Dacia Sandero review
The Dacia Sandero is the UK's cheapest car but it's also spacious, economical and comfortable to drive
Dacia has established itself in the UK car market in double quick time. Under the guidance of parent company Renault, the Romanian brand has become well known for the low prices it offers on models like the Logan, the Duster and the one we feature here, the Sandero.
Like the other models in the line-up, the Dacia Sandero's strength is that there's more to it than a low price. The £6,000 going rate for the entry-level Sandero Access gets you a generously-sized supermini with a practical interior, big boot and low running costs.
Most buyers will find the Sandero Access a little Spartan for their requirements but things get a lot better equipment-wise if you step up to the Ambiance or Laureate derivatives. At these levels there's the option of replacing the overworked 1.2-litre petrol engine with a more modern 900cc turbocharged unit or the economical 1.5-litre dCi diesel. Dacia also offers a Sandero Stepway model with beefed-up, off-roader styling should the standards cars be a bit low-key for your tastes.
Our choice: Sandero 0.9 TCe Laureate
Dacia has adopted a no-nonsense approach with the Sandero’s styling it's not going to stand out from the crowd but neither will it offend anyone. Simple lines and an upright stance mean the five-door hatchback looks a little utilitarian alongside mainstream rivals.
Entry-level Access models have unpainted bumpers and exposed steel wheels, while the Ambience version adds body- coloured bumpers and plastic wheel trims. However, our range-topping Laureate gets some much-needed glamour courtesy of 15-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured door mirrors, a chrome grille and front foglamps.
Climb aboard and the Sandero’s bargain- basement roots are clear to see. Hard plastics are used throughout, plus there’s plenty of hand-me-down Renault switchgear. Still, the dashboard is logically laid-out and the cabin feels well constructed. And with a height-adjustable seat and steering wheel, most drivers will be able to get comfortable.
The cheapest versions of the Sandero are sparsely equipped, but the Laureate gets loads of big car kit, including a leather-trimmed steering wheel, air-conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth and a trip computer. It also benefits from flashes of metal-effect trim, which create a brighter, more upmarket atmosphere. Better still, Dacia’s touchscreen sat-nav can be added for just £250 extra.
Much of the technology in the Dacia Sandero can be traced back to the mkII Renault Clio and as a result, the Sandero feels a little old-fashioned to drive.
The steering is heavy at low speeds and suffers from kickback over mid-corner bumps, while a very soft suspension set-up causes the Dacia to roll and lurch through sharp bends.
Yet the trade-off for the imprecise handling is a reasonably comfortable ride: the Sandero soaks up potholes and bumps very well. There’s plenty of grip and the car’s safe, predictable behaviour means no nasty surprises at the wheel.
The star of the show is the Sandero’s eager 900cc three-cylinder petrol engine. Developing an impressive 135Nm of torque at just 2,500rpm, it completed the 50-70mph sprint in fifth gear in 12.4 seconds.
In the real world, this car has no trouble keeping up with fast-flowing traffic, and it powers up motorway inclines that would leave its breathless rivals trailing. The only fly in the ointment is the occasionally jerky low-speed throttle response, but this is a small price to pay for such keen performance on the open road.
Although Dacia is a relative newcomer to the UK, all its cars use tried-and-tested Renault mechanicals. The Sandero’s 900cc petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engines are shared with the latest Clio, as is the five-speed manual gearbox – there’s no automatic available.
Dacia says 90 per cent of its customers are first-time new car buyers, and the Sandero’s durability is likely to be a vast improvement over any second-hand alternative.
There’s also a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which includes roadside recovery. That can be extended to five years/60,000 miles for £395, or seven years/100,000 miles for £850. Despite its budget roots, the Sandero comes with a respectable haul of safety kit. All versions get four airbags, stability control and Isofix child seat fittings, while Euro NCAP awarded the car a four-star crash test score.
Available only as a five-door, the Sandero majors on practicality. The 320-litre boot, which expands to 1,200 litres with the rear seats folded flat, is one of the biggest in its class and around 50 litres bigger than that of the latest Renault Clio.
However, despite its larger external dimensions, the Sandero offers no more space for rear seat passengers than a Hyundai i10 or Kia Picanto – although the Dacia does get a trio of seatbelts in the back.
Still, the interior features some family-friendly touches, including big door bins, while the Laureate also gets map pockets on the back of the front seats. The £245 Touring pack adds floor mats, a centre armrest for the front seats and practical roof bars.
It’s no surprise to find the Sandero is cheap to run, given Dacia’s budget philosophy. Over the course of our test of the 0.9 TCE model, we returned a reasonable 36.6mpg fuel economy. And while the Sandero doesn’t benefit from efficiency-boosting stop-start technology, it emits just 116g/km of CO2.
Further financial incentives include a £489 servicing pack that takes care of mechanical maintenance for three years (up to 36,000 miles), plus decent residual values. Lower-spec Dacias perform best at resale, with some holding on to 50 per cent of their new price after three years. The Laureate version is predicted to retain 44.3 per cent.