While the ‘budget brands’ have proliferated over the years, they have flitted between East European rubbish and Russian Fiats, writes Iain Robertson, selling customarily to buyers not really interested in motorcars, other than as a means to a transport end, while some have been refined, many have simply disappeared, never to be seen again.
Common brands like Lada and Polski Fiat (Polonez) kept commie home fires burning for several years, preceded by the likes of Wartburg and Moskvitch, while Skoda came good with Volkswagen funding, followed not long afterwards by Dacia, with Renault. There was an exception to the rule with Proton but ‘funny money’ in the Far East sealed its fate. Of course, there are others such as Ssangyong, Perodua and even Daihatsu but none has enjoyed the success of either Skoda, or Dacia, even though the latter has a desperate whiff of Fiat protectionism about it, a factor that has held its retail values at a low pegging order.
While Skoda’s repute has grown inexorably in the opposite direction, Dacia continues to major on affordable list prices and value for money. It has been a fraught balancing act to maintain. Yet, it is reflected in the brand’s consistent sales performance, which ensures its popularity. However, the sales formula is much the same as Fiat expounded with each of its Communist Party partners around Europe and South America. The Agnelli family that owned Fiat knew how to exercise its political beliefs, even though most of theirs were strictly capitalist, yet they gave them entree and developed Fiat’s overseas’ interests. Renault could not have had a better teacher.
Yet, Renault is balancing on a razor-blade, with the introduction of an upmarket version of the much-loved Duster SUV. While £17,495 looks like conspicuously good value, it is for the base engine and gearbox, without four-wheel drive. It is a game that Dacia plays across its model range, which means that were you to seek out an entry-level Dacia, it would be all but impossible to secure…and, yes, you would have to wait weeks, perhaps months, for that model to be made. The all-singing-and-dancing Duster in Extreme SE form weighs in at £21,645 powered by the 115bhp TDi engine driving all four wheels…the 150bhp petrol but only 2WD is £800 less. While it does not seem like a major step upwards, making the jump from base to top dog still demands a 25% additional spend and, when buying into a budget brand, stretching the investment is not always the most desirable aspect. However, better trim equates to a more compelling sales proposition, so go figure.
Thus, while attracting interest with a lower list price, you can reckon that Dacia dealers will carry greater stocks of the all-singing versions, as they are likely to be more in demand. Based on the popular top-of-the-range Prestige trim level, the new special edition adds exclusive design cues and fresh features to the UK’s least expensive family SUV. Available to order from next month, the Duster Extreme SE debuts with distinctive styling additions to the model’s already bold exterior and moderately spacious interior, including 17.0-inch diameter black alloy wheels and classy new Urban Grey paint.
As well as this modern new shade, the Duster Extreme SE is available in seven other colours, all of which are complemented by door mirrors, grille and roof bars finished in Grey Quartz with orange detailing. The tailgate trim with ‘Duster’ inscription is a combination of black and satin chrome. The theme continues inside, with orange featuring on the satin chrome air vent surrounds, a charcoal grey centre console surround, and the piano black inserts in the front door panels. There’s also orange stitching on the seats. Standard equipment includes automatic air conditioning, keyless entry, multi-view camera, blind spot warning, heated seats, acoustic windshield, and the Media Nav infotainment system with 8.0-inch touchscreen, wireless smartphone mirroring and satellite navigation.
Conclusion: My early antipathy towards Dacia is being balanced by some very positive consumer reports. As disabled transport, some models in the line-up are better suited than others. The Duster is by far the most practical of them all and actually looks great too.