominantly weighted towards the petrol-powered top-line model.

Dusty’s Trail. Image credit: Autocar

Regardless of flavour or hue however, the new Duster represents an awful lot of abundantly useful vehicle for the outlay. It’s also a profoundly welcome antidote to the sordid confections which masquerade as utility vehicles from the increasingly panic-riven, out-of-touch ateliers of the prestige marques, as they turn in their ever-widening gyre.

Sales data: Dacia /

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Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

11 thoughts on “Second Coming”

  1. Dacia’s Dokker and Lodgy ‘fourgonettes’ became pretty popular with small businesses as a new car is cheaper than depreciation over three or five years on a VW Bus or Mercedes Sprinter.
    After that time the Dacia is simply thrown away because it’s falling apart which doesn’t exactly look like mechanical robustness claimed here.

  2. I guess Switzerland is also one of the markets where Dacia does well, and especially with the Duster. Yes, we tend to go for ‘premium’ marques and high-specced models, but there is still a need for inexpensive, straightforward motoring in an environment where not every road is paved and not all snow is pushed away as soon as it has fallen. For these customers, the Duster has taken a good share of the market that once was for Subaru or smaller Japanese off-roaders (the term ‘SUV’ was still unknown at that time).

  3. This subtle reworking of the previous version is very Volkswagen-like in its approach I think. Just like the ‘Generations” picture showing the new one along with its ancestors is straight out of VW’s playbook.
    Could this evolutionary approach to its design be in part repsonsible for the current version still posting strong sale numbers as mentioned in the article ?
    The same way a new Polo or a new Golf doesn’t render the outgoing model completely obsolete style wise and helps them keep an honorable place in the charts even at the end of their life-cycles ?

    I’am not keen on the snorkel-adjacent thing on the front wings. I think it brings nothing to the party and perhaps even cheapens the whole look for me.

    1. I agree about that (presumably) superfluous and non-functional bit of trim on the front wings and prefer the naked honesty of the original.

  4. Describing an SUV as useful in a market where most roads are paved is an interesting point. I get its appeal to the Swiss. But in countries like the UK, 95% of buyers are just wanting SUV aspiration but at a lower price point. It’s still laugable.

    Do these worldwide sales include markets where these cars are marketed as Renaults, such as South America? In a market like Brazil the Duster makes a lot more sense.

    I find very little to like about these cars. They are resolutely conventional, and have none of the inspired engineering that a really clever small car has. A Citroen Cactus is considerably more interesting. Suzukis make much more capable and efficient small SUVs, if that’s what you want.

    1. I found you last paragraph a well pitched counter – one that made me pause and think again. I think I’d agree with you except that one of the main selling points here is the price/ size (or space) ratio, which I think (without having done any calculations) would put the Cactus and Suzukis in a different league (I am basing the point around UK pricing). The starting price point of the revised Cactus is now £17k+, whereas when first launched it was £12k+. Suzuki has been driving up the pricing of its (very appealing) model range such that the new Swift Sport is almost as much as the more powerful, pacy, able and mature Fiesta ST. I can see the gap in the market which Dacia is pitching into, and I sense that the conventionality to which you refer comes as the price for keeping prices low.

    2. The Cactus is ruled out – FWD only. 4WD is a must for people in the mountains, and that’s really the weak point for PSA around here. “Interesting” is not a criterion if it’s not fit for purpose.
      Suzuki actually is one of the better selling brands here, and I think the reason is exactly what you describe. If I had to choose something for regular use on really rough terrain, I’d trust them more than Dacia. And they’re quite reasonably priced, too, although they probably don’t go as low as the Romanians.

  5. Dacias aren’t designed for really rough land, although one Duster has a 20cm ground clearance option. What Dacias are for is getting a big load from A to B. It’ll do that well, but you’re not expected to enjoy driving it, and won’t.
    Considering its ancient M0 platform, it’s comfy too.

  6. There only one or two actual SUVs in Europe. The Mercedes G Wagen and perhaps a couple of Rovers. Ones that can actually clamber across mud and rocks, and get through a real snowstorm.

    The rest of the hideous trend to hatchbacks on stilts should be called CUVs or crossovers, to show what insipid, shallow and hollow marketing does to actual logic. Let’s not even mention “styling”.

    A front wheel drive econobox like the truly foul Ford Ecosport is not an SUV. Nor is a BMW X5, and no, I need no reminding that they themselves call them SAVs, which nobody but their navel-gazing marketing people can say out loud without wincing.

    This Dacia looks tough with its obligatory fake skidplate and would have a tough time getting down a dirt road round here, but it would no doubt beat an Ecosport, which might jump a kerb with a running start and destroy its front suspension trying. Yours are now sourced from Romania, while ours swim over from India ready to assault the urban jungle. Putting one on a motorway would seem like cruel and unusual punishment, noisy, wind-rushed and underpowered as they are. Their primary purpose seems to be to transport the elderly to appointments like a golf cart could. No doubt they’ll sell like hotcakes.

    Now, is this Duster any less of a poseur? The Qashqai AWD, known as Rogue Sport only in the US, was found unable to extricate itself from 2 inches 5 cm of sand in a Motor Trend test! SUV? Don’t make me laugh.
    The link refers to the winner of the comparison test, but the Qashqai’s miserable chops are elucidated, have no fear.

    Nissan is about to gift us with the Duster, calling it the Kicks. Do we need something worse than a Qashqai? Nissan is betting on it!

    1. ” No doubt they’ll sell like hotcakes.”.
      Well, Bill, in the 50 years they’ve been making their cheap (and cheerless0 cars they’ve sold 5 million. These may well come from Morocco, where Renault have three factories, rather than Romania.

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