The Dacia Sandero Stepway is all about ‘more for less’. Although a crossover by name, this jacked-up supermini stops short of the additional complication and expense of four-driven wheels.
What it does offer, relative to the standard Sandero on which it’s based, is ruggedised 4x4 styling, 40mm of additional ground clearance and a dose of extra standard equipment, all for little extra outlay. It’s the kind of niche segment derivative that could end up out-selling its mainstream equivalent.
You can count the ways in which this car differs from that equivalent on the fingers of one hand, and mostly from the far end of the car park. Plastic wheelarch extensions? Check. New bumpers with faux underbody protection plates? Check. Roof bars? Present. What isn’t so obvious is that, on top of all that, Ambiance-spec Stepways come with fog lamps, body-coloured bumpers and mirrors and metallic paint included; the equivalent Sandero hatch doesn’t.
Differences on the inside are few and far between, besides some rubber floor mats and slightly different seat trims. The most important difference here is that, because the Stepway rides farther off the ground than the Sandero, consequently it’s easier to slide in and out of.
Standard kit for the Ambiance-specification Sandero Stepway is pretty comprehensive, despite the low-cost price. It includes a heated rear windscreen, a 12v socket, a CD radio, auxiliary connection, Bluetooth, a USB port, a passenger vanity mirror, electric front windows and front foglights. Most will find this specification acceptable.
It's not lacking on the safety front either, with anti-lock brakes, emergency braking assistance, stability control, front airbags and daytime running lights. You also get a three year, 60,000 mile warranty as standard.
Laureate is the range-topping trim and adds niceties like sat-nav with a seven-inch touchscreen, a trip computer, cruise control, rear parking sensors, electric rear windows, heated electric door mirrors and manual air-con, as well as minor trim and cosmetic upgrades.
A host of options are offered for the Dacia as well, including leather trim, a European map upgrade for the sat-nav, an extended warranty and a 'Touring Pack' which adds a central armrest, a boot luggage net, carpet mats and roof bars.
The Stepway range is simpler than the Sandero’s: there’s no 74bhp 1.2-litre engine and no entry-level Access trim. Which is why the £7995 entry price for an 89bhp three-cylinder petrol turbo, in Ambiance trim, only represents a £400 premium over the like-for-like hatchback. The 89bhp 1.5-litre dCi turbodiesel suits the functional flavour of the car much better, though.
With CO2 emissions of 105g/km, it will save you £85 a year on your tax disc. The three-cylinder petrol is claimed to average 52.3mpg, while the diesel's reputed to return 70.6mpg. Realistically, the diesel should average a real-world 50mpg, easily some 5mpg higher than the petrol, so it's the better option for efficiency by a decent margin.
Performance will be modest regardless of which Stepway you plump for. Diesel versions take 11.8sec to get from 0-62mph, the petrol model a slightly lower 11.1sec, but the greater mid-range torque of the turbodiesel makes it the easier, more tractable drive. No automatic gearbox is available; you'll have to make do with the standard five-speed manual which is offered with both the petrol and diesel variants.
While adequate, mechanical refinement is poorer than the supermini class average, with vibration detectable through the pedals and the bodyshell, in the diesel particularly. The light and baggy gearshift also speaks of Dacia’s uncompromising, ‘route one’ approach to functionality.
On the plus side, the Stepway’s ride and handling are better than the standard hatchback. While its body rolls a little more through fast corners, there’s very little outright grip sacrificed by the pseudo-offroader. Directional responsiveness is competitive, and steering feel is quite reasonable, too. Meanwhile, the additional ride height you get with your Stepway only seems to do good things for the operational effectiveness of what must be fairly rudimentary suspension components.
The extra wheel travel adds compliance without giving up much in the way of control, and actually makes the Stepway a marginally more comfy car to travel in than the regular Sandero.
All of which should lead anyone with a serious interest in buying into Renault’s budget brand to one conclusion. Unless you plan on spending between £6000 and £7000 on the cheapest Sandero on the block, the Stepway’s actually better value for money, easier to live with and has the broader range of ability.