Dacia Sandero Stepway review
The Dacia Sandero Stepway adds a touch of rugged off-road presence to the value-focused Sandero hatch
The Dacia Sandero Stepway is designed as a rugged version of the regular Sandero hatchback. Although it has a raised ride height, it’s a great-value alternative to crossovers like the Nissan Juke and Fiat Panda Trekking.
Dacia is all about low costs, and the Stepway is extremely well priced, undercutting most of its main rivals by quite a margin. It’s also very spacious, while the diesel engine is cheap to run and has a decent amount of mid-range pulling power.
If you’ve driven a Renault in the last decade, the Sandero Stepway is likely to feel familiar from behind the wheel, as the car uses older Renault components and switchgear. As a result, it isn’t the most premium package, but this is one of the main areas where the brand has been able to save on costs, which it’s passed on to its customers.
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Dacia launched in the UK as a no-frills, budget brand offering cut-price cars that are cheap and cheerful. The regular Sandero hatchback grabbed headlines as Britain’s cheapest car, but this wasn’t just a one-hit wonder for the company; Dacia has gone from strength to strength, adding other models to its line-up.
The Sandero Stepway is based on the Sandero hatchback, but it has a raised ride height, roof rails and black plastic cladding around the wheelarches and bumpers, which give it the look of an SUV. It sits below the Logan MCV estate and Duster SUV in the Dacia range.
As the Sandero Stepway is front-wheel drive, it isn’t really a serious off-roader – don’t expect it to rival a Land Rover over rugged terrain – but those few features make it a little more rugged and capable of tackling bumpy surfaces than your average hatchback.
Value is what Dacia is all about, and the entry-level Sandero Stepway Ambiance is extremely cheap to buy. Yet it isn’t badly kitted out considering the bargain price tag. There’s only one other trim level, the top-spec Laureate, and while it’s a bit more costly, it brings more equipment so it’s still incredibly good value.
Just as there are two spec choices, there are two engine choices: a 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol, badged TCe, and a 1.5-litre dCi diesel. Both deliver 89bhp and are hooked up to a five-speed manual gearbox – this is the only transmission option. The engines are sourced from parent company Renault, and have been proven in the Clio supermini and Captur crossover.
It’s difficult to compare the Stepway to rivals because of its low price and because it sits halfway between a hatchback and a small SUV. However, it arguably occupies a similar market position to affordable, spacious cars such as the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross, the Hyundai ix20, Kia Venga and Honda Jazz, as well small crossovers such as the Nissan Juke and Peugeot 2008. Although it isn’t full 4x4, it could also be considered against the likes of the Suzuki Swift 4x4 and Fiat Panda Cross.
Engines, performance and drive
The Dacia Sandero Stepway shares its underpinnings with the standard Sandero hatchback. This car, in turn, is based on the previous-generation Renault Clio and, as you would expect, it feels a bit dated on the move.
However, it's far from outclassed as the jacked-up suspension soaks up bumps very well, so the ride is comfortable. There’s a reasonable amount of grip, but the body rolls through corners. Plus, the steering is heavy at low speeds and provides the driver with little in the way of feedback. It’s hard to complain at this price, but you don’t have to look far to find another small, cheap car that’s more fun to drive.
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What's more, despite its tough looks, the Sandero Stepway doesn’t offer much in the way of off-road ability. The all-season tyres give a little extra grip in tricky conditions and the raised suspension delivers additional ground clearance, but that’s it. Power is still fed to the front wheels – there isn’t a four-wheel-drive system – and the car doesn’t come with any off-road driving aids.
On the plus side, the raised ride height provides an improved view of the road, and Dacia has positioned the pedals well. The five-speed manual gearbox – the only transmission option in the Sandero Stepway – is easy to use, too.
There are two engines available – one petrol, one diesel – and both have 89bhp. The petrol is a 0.9-litre turbocharged three-cylinder, which is well suited to low-speed driving. It isn’t great outside of town, though, as it needs to be revved hard to get anywhere and struggles at A-road and motorway speeds.
The 1.5-litre dCi diesel is much better for high-speed cruising, and although this version of the Sandero Stepway is no performance car (it takes 12.1 seconds to cover 0-62mph, compared to 11.1 seconds in the petrol model), it is more flexible than the TCe. It also has a reasonable amount of mid-range pull when you bear in mind that it isn’t a big, powerful engine.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Dacia's budget principles and a strong range of engines from owner Renault ensure that the Sandero Stepway is cheap to run.
The 0.9-litre TCe petrol model claims 55.4mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 115g/km. That means it falls into road tax band C, which works out at only £30 a year. The 1.5-litre diesel is the more economical choice on paper, promising 74.3mpg, while road tax for this version is free thanks to its 98g/km CO2 emissions.
But it’s worth bearing in mind that the petrol Sandero Stepway will be better suited to low-speed journeys in town, so it’s likely to be the more efficient choice for low-mileage drivers in the real world. The diesel will offer better economy for those who cover higher mileages on motorways. All models come with a gearshift indicator that displays the most efficient time to change up or down.
Insurance groups are low enough to complement the Sandero Stepway’s budget characteristics – mainly because it’s very cheap to buy and also because it uses established, previous-generation Renault parts, which are inexpensive to replace.
