The ARO 10 was introduced to the Romanian nation back in 1979, when the country was under communist rule. It was the result of cooperation between the Automobil Românesc car company, which produced Soviet gas under license, and the Dacia car company, which in turn licensed some products of the French Renault in the second half of the 1960s.
The ARO 10 with connectable all-wheel drive thus received Dacia-built Renault engines and for the British market from 1985 also the trade name Dacia Duster 4 × 4. The choice of name was not just a coincidence, as customers there had already known the Dacia model under the name Dacia Denem since 1982 1300 (it was based on the Renault 12), so it was logical to bring another well-known Dacia to this market, and not the unknown ARO.
Interestingly, in the UK, the ARO 10 (ie Dacia Duster 4×4) was only sold with a manual four-wheel drive, and the only extra charge at the start was stereo audio for £100. As for parts, inside you could find components from the Dacia 1300, possibly simple cloth seats. Power steering, climate control or electric windows were just a dream.
With engines, the model globally started with a 1.3-liter unit, but it was later replaced by a 1.4-liter variant. However, the ARO 10 model also featured, for example, a 16-cylinder gasoline engine (Dacia, Daewoo) or a 19-cylinder Renault diesel. Other engines for the car were then installed by various importers, for example the Italian one.
A number of body styles were also available, including two-door, pick-up, open and utility models and the unique Spartan roadster. Later, even the SUPER variant appeared, which was just a modernized, more luxurious design.
At one time, the ARO 10 was rated as a simple all-terrain vehicle, but with weak engines and, above all, poor build quality, which everyone complained about, including the British. Similar to Oltcit or Dacia, the ARO 10 / Dacia Duster did not have much of a chance to compete with any Western cars, even if they were Land Rover-type vehicles.
Users also complained about lackluster engines, vehicle handling, road holding and gear shifting. All this created a negative aura for the first Duster/ten, which is why this model was not recommended for daily use. What you’d want from a car that accelerates from zero to hundred in 23 seconds with a 1.4 liter engine.
It was a slightly different song off-road, although even there the car caught criticism for its small wheels, low ground clearance and lack of power. On the other hand, the model was relatively cheap, so it offered an acceptable compromise in terms of price/performance, although we could talk about a vehicle for work or enthusiasts or undemanding users in Western markets. No sane Western off-roader could recommend the ARO 10 as a weekend ATV.
ARO 10 was also driven to Czechoslovakia, for the first time in 1988, but the post-revolutionary euphoria later sent it into oblivion. In the UK, this original Duster stuck around until 1993, however, still with a car sticker of dubious quality. After all, the fact that Dacia didn’t have many dealers in the West didn’t help the Ten/Duster either, yet it lasted in selected European markets almost until the end of the entire factory.
A few pieces of the ARO 10 were also sold in the Czech Republic, as an accredited importer – the AMC company – operated there and still operates there, which, however, has not had anything to import within the brand since 2006, when ARO was definitively dropped.
It would seem that the Duster also died with the demise of the ARO car company, however, the year 2009 and the premiere of the new Dacia Duster, which of course began to write a completely different chapter, should not have come.
Second time and better
At the end of 2009, a cheap SUV appeared, also available with all-wheel drive, which boasted the iconic name Duster. Few people remembered the original Duster à la ARO 10, so the Romanian automaker was not afraid to start writing a completely new chapter for Duster.
Although the Duster was cheap, sometimes even cheap, it very soon found a number of fans who wanted reasonable music for reasonable money. And because Dacia continued to walk in the footsteps of simplicity, the Duster quickly became a bestseller, which helped Dacia expand worldwide, even sometimes under the names Renault Duster or Nissan Terrano.
The magic of the modern Duster was the adoption of parts and already paid for technology, which enabled the automaker to also offer elements such as 4 × 4 drive (originally from Nissan), automatic transmission, blind spot monitoring or perhaps a starter card. Another strong argument of Dacia is the factory LPG drives, which is not only appealing to thrifty Czechs.
Compared to the original ARO 10, the current Duster did not acquire the aura of poor quality and unreliability, rather, on the contrary, it stands as a benchmark of a reasonable price/utility value ratio, which, however, has recently been undermined by Chinese brands, such as the MG ZS.
The current Duster also has fewer body options, but is richer in engines, transmissions and additional equipment. Its road characteristics are quite solid and it is definitely a suitable car for everyday use.
With the original Duster 4 × 4, the current Duster shares mainly off-road characteristics. Although in this respect, the modern model does not excel in any way, if only because it does not have a reduction, but instead a short one.
In short, the current production Duster with 4 × 4 drive is not a car that you would take for a hardcore off-road weekend, use it for a long time in mining mines or conquer the Carpathians with it. But to the forest, for hunting, to the mountains or simply where Haldex four-wheelers cannot? “Dusty” is like home there.
The second spiritual-common thing is affordability. However, with the coming electrification, the Romanian car company under the care of Renault will not have it easy at all, however, its management gave a clear opinion that the brand will continue in the footsteps of affordability. However, a large SUV is also planned, which could also be a problem for captured matadors such as the Škoda Kodiaq.
Same name, different worlds
Apart from reasonable off-road capabilities and affordability, the original ARO 10 / Dacia Duster 4×4 and the current Duster are two different cars. While the original was rather a vehicle, even a “shop”, the reborn Duster is simply a decent car for everyday life, even if it is full of plastics and cheap solutions.
We don’t want to compare the cars directly, that wouldn’t even be relevant considering their age, it’s just good to point out that the Dacia Duster 4 × 4 had a chance to shine once, but it killed its potential with an excess of negative features. Years later, Duster appeared again, again with a similar philosophy, but this time the manufacturer avoided fatal mistakes and success, unexpectedly for many, arrived.
Maybe even the modern Dacia Duster is laughed at today and considered to be the equivalent of the ARO 10, but in a few years the Romanian “dachna” may be one of the last automakers that will sell affordable cars with an internal combustion engine intended for ordinary people on the European market.
While getting a nice ARO 10 today is almost a miracle, especially in the original Duster 4 × 4 jacket, buying a current Duster is a matter of visiting the nearest Dacia dealership. There, the outgoing generation of the current Duster is sold from 400,000 crowns and above, while the upcoming third generation should start at a price of just over 460,000 crowns. It is a big leap, but it will still be one of the most affordable SUVs on the Czech market, that is, if it is not completely overtaken by expanding Chinese brands.
For the loan of the ARO 10 model, we thank the East Bohemian company AMC Automotive, which deals with the approval of various vehicles and their accessories, including the ARO and Dacia brands.