Australia Markets closed

This dirt-cheap SUV sells like crazy around the world -- but Americans can't have it

Matthew DeBord
Dacia Duster Frankfurt Auto Show 2017

At the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, Dacia pulled the cover off a new version of its wildly successful Duster compact SUV.

"With more than one million cars sold, [the] Dacia Duster has been given a facelift seven successful years after the model was first released," the Romanian automaker said in a statement (the company is owned by Renault, which is in turn allied globally with Nissan.)

"This iconic car has been renewed, with new styling, equipment, and a completely updated interior," the statement continued. "Meanwhile, Duster is as spacious as ever, boasting the same off-road ability and the same low price tag."

The Duster's success outside the US is understandable. It's a dirt cheap, highly capable little car. You can buy one for less than 10,000 Euros, or the equivalent of $12,000 USD. The Duster is bare-bones in nature, but it has always been lauded for its off-road capabilities (four-wheel-drive does add a few grand to the sticker).

Dacia Duster 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show

The new Duster will follow its ageing predecessor in offering two engines, a 1.5-litre diesel unit or a 1.2-litre gas motor. There is no automatic transmission.

And Americans will never see this vehicle, unless they travel to Europe or the Middle East or Russia. Subcompact "cute ute" SUVs are becoming more popular here, following the success of compact crossovers such as the Honda CR-V and the Nissan Rogue.

But the Duster represents a weird sort of formula: a cheap SUV that's actually not tiny. It's been speculated from time to time that Nissan could sell it in the US. But then the carmaker looks at the specs and the competitive landscape and concludes that it just wouldn't be worth it.

Still, a crazy success outside the land of the SUV. And now with an all-new look and the same tempting price. It goes on sale in 2018.