Overview: Dacia Duster

Dacia is not a new name to British car buyers, though the Romanian company’s owner, Renault, might prefer not to dwell too long on Dacia’s heritage.

Over the years, the Company built local versions of several Renault saloons, starting with the R8 in the late sixties. In the 1980s, British buyers were briefly offered the Denem, a derivative of the Renault 12, and a small and rather crude Romanian-designed off-roader called Duster.

1983 Dacia Denem.

Now Renault owns Dacia, and it’s freely mixing technology from the Renault-Nissan alliance with local talent — and low wage rates — to produce a new entry-level range of cars aimed at capitalising on an emerging gap in the car market.

The increasing sophistication and complexity of mainstream manufacturers’ offerings leaves space for a manufacturer prepared to offer something cheap, simple and tough. To Dacia’s marketeers at least, a Dacia is seen to combine modernity with a reassuring lack of whizz-bang high-tech gadgetry. Something proven — tough — dependable. The result is a gap in the market nicely exploited.

Obviously, there’s a catch. If the cars are being marketed as tough and dependable, that has to follow through into reality. It’s one thing to sell a product on the strength of an exotic image, where a customer will pay a lot and forgive a lot to buy into a brand, but it’s another matter altogether to sell a sell a cheap car on dependability if the reality is otherwise.

Renault’s marketing for the Dacia brand has certainly worked marvellously. Sales have risen meteorically — take a look at the figures at the end of this piece and you will see what we mean. Dacias are being sold all over the world, and will soon be built in Brazil and Russia as well as Romania.

Another significant factor is that Renault is not known for screwing up. We are optimistic that construction standards at the Pitesti plant in Romania will at least be adequate to make the cars trustworthy. If they lack a little subtelty, most buyers will be happy to live with it.

Renault’s involvement a decade ago with the Karosa bus manufacturer in the Czech Republic achieved excellent results, getting the best from Karosa’s in-house talents, providing investment cash and steering the Czech firm to greater things.

2010 Dacia Duster.

In the wake of the spectacular sales success achieved by the Logan and Sandero ranges — including van and pick-up versions of the Logan — Dacia is now launching a small 4x4 called Duster. Resurrecting the name of a rather unsuccessful earlier product might seem brave, but it’s hard to see the lineage from the new Duster back to its terrible eighties predecessor.

Dacia has described its new product as a tough, reliable, easy-to-use 4x4, aimed at motorists looking for an everyday car with real off-road ability. The Company emphasises that the Duster’s off-road capabilities are genuine, and that the car is not designed just to look the part. Admittedly, there is a 4x2 version — aimed, Dacia says, at buyers who want the ground clearance, loose surface ability and a high driving position, but not all-wheel drive — but it’s hard to see a car at this end of the market succeeding on poseur value. Barring unexpected trendiness, the Duster will have to deliver. Dacia will be selling the new car with a three-year or 100,000km warranty in ‘the majority’ of its European markets — we don’t know yet why it’s not all of them.

The new Duster is a compact vehicle, with a length of 4.31m and a width of 1.82m. Although Dacia is keen to stress the car’s functional appeal, there are plenty of optional extras and accessories available to dress it up — 16-inch alloy wheels, roof bars, extra-tinted rear glass, satin-finish chrome exterior mirrors, front and rear skid plates, styling bars — the usual suspects.

The Duster’s platform is a strengthened version of the Logan’s, with ground clearance increased to 210mm. Interior accommodation is similar to the Logan’s. Short overhangs give good approach and departure angles — 30° and 36° respectively.

Both two- and four-wheel drive versions of the Duster will be available with a choice of three powerplants, one petrol and two diesel. All are familiar from assorted Renaults. The petrol engine is a 1.6-litre four-valve unit delivering 110PS. The diesels are the 1.9-litre dCi 85 and dCi 110 seen in the Mégane and elsewhere.

Front suspension is by MacPherson struts and wishbones, while the arrangement at the back differs between the 4x2 and 4x4 models. In 4x4 configuration, the rear suspension is a MacPherson-type multi-arm system; for the 4x2 version, an H-section twist-beam axle is used to limit intrusion into the luggage area. Luggage capacity for the 4x2 model is 475l with the one-piece rear bench seat upright, increasing to 1636l with the seat folded — the volumes are rather less for the off-road version.

