Dacia Sandero Stepway review
The Dacia Sandero Stepway adds a touch of rugged off-road presence to the value-focused Sandero hatch
Dacia launched in the UK as a no frills budget brand offering cut-price cars that were cheap and cheerful – and far from being a one hit wonder with the Sandero hatchback, the brand has gone from strength to strength, adding other models to its line-up.
Those SUV looks come from longer travel suspension and dark plastic body claddings that give the car an edge of SUV style. Despite this extra desirability, the Stepway is extremely well priced and undercuts most of its main rivals by quite a margin.
That’s for the entry-level Ambience model, which gets Bluetooth and USB connectivity as standard, as well as electric front windows. There’s only one other model on offer – the Laureate – which gets big car features like air conditioning, cruise control, rear parking sensors and a seven-inch touchscreen with sat-nav.
Even this car is good value at just over £10,000, which shows Dacia clearly hasn’t forgotten its budget principles having been around for a few years in the UK now.
Along with the pair of trim levels, there are also two engines to choose from: a 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol, badged TCe, and a 1.5-litre diesel unit. Both of these are sourced from parent company Renault and are proven in its Clio and Captur models.
In fact, if you’ve driven a Renault in the last decade, much of the Sandero Stepway will feel familiar, as the car uses older Renault components and switchgear. As a result the Dacia isn’t the most premium-felling car, but this is one of the main areas where the brand has been able to save on costs, which it’s passed onto its customers.
Our choice: Sandero Stepway 1.5 DCi Ambiance
Engines, performance and drive
The Dacia Sandero Stepway shares its underpinnings with the standard hatchback. This car, in turn, is based on the previous generation Renault Clio and, as you would expect, it feels a bit outdated on the move.
However, it's far from outclassed as the heightened suspension soaks up the bumps nicely, so there’s plenty of ride comfort – and while the body does roll around in the corners, the Sandero Stepway has a good amount of grip.
Other plus points are that the raised ride height provides an improved view of the road and Dacia has positioned the pedals well. It's not all good news, though, as the electrically assisted steering is heavy at low speeds and provides the driver with little in the way of feedback.
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 extra ground clearance but that’s it. There’s no four-wheel drive system on offer.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Dacia's budget principles and a strong range of Renault’s latest engines have ensured that the Sandero Stepway is wallet friendly to live with.
The 0.9-litre TCe will manage 52.3mpg and emit 124g/km of CO2. However, this means it just misses out on the lower road tax rates with VED costing £110.
The 1.5-litre diesel unit is the most economical runner in the range; thanks to a 70.4mpg and 105g/km of CO2 it costs just £20 a year to tax. Dacia also offers a servicing pack that takes care of mechanical maintenance for three years and 36,000 miles.
Surprisingly, unlike other Dacias, the Sandero Stepway also has relatively weak residual values – experts predict the Laureate 1.5 dCi will retain only 38.9 per cent of its new value after three years.
Interior, design and technology
The standard Dacia Sandero supermini is a relatively rugged looking, unfussy car, so the SUV-inspired makeover works and, in fact, it looks pretty good.
Dacia has bulked up the Sandero Stepway with plastic wheel arch extensions and sills, chrome roof bars and a ride height that has been increased by 40mm over the standard Sandero. All of these mods make it stand out from the basic five-door compact hatchback, and overall, it has a more upmarket feel thanks to the sprinkling of SUV style.
Unlike the regular Sandero, there's no bargain basement Access version with unpainted bumpers and steel wheels. Given the only models in the Sandero Stepway range are the Ambiance and the Laureate, they both benefit from body-coloured door mirrors and bumpers, plus stylish plastic wheel covers that can easily be mistaken for a set of alloys.
Customers in this class want that extra bit of style, so the base-spec car is not so important – especially when other variants are this good value. But it’d still be nice to see a few more personalisation options on the Stepway to add an extra edge of visual appeal.
Despite the exterior differences, the Sandero Stepway is pretty much standard Sandero. It gets the same logical dashboard layout as the hatchback, lots of hard plastics and plenty of switches sourced from the Renault parts bin. It all feels robustly built, though, and the driving position is also very comfortable.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Stepway is a pretty bulky car and it'd be right to assume it's rather practical inside as a result, thanks in part to the no frills, robust interior.
Like the Sandero hatch, the Stepway 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.
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.
For around £250, an optional 'Touring Pack' adds transverse bars for the standard roof rails to help with fitting extra storage, floor mats and a centre armrest for the front seats.
Reliability and Safety
The Sandero Stepway should prove reliable, despite being relatively new to the UK market having arrived in 2012.
Its 900cc petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engines are, along with the five-speed manual box, shared with the latest Renault range and the rest of the tech is lifted from the Clio before that. These components have been around for a while, so any problems should hopefully have been ironed out by now.
Like the Sandero hatch, Dacia gives the Sandero Stepway a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which includes roadside recovery. 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 fittings.
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 tested, but you can expect a similar level of protection in a crash.