Dacia Sandero review
The Dacia Sandero is a back-to-basics supermini that's great value for money, but don't expect a plush cabin or fun drive
The Dacia Sandero is famous for being Britain's cheapest new car, but it's far from the laughing stock you might expect. It's simplicity, comfort and surprising practicality win favour with those who are after basic transport with no gimmicks, while top models can be had with big car kit levels at city car prices.
The interior is more spacious than many of its supermini rivals, running costs are usefully low and the mechanicals have proven their worth in the past, so the Sandero should be reliable. Dacia is actually owned by French manufacturer Renault, and the Sandero can trace its roots back to the second-generation Clio, which made its debut in 1998.
Although this means the car’s chassis is relatively old school and shows its age on the road, some of the engine line-up uses Renault’s latest fuel-saving technology, meaning the Sandero is surprisingly efficient and perky to drive.
Dacia’s first model to really make an impact in the UK focuses on space and practicality, rather than fun handling and performance, however, and there’s loads of room on offer to rival superminis such as the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 208. And the Sandero has a trick up its sleeve – when it comes to price the Dacia undercuts even budget city cars in the class below, coming in cheaper than the Skoda Citigo and Citroen C1 at just £5,995.
This will get you into the entry-level Access model, but there are three more sitting above this: Ambiance, the top-spec Laureate trim level and the special edition Laureate Prime.
Although the headline pricing might seem attractive, be careful, as Access cars are very sparsely equipped – although the wiring for a stereo comes as standard, the head unit doesn’t, so you’ll have to pay extra. You also get steel wheels and wind-up windows.
For most buyers the £6,795 Ambiance and £7,995 Laureate models will be a better bet, as they boast a better spec, including equipment such as central locking, electric windows and a Bluetooth and USB equipped stereo. Laureate spec adds air-conditioning, cruise control, alloy wheels and electrically adjustable door mirrors to this tally, while Laureate Prime cars also get sat-nav, metallic paint and colour trim details inside and out.
Our choice: Sandero 0.9 TCe Laureate
Dacia's Sandero is a breath of fresh air in the industry; It offers just enough of what the average budget car motorist may need and no gimmicks or unecessary gadgetry. It remains Britain's cheapest new car and is more spacious than some small cars costing twice as much. But there's no escaping that this car was built down to a price, particularly in the cheap-feeling cabin and out on the road.
Engines, performance and drive
Some decent engines and comfortable ride, but not sophisticated
Like the trim levels, 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 CO2, meaning free road tax.
We’d recommend avoiding the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine as it sounds harsh and feels underpowered on the move, plus it struggles a little to keep up with fast-flowing traffic.
That’s not a complaint that can be levelled at the turbocharged TCe engine, however. The three-cylinder unit 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’s 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.
Even the better engines fail to deliver any excitement to the Dacia's driving experience. A soft suspension set-up and 17-year-old underpinnings mean the Sandero is geared towards comfort rather than driving fun, whereas many rivals in the sector manage to combine both these skills.
It’s nowhere near as sharp as a Ford Fiesta behind the wheel, and despite standard power assistance, the Sandero's steering is heavy at low speeds and it suffers from kickback over mid-corner bumps. Its soft nature also means the Dacia rolls and lurches 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.
It’s not without its flaws, the Dacia Sandero. However, at these prices it’s easy to forgive the car its drawbacks, as it delivers a new car feel and three-year warranty for the price of a second-hand supermini.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
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 of 99g/km, which means you won’t pay a penny for annual road tax.
The only relatively weak engine is the 1.2-litre petrol, which is pretty inefficient 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 Dacia’s 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 as much as 50 per cent of their new price after three years, which is impressive for a budget-focused supermini. The Laureate version is predicted to retain 44.3 per cent.
Interior, design and technology
Entirely form over function, but not in a bad way
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 upright stance give it a practical, sensible 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 other Dacia models such as 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 and is incredibly affordable at £5,995.
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.
Whatever trim you settle on, you’ll have to contend with the same cheap and flimsy feeling plastics, plus the hand-me-down Renault switchgear. No Sandero models come fitted with an alarm, either, so if you want to improve security you’ll have to pay another £300 for this option.
However, Laureate Prime brings a standard-fit Garmin-based touchscreen satnav system (optional on other models) which is surprisingly modern feeling and easy to use. It's actually more user-friendly than Renault's own R-Link system, which fits in with Dacia's ethos.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
An awful lot of metal for the money
A significant trump card that the Dacia Sandero holds is its practicality. 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 – such as the Ford Focus – 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, a 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.
Reliability and Safety
Tried and tested parts should meen easy running
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. Even better, Dacia finished an impressive second place overall in our Driver Power satisfaction survey. As you’d expect, owners praised the brand’s low running costs, but they commented favourably on the models’ build and ride quality, too.
Dacia gives the Sandero a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which includes roadside recovery. For £395 this can be extended to five years/60,000 miles, or £850 to increase cover to seven years/100,000 miles.
Despite its budget roots, the Sandero comes with a respectable tally 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.