Rugged newcomer cuts a Dacia
Is it an SUV? Is it a 'family crossover’? As the debate rages, Declan O'Byrne discovers that the sturdy new 'Duster' can handle the rough with the smooth
Usually cars ‘launches’ are well-regimented events. They follow a certain formula.
Journalists, representing several strands of the automotive world, gather on invitation, at an appointed place, at home or abroad, and listen attentively to auto company executives expound on the merits of their latest creation in the manner of a best man extolling the virtues of the groom.
Then they retire for repast and some refreshment, engaging in generally good-humoured chit-chat about the vehicle in question, or the latest hot gossip in the industry as a whole.
It's all very civilised, sometimes intense, if somewhat mundane and repetitive.
The launch, on Sunday week last, of the latest arrival on the Irish motoring scene, didn’t quite follow the same tried and trusted pattern - and was probably all the better for it.
On this occasion the motoring press and other guests were summoned to a 'family day' in the grounds of Tinakilly House, a ruggedly imposing stately pile just outside Rathnew, in Co. Wicklow, where Renault's top brass in Ireland, in an informal and family fun atmosphere, lifted the lid on the innards of the French car maker's acquisition of the Dacia brand, late of Romania but, with its new flagship, the Dacia Duster, and several other imminent siblings, now with well-founded globe-conquering aspirations.
It was fitting that the mainly outdoor event, which was blessed with a rare dash of sunshine, was somewhat different and unconventional, for the Duster is just that, with potential in several respects but especially in the critical realm of price, to shake up the entire new family car and even used car market here.
Hence the lively debate which has ensued since over whether the chunky yet compact car is really an SUV, with the capability to conquer the roughest of terrain, or whether it is simply a crossover, a vehicle in-between, still accomplished, but more suited to the needs of an active but not overly adventurous family.
It's a definition, it seems, that even has Renault bosses in a bit of a quandary - in a highly unusual move, following the official launch, they re-issued their press release the following week changing their original description of the car from an SUV to a family crossover. So if you're a mite confused, at least you’re not alone.
Whatever the more appropriate label, with a price tag of just €14,990, the equivalent to that of a superminis - the Duster is described by its promoters, with considerable justification, as "shockingly affordable", a claim deriving from the fact that it comes to market almost €8,000 cheaper than its nearest, well-established rival, the top-selling Nissan Qasqai.
As Renault bosses stressed, the crossover segment is the fastest growing here, and is up 9 per cent YTD on 2011. Almost 90 per cent of vehicles in the segment, they pointed out, are over €22,500 to buy new, or €24,500 to have the same diesel engine as the best seller in the segment (aka the Qasqai).
The Duster will be available in Ireland in both 4x2 and 4x4 guises with one diesel engine size, the 1.5 dCi 110bhp putting it into in Band B (similar to the Qasqai) with just two trims, Alternative 4x2 and Signature 4x2, and 4x4. It comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty which can be lengthened to a full five years for an extra €500 or so.
A left-hand version of the Duster can be viewed and trialled at Dacia's nine Renault dealerships around the country from this Friday 27 July where, it was stressed, the brand will be housed in the same showrooms but separately to Renault with its own dedicated sales personnel. At a time when cash is tight, it might be worth noting that where financing is required, an attractive package, spread over 36 months, will be available allowing buyers to drive away a new car for €149 per month.
Though you would expect them to say it, if you are smitten by the Duster, a product of the Renault-Nissan alliance and, it is claimed, now the fastest growing brand in Europe, it might also be worth noting that following the launch of the car in 2010, demand was such that it resulted in a six-month waiting list in Germany and France.
The Dacia brand came to the fore in 2004 with the Logan, which sold 65,000 units in the first year. In 2010 Dacia became France’s fourth bestselling brand and the Duster the bestselling 4x4 there. Eight years on it now has five more models under its belt and these will arrive on these shores in due course. Since 2004 more than 1.8m Dacia models have been sold.
It's not difficult to identify the reasons why. Apart from price, of course, and based on the experience of a brief drive over but a cleverly constructe test course comprising flat and undulating terrain in the environs of Tinakilly, the Duster proved itself a nimble mover. It looks well, too, managing to marry a degree of compactness with genuinely chunky off-reader looks.
The cabin is sufficiently spacious and the fit-out and suspension oozes sturdiness and solidity. On the move the Duster is at all times impressively stable even over the bumpiest terrain.
On the negative side, taller drivers and passengers will find the roof line a little low when entering and exiting while, in terms of safety, it has so far achieved only three-star NCAP status. In addition, specification which lacks air-con, is relatively spartan unless you can rise to the 4x4 version which will cost you in the region of an extra €4,000.
However, even at that price, it’s hard to argue that chief among the Duster’s virtues appears to be genuine value for money and, for that reason alone; it’s well worth a test drive.