New Dacia Sandero Stepway 2023 review
The more expensive Stepway adds some much-needed charm to the Sandero range
With the Stepway, Dacia has managed to make it feel like a genuinely competitive offering in the supermini segment, rather than one that relies on its headline price tag and falls short everywhere else. With low-budget rivals drying up, the jacked-up image has now become a bit of a USP for the Stepway, which only adds to its appeal.
Truth be told, the majority of British drivers would find the Dacia Sandero to be a perfectly adequate family runabout. Britain’s cheapest car has risen in price significantly in the last few years but still remains good value beside its supermini competitors thanks to a recent mild facelift – which has just now been applied to the jacked-up Stepway model as well.
Lifted superminis are few and far between these days, despite most volume car makers dabbling in the niche segment at some point, with offerings like the Volkswagen Polo Dune, Ford Fiesta Active and the short-lived Audi A1 Citycarver. The Stepway actually outsells the regular Sandero, so Dacia has a great reason to stick with its chunky supermini.
As with the rest of the Dacia range, the Sandero Stepway has received some revisions to mark the firm’s new logo which was rolled out in the second half of 2022. The trim level line up has changed, with the range-topping Prestige swapped out for a suitably alliterative ‘Extreme’ version to accompany the entry-level Essential and the one we’re testing here – the mid-range Expression.
Car group tests
At £16,295, the Expression costs £1,000 more than the Essential and £1,350 less than the Extreme, but we think it marks the best balance in terms of equipment and pricing. The Expression gets a few crucial benefits over the Essential with front fog lights, electric rear windows, keyless entry and a rear parking camera. Welcome touches in the cabin come courtesy of a soft-touch steering wheel (much more pleasant to grasp than the plasticky one in the Essential) and a neat fabric upholstery on the dash and door cards.
The eight-inch touchscreen on the dash initially looks like it could be a mere black and white display from the main menu, but orange flashes confirm your inputs. The infotainment system is very basic, which could be seen as a positive or a negative depending on your affinity with technology, but the resolution is decent and the Expression features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, which is all you could ask for in a budget supermini.
It’s a wired rather than wireless connection and the USB port is located high up on the dash, but there’s some coincidental convenience of the bag hook in the passenger side footwell to keep the USB lead out of the way of the gear lever. Being the 4x4-style Stepway you get roof rails, front and rear faux skid plates, side protection stickers and wheel arch cladding, all of which contribute to the utilitarian look.
Jump into the Stepway (made slightly easier by the raised ride height) and you’ll notice that the generous equipment tally is backed up by an interior that we’re sure will be durable, even if it feels a little cheap in places. There are huge swathes of rough plastic on the door cards and centre console but the buttons and dials for the climate controls beneath the central touchscreen are sturdy enough. The relatively boxy profile of the Sandero means there’s a lot of space inside – adults will have no qualms about space front and rear and the 328-litre boot is about average for the class.
The driving position is somewhere in between a traditional supermini and an SUV because you sit quite upright, but there’s excellent visibility, and it’s a comfortable enough place to spend a few hours behind the wheel. That’s because the Sandero Stepway (and regular Sandero for that matter) serves up a soft ride that easily copes with big bumps and potholes, although it can vibrate and jiggle sometimes around town. While the ride is up there with more expensive superminis, a lack of refinement that rears its head at motorway speeds – the Stepway seems to lack some sound deadening compared to rivals, so there’s prominent wind and road noise.
The latest facelift hasn’t changed the way the Stepway drives. It’s certainly not the best in its segment from behind the wheel, but the Stepway isn’t without charm. The combination of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission is far better than the CVT we’ve previously tried, and while there’s only 90bhp to play with, the Stepway weighs just over a tonne so the performance is just about adequate.
It feels like the turbocharger does most of the heavy lifting. Beneath 2,000rpm the engine can be sluggish and revving it out to the 6,000rpm limit is a fruitless endeavour, so you’ll need to work the surprisingly pleasant six-speed manual gearbox to keep the Stepway in its preferred power band.
|Model:||Dacia Sandero Stepway Expression TCe 90|
|Engine:||1.0-litre 3cyl turbo|
|Transmission:||Six-speed manual, front wheel drive|