Dacia Sandero Stepway review
The Dacia Sandero Stepway adds SUV style to the much improved Sandero hatchback range
With a welcome boost in cabin quality and ride comfort, along with new on-board tech, the Dacia Sandero Stepway is now a worthy challenger to mainstream rivals. Yes, the bargain basement version of the Sandero grabs the headlines as the UK’s cheapest car to buy, but if you spend a little more on a top-spec Stepway model you can still have supermini-sized family wheels on your drive for the price of a mid-spec city car.
As an urban runabout, the Stepway makes a great case for itself, with rugged SUV-style looks, plenty of space and low running costs. If you’re in the market for a small family car and thinking of the usual upmarket players, it’s time to think again.
About the Dacia Sandero Stepway
The Romanian brand, under Renault ownership, has since proven to be a real success story with its 200,000-plus UK sales demonstrating the lure of a genuine bargain.
Of course, there were some downsides for original Dacia owners to contend with: the rough-and-ready interior, lack of refinement and the austere image were at odds with the qualities offered by more expensive rivals. But, Dacia had struck a chord with those who wanted a reliable and functional family car that offered little pretence and plenty of leftover spare cash once the deal was done.
Car group tests
The latest Sandero Stepway model maintains the brand’s budget-focused approach, but includes revisions that add some extra quality and finesse to the range - particularly for the top-end models which feature an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with built-in sat-nav and smartphone connectivity.
Moving up the price range, the Nissan Juke and Peugeot 2008 crossovers are stylish alternatives, although entry-level cars start from around £19,000, which is at least £4,000 over what you’ll pay for the top-spec Stepway. The Honda Jazz is also a favourite, notably for its flexible interior layout, but commands a similar premium to the Nissan and Peugeot.
Engines for the Sandero Stepway include a Renault-sourced, 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit producing 89bhp - available with a six-speed manual gearbox, or a CVT auto transmission. If you opt for the niche TCe 100 Bi-Fuel version, you’ll benefit from a petrol/LPG system which offers some efficiency gains and reduced running costs.
With just three trim-levels to choose from and not many pricey options to consider, configuring your Sandero Stepway should be pretty straightforward. The entry Essential spec goes without alloy wheels and has black exterior trim instead of a body-coloured finish to the mirrors and door handles, while it also lacks the media touchscreen of the higher-spec models. However, the standard kit list does include a DAB radio, Bluetooth, air-conditioning, and cruise control.
Moving up to the Comfort and Prestige specifications brings extras such as keyless entry, parking sensors, a rear-view camera and automatic wipers, with the range-topping TCe 90 CVT version priced at just over £15,000.
Engines, performance and drive
Although the Sandero Stepway is underpinned by the same CMF-B architecture as the Renault Clio, it uses a more rudimentary suspension set-up. Ultimately, it doesn’t provide much in the way of driving fun, instead offering a focus on comfort which suits the car’s family bias. If most of your journeys are shorter, urban routes, then the Stepway will be perfectly acceptable transport.
The raised ride height and extra suspension travel helps to smooth out lumps and bumps in the road, but you’ll notice quite a bit of noise in the cabin once up to speed. Things are made worse if you’ve opted for the 89bhp 1.0-litre TCe petrol engine, as you have to work it hard to make decent progress.
The above points were picked up on by owners in our 2021 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, where lack of acceleration and engine sound were criticised. Maintaining a constant throttle is also harder than it really should be, while the manual gear shift feels spongy.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
Straight-line performance isn’t the Stepway’s strongest trait, with the quickest TCe 100 Bi-Fuel version managing 0-62mph in 11.9 seconds and a 110mph maximum. The TCe 90 petrol (six-speed manual) car is only slightly behind on 12.0 seconds, while choosing the CVT version means a rather pedestrian 14.2-second sprint to 62mph.
In-gear acceleration is also quite lethargic: 50-75mph, in 4th gear, takes just over 10 seconds for both the Bi-Fuel 100 and manual TCe 90 versions, with the CVT auto lagging behind on 12.6 seconds.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Dacia has managed to introduce extra kit and an increase in overall quality for the third-generation Sandero Stepway, without allowing it to impact heavily on list prices. So, buyers have the option of the basic Essential version at £11,495, while around a further £3,500 buys you the Prestige car which is flush with kit and yet still remains much, much cheaper than its rivals.
The TCe 90 six-speed manual variant is fairly efficient, with Dacia claiming 50.4mpg on the combined cycle. CO2 emissions are 127g/km, which means business users will be paying a 28 percent Benefit-in-Kind tax rate. The CVT auto brings a slight penalty with an economy figure of 45.6mpg and emissions of 139-140g/km, depending on your chosen trim level.
According to Dacia, the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel car is capable of 48.7mpg, and will emit 130-131g/km of CO2.
Opting for the entry-level Essential version, with either the TCe 90 or TCe 100 Bi-Fuel engine, sees an insurance group of 13, so premiums shouldn’t prove to be too costly. But, if you’re looking for the cheapest Stepway to insure, then you’ll need to look towards the CVT auto models which occupy group 10. The most expensive variant to arrange cover for is the Bi-Fuel car in either the Comfort or Prestige specification, sitting in group 14.
