Maybe it is my frugal upbringing but I often note how at home I feel in cars from the lower, less fashionable end of the market. Of course it could also be due to the fact such cars are much more relevant to the majority of people: €20,000 is an average spend on a new motor. And scraping that €20,000 together is a huge undertaking for many families even in this so-called boom.
Yet it is a sign of how prices are climbing generally that even models from the so-called ‘bargain basement’ can have variants running a few grand above the €20,000 threshold these days.
It is the case with the latest ‘posh’ (God forgive me) version of the SUV/family crossover Dacia Duster.
The Techroad variant reviewed this week costs €23,040 because they’ve added bits of spec and bling – there is even an ‘optional extra’ of heated leather seats. (Just before you think they’ve lost the run of themselves, do remember the basic model starts at €17,890.)
There was something reassuring about driving this latest model. For sure it could do with a new dash layout. I didn’t really like, but have now come to dislike, the three goggle-eyed air vents. Some of the switch gear is notably dated, too. But in the real world – and that’s where we are firmly anchored this week – that would inevitably mean a price increase.
There is a limit to which Dacia can increase price before buyers feel betrayed by the slogan of ‘shockingly affordable’.
People are prepared to overlook certain niceties in the interests of value.
At current price/trim levels, Dacia still feels justified in claiming it is the country’s most affordable family crossover.
There is no doubt it is a sizeable chunk of metal for the money.
Apart from looking a lot better than the old one – I like the grille, stronger colours and a much fresher overall look – they have improved the general feel and drive of it, too.
On most roads, the tyres and suspension soaked up lots of jitters and judders, leaving me with that feeling of being in touch with the road without being penalised for the surface shortcomings.
The ultimate beneficiaries were my passengers who enjoyed robust comfort. There is impressive room inside generally. Even though the rear seat space is still not copious, there’s sufficient shoulder and elbow room to encourage three medium-sized torsos across the back. The boot extends to 445 litres (1,623 with the rear seats folded).
Yes, some of the interactive infotainment stuff is dated by modern standards; the central screen wasn’t of the highest quality or clarity. I’d have liked Voice Control but it was not to be had. I’ve come to rely on it to make hands-free calls while driving. Doing so remotely/manually felt like a step back – how quickly we aspire to necessities that once were cutting-edge technologies.
The Techroad spec upgrade also yielded seats nicely adorned with special stitching. They were quite supportive though the adjustment lever was awkwardly placed.
The 130bhp petrol engine was quite smooth and responsive but €570 road tax is an undoubted drawback.
Yet I asked myself a few times: if the brand signs were disguised, would a stranger guess it was a Dacia? Maybe not as quickly as you’d think because the higher spec has transformed the basic cabin. Certainly driving it on decent roads would make it difficult to distinguish from many a small crossover.
The economic background in which this Duster makes its bow is such a contrast with the dire circumstances of its first edition (July 2012, recession). Back then, the 2012 price of €14,990 made it possible for struggling families to buy a new, as opposed to used, car for the first time in years. Updates lifted it to €16,190 in November 2014. The subsequent phase of improvement nudged it to €16,990 in 2016.
With the new one, I think they have just about pulled off the tricky feat of matching spec/price with ‘bargain’ sentiment again.
Would I buy this version at its current price? Yes. I’d go for a diesel and run it for the next five to seven years.
It’s a car I could easily live with despite what some might regard as old-fashioned elements.
On the basis of my drives, I think I’d enjoy knowing I was getting a good deal of bang for my buck.
Frugal upbringings will do that to you.
Facts & Figures
Dacia Duster Techroad:
Family crossover, 130bhp, 1.5 petrol, €570 tax. Price: €23,040; range starts €17,890. Standard Duster spec includes 16ins steel wheels, front fogs, hill start assist, manual air con. Additional/Techroad spec: 17in alloys, cruise control, electric front windows, MediaNav t/screen, multi-view camera, climate control, heated/electric mirrors, red stitching/trim around dash, etc.