Renault unveiled the Duster Commercial, the first light commercial vehicle from its factory-owned budget brand Dacia, at the Commercial Vehicle Show in April.
In fact, the French manufacturer dedicated a whole stand to promoting the 4WD newcomer, which is based on the Dacia Duster compact SUV that it introduced in 2013.
Dacia made it pretty clear where it is positioning the Duster Commercial by launching it with the strapline: “You do the maths,” and employing the services of TV personality and mathematician Rachel Riley to extol the vehicle’s frugal virtues at the NEC event.
Andy Heiron, Dacia brand manager in the UK, readily admits value for money is a key selling point for the Duster Commercial but insists: “We don’t like the C-word,” by which he means cheap.
He says the commercial variant was created at the specific request of Dacia UK and Dacia Ireland.
“Having previously considered local adaptations, the shift of production location to Europe gave us the opportunity to have an N1-homologated product direct from the factory,” he explains.
The Duster Commercial models are produced at the Pitesti plant in Romania.
While conceding “price is the hook,” Heiron says customers will benefit from more than a purchase that goes light on the wallet.
“Owners and drivers will benefit from a practical and functional vehicle that can be serviced and maintained in our network of (150 UK) dealers and service outlets.”
The Duster Commercial line-up is powered solely by a 1.5-litre 107hp dCi 110 diesel engine that hits peak torque of 240Nm at 1750rpm and comes in two trim levels: Ambiance and Laureate and in 4x2 and 4x4 drive formats. Heiron said 4x2s will take two thirds of sales.
Official economy figures are 56.5mpg with CO2 of 130g/km for the 4x2, and 54.3mpg and 137g/ km for the 4x4. Prices for the four- model line-up go from £9595 for the Ambiance 4x2 to £12,545 for the Laureate 4x4, all excluding VAT.
In between these two the Ambiance 4x4 costs £11,295 and the 2WD Laureate costs £10,845.
The 4x2 has a load volume of 1.15m3 while the 4x4’s capacity drops to 1.0m3. Both have a payload of 550kg and a flat, false cargo deck replacing the rear seats that stretches to 1400mm and measures 1000mm between the wheel arches.
In terms of its price and specification, Heiron reckons the Duster Commercial will compete with the Ssangyong Korando CS and CSX.
The Korando CS is priced £12,995, has an inferior payload capacity of 433kg but a bigger load volume of 1.3m3. The 4WD CSX shares these dimensions but is priced at £14,295. Both derivatives of the Korando have a load length 1525mm that stretches to a 965mm width between the wheel arches. The Ssangyong models are less economical than the Dacias with the Korando CS achieving an official 47.1mpg while emitting 147g/CO2 and the CSX posting 45.6mpg and 157g/CO2.
Heiron expects sales to be in “the hundreds rather than the thousands” for the Commercial Duster that he describes as a “half-tonne toolbox”, but claims it will appeal to local and regional businesses while the low price tag will attract interest from charities, he reckons. He says the availability of all-wheel drive will open the model up to landscape gardeners, ground maintenance staff, farmers and forestry, power and communications companies.
“Think of anything that involves a field,” Heiron advises.
Standard kit on all Duster Commercial models includes roof bars, a chrome grille, a toughened plastic floor with two anchorage points, electric front windows, a four-speaker radio/ CD player with MP3 compatibility, Bluetooth, aux and USB sockets,
the mandatory ABS with emergency brake assist, electronic stability control and traction control, and four airbags.
We drove the higher specification Laureate in 4x4 mode and this trim level brings with it an impressive wealth of kit for a budget model, including alloy wheels, satin chrome roof bars, side sills and scuff plates, black interior detailing, black door sill protectors, a seven-function trip computer, heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors, leather steering wheel and more usefully, cruise control with a speed limiter and air conditioning. All-wheel-drive versions have a centre differential lock with selectable 2WD, AUTO and LOCK modes, which are simple to select from a central dial.
The Commercial version of the Duster is an attractive, curvaceous vehicle with a powerful nose featuring a chrome front grille with two layers of intakes surrounding the Dacia logo, and neat and tidy rear with Duster branding above the number plate and, in our 4x4 test vehicle, the 4WD designation to the inside of the rear offside tail light.
The body sits proud and high on its 16–inch alloys and from the outside looks exactly like the passenger-carrying SUV it is based on.
The vehicle makes a good first impression because it immediately strikes you as carrying a decent level of equipment for its modest price tag – especially when compared to other LCVs rather than the car sector from which it has emerged.
Dacia’s description of the Duster as “shockingly affordable” is somewhat betrayed by the slightly flimsy feel to the doors when you get into the cabin and you may have misgivings about the durability of the fixtures and fittings over a longer period of time.
Once on the road however, the Duster Commercial quickly endears itself as a civilised and well-mannered model to drive.
The steering is light but precise rather than skittish and the six manual gears are well-spaced and easy to engage making for relaxing progress around busy city streets.
When you break out onto a faster stretch of road though the engine does tend to rev highly and squeal disapprovingly as you work up through the changes. Once in top gear, however, and the Duster bowls along contentedly enough.
Its serene progress is helped by the cruise control, standard on Laureate, which can be operated simply by controls mounted on the steering column and comes with a speed limiter that can be activated to stay within legal speed limits or to improve economy.
Also useful, but included on our vehicle as a £250 option rather than as a standard fit, is the Media Nav system. Easily operated by a touch screen, the voiced instruction cuts in and mutes the radio or audio, which can be annoying, but at least you can hear the directions loud and clear, which is lucky because the screen is positioned too low to look at safely while driving.
In cab storage facilities are adequate but more befitting a car than what you might expect in a van. The door bins are not big enough to hold a litre water bottle and the twin cup holders are small and awkwardly squashed in underneath the dashboard making it difficult to get your drink out without spilling it.
Ipod connectivity is included on all Duster versions and the sound system is good but vans of 6Music and other digital stations will have to do without because DAB radio is not an option.
The load bay is Tardis-like in that it seems to be more capacious from inside than would appear possible from outside, but there does seem to be a good deal of redundant space underneath the load floor. On the other hand there is a handy amount of room behind the seats to discreetly stow away tools or briefcases.
Duster Commercial 4x4 models get a spare wheel as standard – if you want one in a 4x2 it’ll set you back £150. A useful feature that has to be paid for on all Duster Commercials is a full mesh bulkhead for £300 to protect the cab from items in the cargo bay that may go astray.
The load area can only be accessed by the rear tailgate because, unlike in other commercial conversions of passenger cars, the car style rear doors do not open.
We averaged 42.1mpg when driving the Duster Commercial for several days over a variety of routes covering city streets, motorways, A roads and country lanes and found it coped comfortably in all environments.
The Duster Commercial is not designed as an LCV but will suit some particular requirements and has more going for it than a modest price tag.
Dacia Duster Commercial Laureate dCi 110 4x4
Price (ex VAT) £12, 545
Price range (ex VAT) £9,595 – 12,545
Insurance group 1A
Service Intervals 12,000mls
Load length 1400mm
Load width 1000mm
Load bay height
Gross payload 550kg
Load volume 1.0m3
Engine size/power 1461cc/107hp
On sale June 2015
Combined fuel economy 54.3mpg