Dacia Sandero review
The Dacia Sandero is immensely likeable and good value, but it feels basic and dated compared to mainstream supermini rivals
The Dacia Sandero has the dubious honour of being Britain's cheapest new car, but don't let that put you off. It ticks a lot of the boxes that buyers are looking for these days, including a spacious interior, low running costs and proven mechanicals from a big-name manufacturer.
Dacia is owned by French manufacturer Renault, so it’s no surprise to find the Sandero can trace its roots back to the second generation Clio, which made its debut in 1998. Yet while that means the five-door only Sandero feels a little old-fashioned to drive, it uses some of the latest Renault engines so all but the entry-level car feel surprisingly sprightly to drive.
When it comes to its external dimensions and interior space the Dacia rivals traditional supermini models such as the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 208. But when it comes to price the Sandero actually undercuts much smaller city cars, including the Skoda Citigo and Citroen C1.
There are three trim levels to choose from – Access, Ambiance and Laureate. The entry-level Access is eye-catchingly priced from just £5,995, but it comes very sparsely equipped – you’ll have to pay extra for a radio, there are steel wheels at each corner, plastic bumpers and wind-up windows.
For most buyers the Ambiance and Laureate models will be a better bet, as they include useful kit such as central locking, electric windows and a Bluetooth and USB equipped stereo. The flagship Laureate adds air-conditioning, cruise control, alloy wheels and electrically adjustable door mirrors to this tally.
The engine line-up is also something of a mixed bag. The entry-level 74bhp 1.2-litre petrol is a sluggish and breathless performer, but both the 89bhp 0.9-litre TCe petrol and 89bhp 1.5 dCi diesel units deliver surprisingly muscular performance and decent refinement, with the diesel returning impressive economy and emissions of 74.3mpg and 99g/km.
Yet even these engines fail to deliver any excitement to the Dacia driving experience. A soft suspension set-up and 17-year-old underpinnings mean the Sandero is geared towards comfort rather than driving fun. Yet at these prices it’s easy to forgive the Dacia it flaws, as it delivers a new car feel and three-year warranty for the price of a secondhand supermini.
Our choice: Sandero 0.9 TCe Laureate
Dacia prides itself on placing function over form, so it’s no surprise to find that the Sandero's styling is more high street than high fashion. The car’s simple lines and an upright stance give it a utilitarian look – few cars deliver such an obvious anti-fashion statement. To cut costs you'll notice that the Sandero shares many body panels, such as the front doors, with the Duster and Logan.
This no nonsense approach is particularly obvious on the entry-level Access, which gets unpainted plastic bumpers, simple steel wheels and, well, not much else. It’s not exactly glamorous, but there’s no denying the car has a rugged charm.
The mid-range Ambience model looks a little less basic thanks to its colour-coded bumpers and plastic wheel trims, while the range-topping Laureate gets a dab of style courtesy of a chrome front grille, 15-inch alloy wheels and front fog lights.
The Dacia Sandero's budget roots are clear to see once you climb aboard, with the entry-level Access going without a radio or electric windows. The Ambiance feels a little less spartan, thanks to its standard fit radio, Bluetooth hands free phone connection, electric front windows and flashes of chrome trim
If you can’t live without the latest in-car gadgets, then the flagship Laureate should be just the ticket, thanks to a kit list that includes a leather-trimmed steering wheel, air-conditioning and cruise control as standard. You can also add Dacia's intuitive touch screen sat-nav can also be added for £300, while leather seat trim is another £600.
Yet whatever trim you settle on, you’ll have to contend with same cheap and flimsy feeling plastics, plus the hand-me-down Renault switchgear.
Despite standard power assistance, the Sandero's steering is heavy at low speeds and it suffers from kickback over mid-corner bumps. A very soft suspension also means the Dacia rolls and lurch through sharp bends – although the car never feels anything other than safe and predictable.
The trade-off for the slightly sloppy handling is a comfortable ride, as the supple, long travel suspension takes most bumps in its stride.
When it comes to the engine line-up, entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine is best avoided - it sounds harsh and feels breathless on the move, plus it struggles a little to keep up with fast-flowing traffic.
That’s not a complaint that can be leveled at the 89bhp 0.9-litre TCe engine. The turbocharged three-cylinder engine made its debut in the latest Renault Clio and delivers smooth and eager acceleration. Only its slightly jerky low speed response blots an otherwise clean copybook.
The 1.5-litre dCi is a little more intrusive, especially at idle, but it feels just as sprightly on the road. It feels particularly eager when overtaking, thanks in no small part to its muscular 220Nm torque output.
All models get the same notchy five-speed manual transmission as standard – there’s no automatic option.
Despite having only been on sale in the UK since 2012, Dacia's cars use proven Renault mechanical parts, so they should be relatively drama free.
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.
Even better, Dacia finished an impressive fifth place overall in our 2014 Driver Power satisfaction survey. As you’d expect, owners praised the brand’s cars low running costs, but they commented favourably on the models’ build quality and reliability.
Dacia gives the Sandero a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which includes roadside recovery. For around £400, this can be extended to five years/60,000 miles, or about £850 for seven years/100,000 miles.
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. However, Euro NCAP awarded the car a four-star crash test score, which isn't the best when the maximum five-star score is the general standard for most modern superminis.
A significant trump card that the Dacia Sandero has is that it's very practical. It has a 320-litre boot and when its rear seats are folded flat, this improves to 1,200-litres. This makes it one of the biggest boots in the supermini class. In fact, it rivals some compact family hatchback models for carrying capacity.
The rest of the cabin is equally spacious, and it has similarly priced city car rivals beaten for head and legroom, particularly for rear seat passengers. It’s also possible to squeeze three adults across the rear bench, which benefits from a trio of three-point seat belts.
Like the rest of the Dacia Sandero, its interior has a simple, no-nonsense appeal, but if you look closely you'll see it features handy touches, such as big door bins, number of cupholders and some handy trinket trays. The Laureate model features map-pockets, too.
You can also specify the optional £280 Touring pack that adds a front centre armrest, a luggage net and handy roof bars. Also on offer is the £225 Protection Pack, which includes a wipe-clean boot liner and rear parking sensors.
Dacia's budget principles have ensured that the Sandero is quite easy on the wallet.
The 0.9-litre TCe will manage 56.5mpg and emits 116g/km of CO2. The 1.5-litre diesel unit is the most frugal powerplant in the range thanks to a claimed 74.3mpg fuel return and CO2 emissions 99g/km, which means you won’t pay a penny for an annual tax disc.
The only relatively weak engine is the 1.2-litre petrol, which is pretty lifeless and can only manage 48.7mpg with CO2 emissions of 135g/km. When you compare this to the ultra efficient and punchy 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine in the Ford Fiesta, it seems pretty poor.
Further financial incentives include servicing pack that takes care of mechanical maintenance for three years and 36,000 miles for a one-off payment of £500.
The Dacia Sandero also has 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.