6

The Sandero represents basic motoring done well, for those who really want it

The bombshell has been dropped. Riding on the crest of a wave of global growth, Renault's budget brand, Dacia, arrived in the UK. And it brought with it a product to shake up the market: the inexpensive Dacia Sandero

Now to measure the impact crater. Is the Dacia as appealing as the idea of it? Will it suit the roads and drivers' tastes of one of the most mature and idiosyncratic car markets in the world? Is it likely to inspire a super-low-budget supermini class of its own? Or will the unavoidable concessions of a low-cost supermini prove unpalatable, and render the Dacia an irrelevance to the likes of us? 

The Dacia Sandero is a practical, sensible purchase

 

Advertisement

DESIGN & STYLING

Dacia Sandero rear

Lauréate versions of the car look contemporary – European, even – and quite smart. Entry-level Access models, however, have grey plastic bumpers, mirrors and door handles and steel wheels that have a detrimental effect on the car's understated sense of style.

In entry-level trim the Sandero certainly does look cheap, it's more like a light commercial vehicle than a consumer supermini. If looks are of importance to you, rather than just daily transport back and forth, you'll want to specify one of the higher two trims. 

The Sandero gives you everything you need, and nothing you don't.

Much is misunderstood about what goes into a new Dacia, and what exactly the firm's 'B0' platform – which underpins all of its cars – owes to that which served under the 1998 Clio 2. Certain components were recycled from that Renault platform, and some have even survived to feature in this Sandero, but many more have been designed afresh and continue to be updated. Dacia has also updated the Sandero for 2017, which not only saw a mild facelift in the shape of new headlights, LED day running lights, a prominent front grille, and signature tailights, but also the introduction of a naturally aspirated 1.0 unit to replace the 1.2 16-valve unit that propped up the range previously. The new entry-level engine is available in all three trims for the first time, and is claimed to be ten percent more efficient as well.

The motivating force for Dacia is always to make the cheapest car it can – but one that will work in the developing markets of Africa and South America as well as in Europe. So the side window glazing on a Sandero is identical to that found on a Logan or a Dacia Duster, for example. But the suspension – a class-standard MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear layout – is more robust than you'll find on cars designed to be used exclusively on smooth, paved roads.

Engines options include the entry-level 74bhp 1.0-litre engine, Renault's lively state-of-the-art 0.9-litre petrol turbo triple and a frugal and flexible 1.5-litre turbodiesel.

INTERIOR

Dacia Sandero interior

Predictably, there's nothing spectacular about the Dacia Sandero's cabin – except space. Compare the car with its nearest rivals by price, the likes of the Suzuki Alto and Skoda Citigo, and the Dacia's case crystallises. There's 830mm of maximum rear legroom, 950mm of rear headroom and 780mm of usable boot length here.

That's only marginally more rear cabin space than you get from a modern city car, but much more cargo volume. The Sandero is actually more spacious than a Peugeot 208. Adults can sit in the back in decent comfort, and there are five doors and a boot you don't need to make excuses for – all not to be sniffed at in this end of the market.

I've no objection to the Dacia Sandero's equipment levels

The car's fixtures and fittings are more sparse and basic than you might be used to but, while they're rudimentary and plain, they work well. The cabin plastics are hard and ungrained in places but feel durable.

There's a mixture of tones to break up the monotony on the fascia too, and even the odd glossy black finisher.

Entry-level models come with manual windows and manual door locks, a heater, a rear demister, air bags and a 12v socket, but no air-con. Despite a fixed steering column and a seat that doesn't adjust for cushion height or angle, the driving ergonomics are good and the instruments are clear.

There are no head restraints for rear seat passengers, and that's a potential safety issue. They wouldn't need to be comfy, just functional, like the rest of the cabin. Also of some annoyance is the fact that occupants can't lock their own door as they close it. A Sandero driver must always be last out, as well as first in, in order to secure the car – and that is needlessly inconvenient.

Upgrade to the Access trim and a few more styling tweaks are added, along with manual wing mirrors and wiring for a stereo system. Opt for the more upmarket Ambiance trim and the situation improves a little. You get electric front windows, remote central locking, a splitting rear seat and a radio with USB and auxiliary connections. Sanderos in this specification are, consequently, considerably more appealing and easier to live with. Selecting this trim level also adds three height-adjustable rear headrests, a notable safety improvement over the entry-level model, and for 2017, also includes a height adjustment pack as standard - which allows you to adjust the height of the steering wheel and driver's.

The range-topping Dacia Sandero Lauréate, besides myriad cosmetic upgrades, comes with an even more comprehensive kit list that will be acceptable to buyers used to more upmarket models. It includes niceties like air-con, electric rear windows, a trip computer, cruise control, a 7-inch touchscreen multimedia system with sat-nav and rear parking sensors

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Dacia Sandero side profile

The way the Dacia Sandero performs isn't good. Quantitatively speaking, it's competitive; qualitatively, it lacks good manners and sophistication. As such, it's acceptable – but only just.

