After years of indecision within Dacia, the Sandero is finally coming to these shores and it promises to change the rules of car buying - or at least take them back to simpler times.
By Matt Kimberley
The buying process will be easy. The price is the price for a start, so it avoids the uncomfortable fiscal duel that is haggling. And every Dacia cuts out the unnecessary pomp that you don’t really need, like soft-touch dashboards and leather trim. If you just want an affordable new car, Dacia is a brand you’ll love.
Until now there hasn’t been a business case for building the Sandero and its platform-sharing soft-roader sibling, the Sandero Stepway, in right-hand drive, but after much success on the continent the time is ripe for us to learn what all the fuss is about.
Dacia is owned by the Renault group, which in turn is part of a technology-sharing alliance with Nissan. It’s the firm’s value brand, placing price and reliability as top priorities. The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand, you might think, but the vast majority of every Dacia is tried and tested old Renault bits, from which the bugs have been ironed out. As such Dacias are apparently among the most reliable cars in Europe.
Take the Sandero. Its chassis is a mixture of front end bits from the Dacia Lodgy, the rear axle of the Renault Kangoo and scattered bits of the third generation Renault Clio. It’s a sizeable thing and this is what Dacia is all about: offering maximum car for minimum money.
The boot alone is enough to summarise the Sandero. The old-fashioned bare metal button catch release button pushes deep into the surface of the tailgate and will suffer after a while on salty British winter roads, but the boot itself is huge; much bigger than you would expect from a car costing A-segment car money. The available space is on the large side even for a B-segment car, which is a perfect example of the value for money that the Sandero represents.
Likewise the panel gaps aren’t always consistent, but when was the last time you actually checked the panel gaps on a car? If it’s ‘ever’, you’re either a motor journalist, a car designer or just badly in need of a hobby. Basically the Sandero is a no-frills, simple car.
The inside is relatively plain, utilitarian and practical, but not unpleasant at all. The high-end models, for which you’ll still only pay less than £9,000, have a little more decoration but the gargantuan glove box and storage bins in the cabin remain, including a large one on top of the dashboard. Day to day the Sandero is one of the most sensible cars you can buy.
Its seats are comfortable; not as hard as a typical German car’s but not as soft as some French ones can get, its air movement controls are easy to use with clear markings, and the driving position is within a reasonable range for a lot of people, albeit without steering wheel reach adjustment. Those longer of arm and shorter of leg will be most comfortable, but it’s fine.
There are three engines on offer, from a basic 1.2-litre petrol to an advanced and nicely gutsy 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol and a 1.5-litre diesel. The turbocharged petrol is undoubtedly the sweetest of the three but the ordinary 1.2 offers a good entry point. The 89bhp diesel achieves 99g/km of CO2, making it the cheapest sub-100g/km car on sale in the UK.
The diesel does suffer a little from vibration under acceleration in the fourth and fifth of the five ratios, but it’s not enough to put you off. The maths point inevitably to the 1.2 petrol being the cheapest to own over a few years of below-average mileage, but if like the majority of European Dacia owners you plan to keep a car for six or seven years before changing, the turbocharged model will be a better car to own and, with cheaper road tax and better fuel economy, potentially cheaper over its lifetime.
Chassis dynamics are things that no Sandero buyer is going to be overly concerned with, but fortunately the car steers, stops, rides and cruises perfectly well. The ride is a little bouncy at times but that’s not unusual in cars costing double the Sandero’s price, so it’s entirely forgivable.
This is a sensible car for a sensible price that will get the job done for a much lower outlay than other cars of its size. On the other hand, it offers much, much more space and practicality than other cars in its price bracket. Whichever way you look at it, the Sandero is going to turn heads.
Facts at a glance
Model: Dacia Sandero 0.9 TCe Laureate, £8,795 on the road.
Engine: 0.9-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine producing 89bhp.
Transmission: 5-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.
Performance: Top speed 109mph, 0-62mph in 11.1 seconds.
Fuel economy: 54.3mpg.
CO2 rating: 120g/km.