Kerb masses are modest: 1160kg in 4x2 specification and 1250kg for the 4x4. Some might see lightness as a sign of weakness in a ‘tough’ vehicle, though we disagree. The strength and future reputation of the Duster will be measured by how well its suspension components cope with a hard life, and how effectively the underbody treatment resists scrapes.

Although we don’t yet have any fuel consumption figures, Dacia is quoting CO2 outputs of 135g/km for the 4x2 version and 145g/km for the 4x4, in both cases powered by Renault’s dCi 85 engine. We suspect that real-life use will see the more relaxed 110 motor returning figures similar to or better than the 85’s.

All-wheel drive versions of the Duster are equipped with a new six-speed gearbox with a very short first ratio giving 3.6mph/1000rpm. The 4x4 transmission provides three driving modes.

In Auto mode, the front/rear torque split depends on available grip. In normal conditions, the torque is transmitted through the front wheels only; when wheel slip starts to occur, some of the torque is transferred to the rear axle. This split is performed by an electromagnetic torque converter supplied by Nissan.

In Lock mode, drive is directed to all four wheels. In this mode, throttle control and braking are also adapted for 4x4 use.

In 4x2 mode, the transmission is locked into two-wheel drive. This mode is suited to driving on good surfaces, and reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Potential buyers may be reassured to hear that the Duster’s 4x4 running gear uses tried and tested components from the Renault-Nissan Alliance parts-bin. The rear axle and coupling come from Nissan, for example, and the new six-speed TL8 gearbox is a derivative of the TL4 gearbox seen in various Renault and Nissan products.

Dacia has tried hard to cut servicing costs, though we remain dubious about the long-term consequences of specifying very long replacement intervals for consumables. We’re not sure we would be happy to run a dCi air cleaner element for 60,000km, for example, let alone the 90,000km specified for the same part in the petrol engine.

Safety equipment includes Bosch 8.1 ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist.

The Duster is Dacia’s first vehicle to feature electronic stability control as an option on some versions, as well as understeer control and traction control. This option also allows torque to be transferred away from a spinning wheel in 4x4 mode.

Safety equipment looks dated on paper, though of course the bodyshell might prove to be the paragon of virtue in an accident. Two front airbags are fitted, though this depends on the market. There are load limiters for the front seatbelts; pyrotechnic pretensioners can be added. Depending on the version, two lateral head/thorax airbags are fitted in addition to the driver and passenger front airbags.

Currently, the Duster is manufactured solely at the Pitesti factory in Romania, though this is set to change. It will be built alongside the Logan, Sandero and Sandero Stepway in Curitiba, Brazil, for distribution in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Chile. Production is also expected to begin at the Avtoframos plant in Moscow. The 4x2 and 4x4 versions will be rolled out progressively from the end of March in Europe, Turkey, Africa and the Middle East. It will be launched progressively across a variety of world markets, badged either as a Renault or a Dacia, in the same way as the Logan and Sandero models.

Collaborative design

The Duster project is a collaborative venture between Renault Technologie Romania (RTR) and Le Losange (The Losenge), the new name of Renault’s Technocentre site near Versailles. The design process began at Le Losange, with a contribution of engineering resources from Renault Technologie Romania. The project’s headquarters moved from France to Romania a year ago, allowing project engineers to work more easily with the factory that would produce the car. Styling and design engineering were conducted at Le Losange, in cooperation with Renault Design Central Europe (RDCE), which is Renault’s satellite design facility in Bucharest.

The new car arrived at the Pitesti factory in April 2009. A production line for special prototypes was set up at the plant, allowing every model variant to be built for process testing and staff training. The new line is managed directly by Renault Technologie Romania.

Duster production clearly demanded modifications to the production lines in Pitesti, and a new body-shop has been built specifically for the new model. In all, six different body styles are now produced on the same assembly line at Pitesti.

In total, €290m was invested in the development of the new Duster and its production at Pitesti. This includes the cost of the new TL8 gearbox, used on the 4x4 variant, and the forthcoming range of Euro 4 and Euro 5 engines. Of this total, just under €70m was invested in the production facility.

A significant level of carry-over reduced the overall cost of the project. In total, just over 50 per cent. of components — including the engines and one of the gearboxes — come from other vehicles in the Dacia and Renault ranges.