What makes the low prices of the Sandero Stepway range even better is that, after such a reasonable outlay, you’ll be pleased to know that you can expect to see a decent chunk of your money back come resale time. Our data suggests that, after a typical three-year/36,000-mile ownership period, the Stepway should retain an average of 50 per cent of its original list price. In fact, the Prestige-spec versions are 1-2 per cent up on this figure, which means a £14,295 TCe 90 petrol car should still be worth around £7,500 after 36 months of driving.
Interior, design and technology
The Sandero Stepway is a pretty decent looking thing, with a raised ride height and faux-SUV addenda helping it stand out from its hatchback sibling. The large grille, and angular-shaped headlights look modern, while the arrow-style running lights add to the increased sense of style. Dacia has also taken the wise decision to move the Stepway graphic from the side of the car to the standard fit roof rails.
Inside, you’ll notice that soft-touch materials have been used across the dash and door cards to soften the dark appearance, but harder plastics still rule the cabin. The copper/orange air-vent trim looks smart, complemented by stitching of the same colour across the front seats.
Standard kit for entry-level cars is reasonable, but the step-up to Prestige trim brings 16-inch alloy wheels (rather than the steel versions for Essential and Comfort versions), automatic air-conditioning and wipers, all-round parking sensors and a full suite of media tech that includes an 8-inch touchscreen and sat-nav.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The top-spec Sandero Stepway comes with a high-set eight-inch touchscreen. This is smaller than the portrait screen found in some versions of the Clio, but it has all the connectivity that you could need and looks impressive in the Sandero.
As well as the built-in TomTom-based sat-nav, smartphone mirroring is available via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (the former is also available wirelessly). Bluetooth and two USB connections are also available, although it’s only the socket that’s set high on the dashboard behind the phone cradle that allows you to connect your phone to the system; the other one lower down is only able to charge devices.
The screen itself has reasonable graphics and responds well to inputs, although the lack of any physical buttons is a little frustrating. There are secondary controls behind the steering wheel.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Sitting up front in the Sandero Stepway, especially in the higher-spec Prestige versions, is not the budget experience you might expect. The seats are comfortable and the fit and finish is much improved over the previous model.
The driving position is fine as is overall visibility, with Comfort trim and above adding a reach- and rake-adjustable steering wheel. We particularly like the useful USB socket located just behind the dash-mounted smartphone holder, which means you don’t have messy wires trailing through the cabin.
Other practical kit that comes with the top Prestige car includes a high central armrest with extra storage, automatic air-conditioning and front and rear parking sensors, although you may want to tick the emergency spare wheel option to avoid having to use the next-to-useless foam repair kit.
The Sandero Stepway measures 4,099mm in length, 1,848mm wide and stands 1,535mm tall, which makes it only a little bigger than its Sandero hatchback sibling. Just for further comparison, a Nissan Juke is 111mm longer and 58mm taller, while the Stepway is 48mm wider.
Leg room, head room and passenger space
The Stepway’s slight increase in ride height over the Sandero hatch helps to make access and egress easier. Once inside, the driver and front passenger will find plenty of room to get comfortable and there is adequate space in the back for three extra occupants. During our own test we found the Stepway provided more overall rear space than its Honda Jazz Crosstar rival.
With 328 litres of boot space, the Stepway also trumps the Jazz on luggage carrying ability, although it’s slightly more difficult to load heavier items due to the Stepway’s high load lip. The lip is also painted, so will be prone to scratching, although Dacia has the answer in the shape of a £39 stainless steel boot sill accessory. Folding the 60:40 rear seats opens up a more practical boot capacity of 1,108 litres.
Reliability and safety
Reliability shouldn’t prove to be an issue, as the Sandero Stepway rides on a tweaked version of the Renault Clio’s CMF-B platform, sharing much of its tech and using the same engines.
Over the past few years, Dacia has found itself at the bottom of the list in our Driver Power Best manufacturer survey. However, the 2021 poll saw the budget brand move ahead of MG and Citroen, while the Duster SUV finished in an impressive 16th place out of 75 cars. The updated third-gen Stepway addresses a lot of the quality issues highlighted by owners, so 2022 could see a climb up the rankings.
To take the Stepway’s two-star Euro NCAP rating in isolation, and without any explanation, would be a touch unfair on Dacia’s efforts with its small family car. The Stepway actually received a 70 per cent score for adult occupant safety, along with 72 per cent for child passenger protection. This equates to a four-star grading, but low marks for safety assist tech (42 per cent) and pedestrian protection (41 per cent) mean the overall classification is reduced to two stars.
Along with the expected number of airbags throughout the cabin, the basic Essential version also features ABS/ESP, an emergency brake assist system and cruise control with a speed limiter. Comfort-spec cars add rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, while Prestige versions add front sensors and a blind-spot warning.
Dacia offers a standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty for the Sandero Stepway, with the option to extend cover for up to seven years at extra cost. The manufacturer also includes a two-year paintwork and six-year anti-corrosion warranty.
Dacia recommends annual service intervals for the Stepway, or every 18,000 miles - whichever comes first. Service plans are available to make budgeting scheduled maintenance a little easier: a three-year/30,000-mile plan costs £399, or £9.99 per month, while a four-year/40,000-mile scheme is priced at £699, or £11.99 per month.