The entry-level Sandero Stepway Ambiance with the 0.9-litre TCe petrol engine starts in group seven, while the diesel-engined model in the same trim level sits in group 10. Each version rises one insurance group when you go for Laureate trim, so the top-spec petrol Sandero Stepway is in group eight and the diesel is in group 11.
Surprisingly, unlike other Dacias, the Sandero Stepway has relatively weak residual values – for example, experts predict that the Laureate 1.5 dCi will retain only 38.9 per cent of its new price after three years. However, that needs to be put into context, because the rock-bottom list price means there’s less cash to lose in the first place. So it’s worth doing your sums and comparing the percentage figures with those of rivals to get a true reflection of how much the car is likely to be worth come resale time.
Interior, design and technology
The standard Dacia Sandero supermini is a relatively rugged looking, unfussy car – and that translates well to the SUV-inspired Stepway. In fact, the transformation has been a success.
Dacia has bulked up the Sandero Stepway with plastic wheelarch extensions and sills, as well as chrome roof bars, while the ride height has been increased by 100mm over the standard Sandero. All of these changes help it stand out from the basic five-door compact hatchback, and overall, it has a more upmarket feel due to the sprinkling of SUV style.
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Unlike the regular Sandero, the Stepway is not available in entry-level Access trim – the basic hatch has unpainted bumpers, steel wheels and less equipment, but an even lower starting price. Instead, buyers of the Sandero Stepway can only choose from Ambiance and Laureate specifications, and both come with body-coloured door mirrors and bumpers, as well as stylish plastic wheel covers that can easily be mistaken for a set of alloys.
Despite the exterior differences, the Stepway is pretty much the same as the Sandero hatchback inside. It has the same logical dashboard layout, lots of hard plastics and plenty of switches that are familiar from Renault models. It’s basic, but everything feels robust and the driving position is also very comfortable.
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Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
When you look at that price tag, the Sandero Stepway Ambiance appears generously equipped. It comes with Bluetooth, as well as USB and auxiliary connections as standard. Go for the Laureate model, and you also get a seven-inch touchscreen sat-nav system, which really isn’t bad for the money.
Due to their basic nature, Dacias don’t have the most advanced infotainment systems on the market. But they are simple, easy to use and do the job – which may well appeal to the kind of no-fuss buyers the brand is targeting.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Dacia Sandero Stepway is a pretty bulky car, and as a result it’s impressively practical. With its raised ride height and SUV-style exterior, you could be fooled into thinking that this model has a bigger interior than the standard Sandero hatchback. But that isn’t the case – inside, it’s essentially the same robust, no-frills five-seater. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s short on space.
There are decent-sized door bins, while the Laureate models also come with map pockets on the backs of the front seats. Plus, for around £250, buyers can specify an optional Touring Pack, which adds floor mats and a centre armrest for the front seats. It also includes transverse bars for the standard roof rails, to help with carrying those big loads you can’t fit inside the car.
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The Stepway rides 100mm higher than the standard Sandero hatchback, and is 1,618mm tall as a result. But it retains roughly the same basic dimensions in other respects. It’s the same 1.73mm width, although the big, black plastic bumpers make it 23mm longer than the hatchback, at 4,081mm. It’s actually taller than the Nissan Juke – which is 1,565mm high – and isn’t much shorter than the big-selling crossover, either, as the Juke measures 4,135mm long.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
There’s a surprising amount of space inside the Sandero Stepway – more than you’d expect to find in most superminis. Its no-frills status means the seats don’t do anything clever, but chances are you’ll find more legroom and headroom inside the Dacia than in most other cars of this size and certainly at this price.
Reliability and Safety
The Sandero Stepway should prove reliable, even though it only arrived on the UK market in 2012. It finished in 54th place in the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, which is just outside the top quarter of the 200 cars in the chart.
The 900cc petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engines are shared with models in the latest Renault range, as is the five-speed manual box, and the rest of the tech is lifted from the previous-generation Clio supermini. These components have been around for a while, so any problems should hopefully have been ironed out by now, plus the Dacia’s simplicity means there’s less to go wrong in the first place.
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Despite its budget roots, the Sandero Stepway comes with a respectable haul of safety kit, too: all versions get four airbags, ABS, stability control and Isofix child seat mountings.
However, Euro NCAP awarded the standard Sandero 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. The Sandero Stepway hasn't been put through the test separately, but you can expect a similar level of protection in the event of a crash.
Like the Sandero hatchback, Dacia supplies the Sandero Stepway with a run-of-the-mill three-year/60,000-mile warranty. That’s less than parent company Renault offers with its own models, which have four-year/100,000-mile warranties, but then you have to remember how much cheaper Dacias are.
And besides, buyers can specify longer warranties when ordering their car in the showroom for an extra cost: a five-year/60,000-mile package will set you back £395, while a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty is available for £850.
Rivals offering longer standard warranties include the Hyundai ix20, which comes with a five-year/unlimited-mileage package, while the Kia Venga has an industry-leading seven-year warranty, although it’s capped at 100,000 miles.
As with many of its competitors, Dacia offers a pre-paid servicing pack that helps customers budget for costs. This scheme takes care of mechanical maintenance for two years and 24,000 miles, and is priced at £309. There’s also a three-year/36,000-mile option for £559.