The maximum production capacity at Pitesti is 25 Dusters per hour. In time, Dacia believes that the Duster could account for over one third of total production at Pitesti.

Last year was the fifth consecutive year of double-digit growth in Dacia sales. The Company has expanded its sales from fewer than 100,000 vehicles in 2004 to more than 300,000 units in 2009.

The Duster will be the first Dacia to be sold in Britain when the brand arrives here in late 2012. The current retail price of the entry-level 4x2 model is €11,900.

Dacia Annual sales
2000 52,403
2001 54,368
2002 57,681
2003 69,166
2004 98,908
2005 163,899
2006 187,215
2007 230,473
2008 257,854
2009 311,874
Dacia sales 2009
Germany (Dacia) 84,875
Brazil (Renault) 79,525
France (Dacia) 66,531
Russia (Renault) 53,869
Romania (Dacia) 41,862
Dacia sales by model 2009
Sandero 151,206
Logan MCV 77,271
Logan 65,551
Logan van 8285
Logan pickup 7144
Others 463
Total 309,457

Who do you think you are?
Dacia on Dacia

Here is what Renault U.K., Dacia’s importer-to-be, said about the brand in September, 2009.

Since its acquisition by Renault on 2 July, 1999, and the subsequent launch of the Logan in 2004, Dacia has become a major player in the automotive sector and a cornerstone of the Renault group’s strategy.

For the past 10 years, Dacia has flown in the face of conventional wisdom.

Dacia initiated a new approach to automotive ownership by offering simple, modern, robust and reliable vehicles that offer all the expected fundamental qualities.

Today, this new automotive concept is a hit with customers.

Since the launch of the Dacia eco² signature at the Paris Motor Show in October, 2008, Dacia has demonstrated that affordable motoring can go hand in hand with environmental respect.

Sandero and Sandero Stepway represent milestones for Dacia, combining attractive, modern styling with affordability. This approach is further underlined by Dacia Duster, the Brand’s first concept car.

Dacia continues to enjoy strong growth: in the first half of 2009, sales (in Europe, the Maghreb region and Turkey) grew by 20.3 per cent. in a market that contracted by 16.5 per cent. In total, nearly one million Dacia vehicles have been sold since the brand’s turnaround in 2004.

In Europe, sales jumped by more than 95 per cent. and exceeded 100,000 units (of which Sandero accounted for almost 60,000). Sales in Germany increased by a factor of four, and this was Dacia’s leading market in the first half of 2009 with nearly 48,000 units sold.

In Romania, Dacia’s home market, the Company maintained a market share of more than 30 per cent. to keep its market leadership.

In Morocco, where Dacia is the second highest-selling brand, the Company’s market share grew to 12.88 per cent, a rise of two percentage points.

Duster, the first Dacia concept car

The product of close collaboration between Renault Design Central Europe (in Bucharest, Romania) and Renault Design Technocentre (in Guyancourt, France), its muscular styling reflects the brand’s reputation for robustness, combined with some sporty touches. Inside, bright colours coupled with a spacious, well-packaged interior provide a friendly ambience.

Dacia Duster concept car.

Dacia Sandero Stepway, the spirit of adventure

In summer 2009, Dacia Sandero Stepway was added to a five-model range comprising three passenger cars — Dacia Logan, Dacia Logan MCV and Dacia Sandero — and two light commercial vehicles: Dacia Logan van and Dacia Logan pick-up.

Dacia Sandero Stepway has inherited the strengths of Sandero, the compact hatchback that has sold more than 100,000 units since its launch in July 2008.

Dacia eco²

As part of Renault’s eco² initiative, every model in the Dacia range is available in a Dacia eco² version, with petrol, diesel, LPG and E85 engines emitting less than 140g/km of CO2. Logans and Sanderos powered by the dCi 70 and dCi 85 engines emit 120g/km of CO2.

The LPG powertrains were first launched in 2008 in Romania (Logan and Logan MCV) and Italy (Sandero, Logan MCV). They were rolled out in France in spring 2009 (Sandero first, then Logan) and will be offered shortly in Germany (Sandero, Logan MCV) and the Netherlands (Sandero) this autumn.

The development of the entry-level range, sold under the Dacia and Renault brands, is a key priority for the Renault group.

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