9 December 2009 | Source: Graeme Roberts
Renault's Romanian unit Dacia has revived the Duster badge for a new four-wheel-drive SUV which will be built at its main Pitesti plant and soon (alongside the Logan, Sandero and Sandero Stepway) in Curitiba, Brazil, for distribution in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Chile. The Duster will later be manufactured at the Avtoframos plant in Moscow, too.
The original Duster 4x4, launched in 1979 after collaboration between ARO (who had built SovietGAZ 4x4s under licence in Romania since 1964) and Dacia (who had close links with Renault and had been building some of the French company's products under licence since 1966), used Dacia-built Renault engines and was sold in most European countries as the ARO 10 but was launched here in the UK as the Dacia Duster in 1985. Britain was already familiar with the Dacia Denem, a licence-built Renault 12 introduced in 1982, according to 4x4 enthusiasts' website difflock.com.
The latest Duster follows on from the 'new Dacia's' successful Logan, MCV wagon, van and pickup and Sandero hatchback models already built in several countries and sold in many.
Dacia describes the Duster as "a tough, reliable, easy-to-use 4x4, aimed at motorists looking for an everyday car with real off-road ability".
Two-wheel drive diesel versions will emit less than 140g CO2/km, making them eligible for the automaker's eco² environment-friendly sub branding (shared with parent Renault), while the 4WD diesel models will emit less than 150g CO2/km.
The two- and four-wheel drive versions for European, Turkish and Maghreb markets will be built at Pitesti and sales begin next spring.
Dacia said the Duster eventually will be sold world-wide, badged as either a Renault or a Dacia, as was the case with the earlier Logan and Sandero.
"The Duster project was born out of the simple premise that a real need existed in the world for an affordable, comfortable and rugged 4x4, a class which is currently not well served," the automaker said.
"Aware of this gap, the Renault group decided to develop an all-terrain vehicle aimed initially at emerging markets. The needs of European customers were also taken into account from the project outset."
According to Dacia, the middle classes in emerging markets (eg Russia, Brazil), aspire to owning a modern car that reflects their social status. At the same time, they want a strong car that is reliable, versatile and capable of standing up to climatic demands and conditions that can be both tough and varied (long distances, difficult terrain, use in large built-up areas).
"The current offer is largely dominated by imported SUVs, which are often priced beyond the means of these middle classes," Dacis said.
The Dacia brand's success has highlighted the demand for modern, reliable and affordable cars, the automaker added.
"Although the current range of 4x4s and SUVs is quite extensive, it neglects the call for a functional, affordable all-terrain vehicle, favouring instead SUVs that are expensive and often ill-suited to the needs of off-road driving."
With prominent chrome grille and sump guard the Duster has the required 4x4 image of ruggedness and high ground clearance, wide wheel arches and body protection should add to the showroom appeal.
But, at 4.31m long and 1.82m wide it is quite compact (Parent Renault's Koleos is 4.5m long; Toyota's RAV4 4.32m long and 1.86m wide; the east European-builtKia Sportage 4.45m x 1.8m) so should be well suited to urban use in narrow European streets.
All markets will be offered both two-wheel drive (for customers looking for good ground clearance and a high driving position, without the need for 4WD, Dacia said) and with 4x4 transmission for those who do want to go off-road.
Dacia said the Duster's strengthened undercarriage is suitable for dirt roads and all-terrain use thanks to its high ground clearance (over 200mm) and generous clearance angles (approach: 30 degrees; departure: over 35 degrees).
Unladed weight is 1,180kg (2WD) and 1,280kg (4WD). The 4WD versions borrow their centre consoledriveline switch from Renault alliance partner Nissan and there is a choice of auto mode where the front/reartorque split is calculated automatically as a function of available grip; lock mode where half the torque is consistently fed through the rear axle for low grip conditions (snow, mud, dirt, sand) at low speeds; and 2WD for driving on good roads and reduced fuel consumption.
Dacia claims that, though the five-seat Duster will be priced comparable with a city car, its exterior and interior dimensions are closer to those of a compact car from the segment above. Interior space matches the sister Logan model.
Engine choices are as simple as for other Dacia models - Renault 1.6 16V 110hp petrol or 85hp or 105hp dCi diesel power. Some time ago, just-auto sampled a Logan MCV wagon with the 1.5dCI engine and found performance and refinement more than satisfactory given the model line's price and positioning.
Safety equipment includes Bosch 8.1 ABS, as well as EBV electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist. Most markets will get the Duster standard with two front airbags and three-point seat belts with load limiters for the front seats.
Depending on version, two lateral head/thorax airbags are also fitted as are pyrotechnic pretensioners for the front seats.
The Duster will be sold with a three-year/100,000km (60,000-mile) warranty in most European markets.
It will be launched first in Europe, Turkey and the Maghreb region (Algeria, Morocco) to round off the Dacia model line, which is expanding in most of those markets.
From June 2010, the new SUV will also be available in Ukraine, the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon) and in some African countries badged as a Renault.
The Pitesti factory will supply all these markets with both Dacia- and Renault- badged versions. The Romanian plant has an annual production capacity of 350,000 vehicles and will continue to produce the brand's other models.
Sales in other parts of the world start in 2011. This will include the Gulf States, a staple market for Japan's SUVs.