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Crowd-pleasing value brand times to perfection the introduction of its Sandero-based seven-seater as the cost-of-living crisis bites

What is it?

It’s all about timing. Some car manufacturers and the models they produce can be absolutely on the zeitgeist. The Nissan Qashqai, for instance, or the first Volvo XC90. They define genres and shape the automotive landscape for years to come.

And then there are others who never seem to get it right, like Renault, with its Koleos. The French firm had two stabs at the pie, failing both times. Take it from us, Renault, that’s a name to retire for good.

Then we come to Dacia. On the one hand, it couldn’t be more on-trend, offering the sort of value-for-money motoring that has been bang-on for years, and never more so than since the financial crash and the seemingly never-ending economic rollercoaster that we’ve all been on ever since.

But here’s where it gets weird, because the brand is also defiantly anti-‘the moment’, too. We all know that it has had, er, let’s call them ‘issues’ with Euro NCAP crash testing, and it hasn’t exactly been swift to jump on the EV bandwagon, taking a long time to commit to the Spring Electric coming to the UK (although high-placed sources tell us that it almost certainly will).

Given all those safety and environmental headwinds, it’s surprising that Dacia is still perceived to be a ‘lovable’ brand, even if the green agenda is now being ironed out with future hybrid and electric models. But then it does simple, value motoring well and there’s a certain appeal about a brand that sticks rigidly to its brief.

With sales as they are, who can blame Dacia? And those sales are only likely to get better with this latest offering, the all-new Dacia Jogger.

Let’s cut to the chase: this isn’t only cheap motoring but also the least expensive seven-seater you can buy. Prices start from £14,995, a staggering £2075 cheaper than the base Ford Fiesta, a car with just five seats. Pah. Even the top-spec Jogger, driven here, is just £17,395. If PCP finance is your bag, Dacia estimates that monthly payments will be around £220 after a £220 deposit. Stick that in your inflationary pipe and smoke it.

In fact, it’s so bargain-basement that one of the hardest parts of this write-up was working out the Jogger’s rivals. It would have been the Stellantis trio of the Citroën Berlingo et al, but now they’re electric-only. Seven-seat cars such as the Volkswagen Touran start at £30,470, which means the Romanian firm is really left rivalling only used cars.

The Jogger comes in three trims: Essential, Comfort and Extreme SE (the last one a launch special that’s likely to continue under another name, given how popular higher-spec Dacias are with British buyers). The only options are metallic paint and a spare wheel.

Despite the value ethos, you’re not completely diddled on standard kit. Base cars get air-con, LED lights and rear parking sensors but no multimedia. Instead, and as with the Dacia Sandero, your phone fulfils this role, slipping into a slot on the dash and then using a Dacia app to work all the infotainment. You can control the DAB radio without it, but your station information is confined to a small screen in between the dials.

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Comfort and Extreme SE get more conventional touchscreen set-ups – 8.0in displays, in case you were wondering – called Media Display and Media Nav respectively, and they keep their physical climate control switches. In Comfort, your phone is the nav, via CarPlay or Android Auto, but in the top-spec car you get in-built maps. All versions have a handy USB port up on the dash, so it’s easy to charge a phone.

The rest of the dash is functional but hardly glamorous, but when you’re paying this sort of money, there shouldn’t be any complaints. And besides, thanks to items such as analogue dials rather than semiconductor-reliant digital ones, Dacia has managed to largely swerve the chip-supply crisis and has a three-month waiting list, as opposed to around a year for some rivals.

What's it like?

The driving position is good (even reach/rake adjustment is included), but the real highlight comes in the rear. Middle-seat leg and head room are impressive, helped by a 40mm step-up from the B-pillar rearwards; and because of the way the 60/40-split seats are mounted, passengers have a clear-ish view forward over the driver’s shoulder. You’d expect the rearmost seats to be for kids only, but I’m 5ft 9in (average height, so no sniggering) and could have sat there easily for an hour. The rear porthole prevents it feeling poky.

There are no clever tricks with the seats. The rears fold and lift out (with ease; see tester’s note) and the middle folds and rolls forwards. They don’t slide, fold flat or origami themselves into various contortions. Dacia argues that it deliberately avoids the extra complication, the idea being that more flexible arrangements lead to weight and cost penalties. When it’s trying to trim the price down to £15,000, you can’t blame it.

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Boot volume is 212 litres to 2085, which compares with 137 to 1857 for the Touran.

Dacia is looking at a commercial version, but there aren’t any firm plans yet.

The final clever practical touch is the modular roof bars. These double up as the rails, swivelling round easily to carry ski or bike attachments. The dynamic weight limit is 80kg, but it can take a roof tent if the car is static. Nothing screams ‘lifestyle’ more than people sleeping on the roof of their car.

For the moment, the only engine is a 1.0-litre petrol triple, producing 109bhp and 148lb ft, the latter from 2900rpm. That might not sound like much but, thanks to a 1205kg kerb weight, it rarely feels asthmatic. It’s more reactive than you’d expect it to be and it’s hardly a neck-snapper, but it’s acceptable for making decent progress. The 0-62mph time is 11.2sec, not that it’s particularly relevant in a car such as this.

What is important is refinement, and for that the Jogger is good. The triple’s thrum filters into the cabin but is never intrusive or coarse, even at around 5000rpm. Road and wind noise are also well damped.

Despite the absence of mild-hybrid tech, the Jogger manages official figures of 47.1-46.9mpg and 132g/km. Again, the low kerb weight helps.

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The standard six-speed manual gearbox has a long throw, but it’s precise. Top is quite tall, so the car feels happier in fifth at the 45-60mph you will do on A-roads, but it’s fine for motorways. An automatic ’box will come with the hybrid early next year.

The ride quality is largely good. It feels well tied down, with good body control that avoids the pitch and roll you’d expect of a relatively high-sided vehicle, but sharper surface changes upset it more. All cars come on 16in wheels (steel or alloy, depending on trim), and while our top-spec test car came with relatively high-profile 205/60 tyres, they don’t iron out as much of the rubbish asphalt as we’d like. The odd bump is okay, but a series of them makes the cabin jiggle.

Unlike some cheap hackabouts, this isn’t a car that delights in being door-handled around a series of switchbacks. The steering is precise and linear, if light, but its high centre of gravity and enormous boot means it can’t take on something like the Suzuki Swift or Hyundai i20.

Should I buy one?

Again, though, none of that matters. The Jogger matches the Dacia ethos point for point and, despite being identical to the Sandero from the B-pillar forwards, is a totally different proposition.

There are definitely areas where the car could have been cleverer, but you can’t argue with the value. A car of the moment? With the current cost-of-living squeeze, it feels like it.

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