How the Dacia Duster keeps the lid on our new Price Age
Dacia offers few frills but great value
I don't like the way our acceptance levels on prices have risen these past 18 months or so. Just because there is a so-called turnaround - ask people from around the country about that - it doesn't mean we start paying through the nose for things again. And don't mention insurance.
I'm talking about the way it seems to have seeped into our consciousness that because things are 'better' generally, then everything else should cost more.
It's a process of commercialism, of course, based on the premise that the price should be whatever the market will take.
But it annoys me when I hear people say things like: "You won't get much for a tenner now." Or (when it comes to cars): "You won't get much for €20,000 these days." I completely disagree. If you look around hard and long enough, you will.
Indeed, according to a recent SIMI quarterly report, the average price of a new car was 3pc lower last June than a year earlier. And since 2008, the average price of a new car has declined by 25pc, it says.
On the face of it, you could be forgiven for thinking I'm building up to having a right go at Dacia here because the car I'm reviewing this week - the Prestige version of their family crossover Duster - costs more than €21,000. What about their 'shockingly affordable' bargain basement pricing?
But don't jump to conclusions yet.
The Duster, as you probably know, has been on the market here for the best part of four years. Described as a rival for the Nissan Qashqai at Nissan Micra prices, it had few frills and a lot of it comprised hand-me-down elements from the Renault/Nissan alliance. Still does. Tried and tested, yes, but some of them were/are quite old fashioned.
However, the timing was perfect as the Duster arrived at a juncture when so many people were on their knees financially.
The big attraction was you could get a 'new car' with a three-year warranty for the price of a good second-hand motor (€16,000 or so).
No wonder more than 5,000 Dusters have been bought since (11,000 Dacias in total in that period). And they are selling up a storm this year, too.
That just goes to show how people still want/need value - lots of them can't afford to spend or borrow €25,000/€30,000 on, or for, a new car.
Okay, the Dusters have not been palaces on wheels but they have had a reasonable offering of basic equipment from the get-go (some sold in the UK reputedly didn't even have a radio - now that's crazy). Over the years they've added bits and pieces; nothing too big or flashy but enough to keep pace. Prices have gone up a bit but nothing much either.
The cabin still uses a lot of plastic and I would not be raving about the fairly challenging binnacle that overhangs the instrument panel. But the interior was solidly comfortable and had good room.
One of the more important step-ups has been an improvement in the gear-change (6spd manual).
And now they have this top-of-range Prestige version with 4x4, which gets some fairly impressive additional spec, especially in the 'connected' arena.
I still think the entry-level version at under €17,000 is its true home territory - but this Prestige model shows what can be put together for first-floor (€21,000), as opposed to bargain-basement, prices.
I'm not aware of too many cars of this size that give you 4x4 and decent spec for that sort of money. Most people don't really need 4x4 (the vast majority will be grand with 4x2) but, if you do, this works well. I didn't bother going off-road but with some slippery, wet roads I'm always happy to avail of the additional traction (which kicks in automatically).
I did not like the idea of the roof rails proclaiming 'Duster' - slightly garish I felt, and I'd do something about them if I were to buy one. There was also a bit of road/tyre noise in the cabin.
But the thing that annoyed me most, believe it or not, was the poor/awkward room for my left foot to the side of the accelerator. It was uncomfortable.
There is a decent boot and, of course, the diesel engine, renowned in Nissan/Renaults for so long now, pulled away solidly. Great machine.
The thing with the Duster - and I suppose Dacia in general - is you either buy into the 'Aldi/Lidl mindset' or you don't. With a few caveats, I do - for one major reason: it dispels the notion that you won't get much for €20,000 these days.
Rubbish. You'll get a 4x4 crossover with a lot of stuff you'll pay a lot more for elsewhere.
Facts & figures
Dacia Duster 'Prestige' 4x4 1.5dCi (1,461cc) compact family crossover; 110bhp (123g/km, €270 road tax).
Duster prices from €16,690. Prestige version tested: €21,890. Spec on 'Prestige' includes: air con, DAB radio, 16ins diamond-cut alloys, MediaNav Evolution system (compatible with Apple's Siri voice recognition function), rear-parking camera, parking sensors, 7ins multimedia touchscreen gives access to satnav, infotainment, hands-free phone and Bluetooth.