If you're on a tight budget, don't be put off by the entry-level engine choice. The 1.0-litre petrol engine's 0-62mph time of 14.2secs might sound poor, but it's barely a second slower than the 1.2-litre Peugeot 208, and is slightly quicker than the now obslete 1.2. It doesn't feel desperately slow, either, although it's not one to regularly drive a long way on the motorway. 

The Sandero handles with a tidiness that speaks of its simplicity and low weight

It's apparent that this is a powertrain designed to function, not to please, however. The engine is tinny at idle and becomes coarse above 3500rpm, making its presence felt and heard in the cabin. 

A more modern option is the 898cc turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, badged TCe. Sanderos with this engine are by no means slow, and are more suited to cross-country driving than the basic 1.0-litre models.

The TCe engine produces plenty of torque and makes the Sandero as spritely as you'd want it to be; the 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in 11.1sec. It isn't, however, particularly inspiring, and it sends unpleasant vibrations through the controls and body.

Those intent on covering longer distances, or seeking out the most economical choice, will be tempted by the 1.5-litre dCi 90 diesel. With emissions of 99g/km of CO2 and a claimed average economy of 74.3mpg, it's a frugal option.

Performance is strong, with 0-62mph taking 12.1sec, and there's plenty of low-end grunt. Tall gear ratios help boost motorway cruising economy as well. The engine is, however, quite noisy at higher speeds.

In all models the Sandero's gearlever is a little more obstinate than the small-car norm and the pedals lack the slickness that marks out fine-tuning. The controls work, but not instinctively.

Braking performance is acceptable rather than great, except in the wet, where the skinny tyres cut through standing water and marshal its modest kerb weight well. Good ABS software helps – as suggested earlier, Dacia has the basics well covered.

RIDE & HANDLING

Dacia Sandero cornering

The word 'adequate' sums up the Dacia Sandero's dynamic showing, irrespective of specification. You could attribute the car's slightly lumpy, approximate ride control to antiquated mechanicals, to a shortage of budget for quality components or to a shortage of time, money or expertise for chassis tuning. 

All three could be responsible for the gap between the Sandero's ride and handling and that of an average supermini. But the truth is more complicated than that, because with the strength to deal with the unsealed roads of Morocco and Brazil comes greater unsprung masses and stiffer dampers – both enemies of decent ride quality.

The Sandero's ride is at best functional, but it's not comfortable

Whatever explains it, the Sandero has an uneven and inconsistent gait over a changing surface. For the first couple of inches of wheel travel, over gentle lumps and bumps and at low speeds, the suspension moves quite freely. Then, over disturbances that don't look much bigger, the shock absorbers suddenly wake up and check the body's movement in a slightly abrupt fashion. The car's damping is 'route one' – digital rather than analogue. It's rarely uncomfortable – it serves a purpose, but that’s all.

On a smoother route, however, the picture is rosier. The steering is well weighted and reasonably feelsome and, when stoked up, the Dacia corners with some aplomb. Grip is nicely balanced between the axles and body roll doesn't discourage a press-on approach.

You'll feel like you're victimising the car's engine and drivetrain in bullying it along at speeds high enough to discover as much, of course, and most owners are never likely to. Still, for those who care to, it might be pleasing to unearth the ghost of a fine-driving old Renault Clio every now and again.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Dacia Sandero

The Dacia Sandero does very well when it comes to residual values, aided by the fact that it doesn't cost much in the first place. Consequently, there's not much to lose. We can imagine that won't matter a jot to a good proportion of Dacia Sandero owners, however, who are likely to keep their cars until they wear out.

You certainly can't quibble with the value on offer, as we've already explained. It might take a few moments to wrap your head around Dacia's showroom philosophy, which makes your chances of a discount very slim. But when the list prices are this good, that's an easier philosophy to accept. 

The Sandero uses a modified 1998 Renault Clio 2 platform

The price you see is the price you pay – same as everyone else. Credit to Dacia, too, for coming up with some attractive finance deals for the car, through which you can buy a Sandero for a small amount after a typical deposit.

While the Ambiance and Lauréate versions of the Sandero are more appealing packages, their list prices go against Dacia's low-cost ethos and force the Sandero into competition with more grown-up and sophisticated (if maybe not quite as well specified) rivals, particularly if you want a diesel or TCe-engined example.

 

VERDICT

3 star Dacia Sandero

The modern mainstream compact hatchback has inherited a great deal of sophistication over the past decade. And by the more rarefied standards against which we measure most of them now – excepting its prodigious practicality – the basic Dacia Sandero comes up short.

But even on things such as refinement, specification and economy, this car gives you more than you're paying for. Many buyers, of course, will look not to the likes of the Kia Rio and Chevrolet Aveo for context, but to the Sandero's nearest competition on price that includes

Opting for a mid-spec Sandero delivers a far more appealing package, but ramps up the price

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Dacia Sandero 2013-2020 First drives