Dacia Sandero Stepway review
The Dacia Sandero Stepway is a great-value alternative to the Nissan Juke, with raised suspension and rugged cladding
Despite being a newcomer to the UK, budget brand Dacia has already had a big impact. From the headline-grabbing £5,995 Sandero supermini to the award-winning Duster SUV, the maker has given mainstream rivals real food for thought. And the latest item on the menu is the Sandero Stepway, which combines the value for money and low running costs of the standard Sandero with the rugged looks of an off-roader. However, the company’s low-cost values haven’t been forgotten, because even in range-topping Laureate guise the Stepway costs just £10,795, yet comes packed with plenty of standard kit. And like the standard Sandero, there’s a choice of eager 900cc turbocharged petrol or frugal 1.5-litre diesel engines, both of which are provided by
parent company Renault.
Our choice: Sandero Stepway 1.5 DCi Ambiance
With its simple lines and upright stance, the utilitarian Sandero is the perfect candidate for an SUV-inspired makeover. Chunky plastic cladding for the wheelarches and sills, some substantial satin chrome roof bars and a 40mm increase in ride height mark the Stepway out from the standard car. And while it doesn’t look quite as purposeful as the Panda Trekking, the Dacia has a more upmarket feel than the basic Sandero hatch. Unlike the Sandero, there’s no stripped-out Access version with unpainted bumpers and steel wheels. That means both the Ambiance and our Laureate test car benefit from body- colour door mirrors and bumpers, front foglights and neat plastic wheel trims that are easily mistaken for expensive alloys. Inside, the Stepway is virtually indistinguishable from the Sandero. So you get the same logical dashboard layout, hard plastics and plenty of Renault-sourced switchgear. The Dacia’s cabin is not as stylish and neatly finished as the Fiat’s, but it feels robustly built and boasts a surprisingly comfortable driving position. Ambiance versions feel spartan inside, despite getting Bluetooth connectivity, electric windows and remote locking. However, the Laureate is more generously equipped, with air-conditioning, sat-nav, cruise control, a trip computer and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Budget origins mean the Stepway feels a little old-fashioned on the move. Yet it’s far from outclassed, as the jacked-up suspension does a good job of soaking up bumps and the 1.5-litre dCi is eager – although it trailed the petrol Fiat in our performance tests. As you’d expect, there’s lots of body roll in corners, but the Stepway grips well, clinging on where the Panda slides. Plus, the raised ride height provides a better view of the road, the standard five-speed gearbox is reasonably precise and the pedals are better placed than those in the Panda, which are offset. It’s not all good news, though. The electrically assisted steering is heavy at low speeds and provides virtually no feedback, while the four-cylinder diesel sends rough vibrations through the cabin at idle. There’s also a harsh booming noise that occasionally resonates through the interior at motorway speeds. And despite tough looks, the Sandero has limited off-road ability. All-season tyres give a little extra grip in slippery conditions and the raised suspension delivers extra ground clearance, but there are no clever traction control tweaks like in the Fiat.
Although the Dacia brand is a relative newcomer to the UK, the mechanicals have been proven in Renault models. The 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 option. Dacia says 90 per cent of its customers will be first-time new car buyers, meaning the Stepway’s potential 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 package can be extended to five years and 60,000 miles for £395, or to seven years and 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 the regular Sandero was awarded four stars in Euro NCAP crash tests – and the structurally identical Stepway is likely to set a similar standard.
Given its larger exterior dimensions, it’s no surprise to find the Stepway is more practical than the Fiat. There’s little to separate the two for rear seat space, with adequate legroom and plenty of headroom. But the Dacia’s well shaped 320-litre boot is 95 litres bigger than the Fiat’s, while lowering the split-fold rear bench liberates 1,200 litres – 330 litres more than in the Panda. Elsewhere, the Dacia’s cabin features family-friendly touches, including decent-sized door bins, while the Laureate also gets map pockets on the back of the front seats. A £245 Touring pack adds transverse bars for the standard roof rails, floor mats and a centre armrest for the front seats.
As you’d expect from a budget-focused brand, the Stepway is cheap to run, particularly in diesel guise. Over the course of our test we returned an excellent 45.7mpg, which is a healthy 5.2mpg improvement over the Panda’s 40.5mpg. The Sandero backs this up with low CO2 emissions of 105g/km, which are identical to the stop-start-equipped Fiat’s. The petrol Dacia isn’t so clean, emitting 124g/km, which puts it one tax bracket up from the TwinAir Panda. Further financial incentives include the availability of a £489 servicing pack that takes care of mechanical maintenance for three years and 36,000 miles. Even the relatively weak residual values – experts predict our Laureate 1.5 dCi will retain only 38.9 per cent of its new value after three years – have the edge over the Fiat’s 34.8 per cent figure.