Dacia burst on to the UK market three years ago after taunting us with low prices in mainland Europe. It is a sub brand of Renault, using Renault bits and made in Romania. Prices have risen but you can still get the family-sized Logan estate car for a fiver under £7,000. Wow. Or the capable and recently revised Duster SUV for less than £9,495 and a 4x4 version for another couple of grand. That’s a first for me, couple of grand indeed, flippantly allocating £2,000 of your dough, bread, dosh.
A friend living in Perthshire chose a 4x4 version, only to be stymied by a lack of snow ever since. Conversely, a neighbour in the village bought a two-wheel drive Skoda Yeti and although snow has been scarce he feels he should have got the 4x4 model. That’s an emotional issue, because he came out of a Nissan with 4x4.
Back to Dacia business. Its other UK offering is the Sandero five-door hatchback. Ready? Prices start at just £5,995 with a 1149cc 72 horse power Renault petrol engine. It is the same size as a Ford B-Max but undercuts it by more than £7,000.
Just a thought, and yes, the Dacia lacks the finish and image of the boxy Ford but even so… And here’s another thing. A survey by Which? says owners give Dacia 90 per cent satisfaction rating and rate it as the fourth most reliable brand out of 34 in the survey.
Of the Sandero, Nic Shaw, cars editor of Which? said: “Our survey, the biggest of its kind in the UK, reveals that spending more on a car is no guarantee of reliability, and sometimes quite the opposite. The ultra-affordable Dacia Sandero shows that a reliable runaround need not break the bank and Dacia finishing fourth overall in our manufacturer reliability league table is a strong achievement for a relatively new car brand.”
Good news for owners, prospective buyers and dealers, then. Sandero is actually the cheapest new car you can buy – though Dacia prefers the term “most affordable”. Quite. Cheap indeed, it’s an affordable bargain. There is a choice of three trims, two petrol and one diesel engine (all from the Renault Nissan Alliance, and a five-speed manual gearbox. Dacias are not available with automatic gears.
My test car was the Stepway version – easily identified by the logo on each side in white letters and giving bragging rights at the lights – or not. Its full kennel name was the Stepway Laureate dCi 90 – signifying I was at the summit of Sandero motoring and it still only cost £11,095.
The engine is the Alliance’s 1461cc diesel in 89bhp, 162lb ft tune. It pulled well, rated at 0-62mph in 11.8 seconds, 74mpg and 98g C02 – for zero UK road tax. Maximum speed is listed at 104mph but I never went near triple figures. I did note that at 70 on the motorway it cruised at 2,250rpm which means relaxation.
Fuel economy was good, usually in the low 60s on the motorway or a typical commuter trip of mixed roads. Even a short trip into town and back produced 61mpg.
In this top trim you have 16 inch alloys (carrying quality Goodyear tyres), navigation, both cruise control and a speed limiter (more useful than cruise control on the normal British roads), a rear parking sensor, stop/ start ignition, a lift-up armrest/compartment between the front seats, air conditioning and so on.
There is also an open tray on top of the dashboard and a large lidded “gloves-box”. There are electric windows front and back, powered mirrors and central locking.
It is not as refined as an equivalent Renault or most other cars. The diesel engine is louder. The gear change is clunky. The dashboard and other plastics have hard-shell surfaces. The exterior door release latches are the old style lift-up flaps. The tailgate opens only with the key or an old-style release catch by the driver’s seat. Nothing much wrong with that.
However, the release mechanism in the tailgate includes a pointed plastic trigger which you could catch your head on; in my case it raked down my wrist between the veins when I closed the tailgate.
The navigation screen is flush with the fascia, catches glare and is hard to read in bright conditions. The instrument display is not backlit, which often makes the speedometer awkward to see clearly. The only illumination comes if you switch on the sidelights.
Verdict: Budget motoring with a French heart.