From £5,3456

Engine options, top speed, acceleration and refinement

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.

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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.