From £10,150
Our value-led 4x4 SUV made such an impression during its long-term test that its keeper decided not to hand it back

Why we ran it: To see if the Dacia Duster is the market’s best-value SUV, and that it still embodies the Dacia ethos of functionality with affordability after a refresh

Duster: Month 6Month 5 - Month 4Sandero Stepway: Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

84 Dacia duster 2022 long term handover static

Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 6

You may already have twigged that the Dacia Duster 4x4 long-termer that has served me well for the past few months – and was due earlier this month to be handed on to a new owner – isn’t going anywhere.

I’ve decided to buy it as a replacement for the long-serving Citroën Berlingo Multispace that has been our household’s do-it-all runabout for the past 19 years. This has been a wrench, but having savoured and approved of the Duster’s excellent audition for the role (and having realised that the Citroën is starting to need more titivation than it once did), I’ve decided to make the switch.

I know what you’re thinking. If a bloke shells out his own cash for a nearly new car (new official price was £21,040, plus £788 afterfit towbar; I’m paying £19,600), he’s hardly likely to be impartial about whether it’s a good car or not. People aren’t. But then, I was pretty damned partial even before this long-term test began: I covered this revised Duster’s launch for Autocar and rated it highly.

Along with other Dacias, the Duster makes you wonder why on earth people pay so much for other cars. In the olden days, cheap cars were classed and equipped as ‘poverty models’, with one sun visor, no parcel shelf and no lid on the glovebox.

But today’s average Duster (mine’s a mid-spec Comfort, recently renamed Expression) has more gubbins than plenty of cars costing a lot more: a reversing screen, automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, Apple CarPlay and a truckload of other modern essentials.

Big money is saved elsewhere in its make-up: for instance, the only available upholstery is a hefty black fabric, durable enough to win the war.

The air-con isn’t climate controlled. Instead, it blasts you enthusiastically from round holes in the dashboard. It isn’t the most powerful going, either, as I’m finding out today (it’s 38deg C). But for 363 days of the year, it’s fine, and even today it’s coping. There are no front parking sensors because Dacia takes the not unreasonable view that you’re looking forward anyway. Pragmatic thinking is evident all over this car, one of the reasons I so like it.


Read our review

Car review

It might be the biggest bargain on the new car market, but is it a car worth having?

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There’s more. The Duster is far from imposing in a ‘my-4x4’s- bigger-than-yours’ way but it looks chunky and purposeful. While the size is perfect for parking, there’s enough uncluttered space inside with the rear seats folded to handle the frequent trips to the recycling centre our lives seem to entail.

True, long-legged rear passengers will be cramped on that once-in-a-blue- moon trip to the train station – but you’re doing them a favour anyway. The chassis corners neatly and grips well. The ride is supple and surprisingly well damped. Road noise is lower than in many. The steering, which is light at parking speeds, makes pricey models feel as if there’s unnecessary stiction in their mechanisms.

The 10.2sec 0-62mph acceleration and the game little engine’s decent ground-floor torque delivery make the Duster feel quite responsive, but its true meÃtier is rolling happily along with the crowd, not competing with the testosterone gang.

If you’re in a hurry, you can get going quite well, but Duster drivers don’t habitually beat up other traffic, and there will be curious looks from the surrounding Audi and BMW brigade if you take your chassis anywhere near the limit of its capabilities. Most people buy two-wheel-drive Dusters because they’re cheaper and more economical with fuel.

But I chose the all-wheel-drive version because from our semi-rural location I like ambling about on grassy banks, we have friends who encourage us to park in fields, and the Steering Committee has connections with the farming fraternity, whose access roads can be tricky. And just occasionally in snowy weather, leaving our house can be a challenge. I’m already looking forward to it.

Getting used to the 4x4’s six-speed manual gearchange can also present a challenge, for a week or so. First is a crawler gear intended mainly for off-road use so it’s mostly too low for normal motoring. Day to day, you have to get used to what is, in effect, a five-speed ’box with a dog-leg first. Get this, and the gearchange action feels crisp and precise.

Despite the 4x4-ness, motorway cruising is no problem. The Duster will roll with the rest at 80mph. And at the end of most high-mile days, the trip computer, which promises 640 miles of range when you brim the car, will also show close to 60mpg. It’s another form of freedom. Of course, even through my rose-tinted specs, it is clear the Duster isn’t the perfect car. Despite the functionality, the cost saving is obvious.

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Whether you can tolerate this – or even take pleasure in it, as we zealots do – largely governs how you rate the Duster. But for all this talk of practicality and cost saving, my main motivator for buying this car is driving pleasure. I invariably get back into the Dacia after spending time in things that are grander and more exotic – and I’ve had this happen with Mercs, McLarens and Bentleys – to discover that, even if the Dacia isn’t actually better than they are, it still feels pretty damned good. Goo 

Second Opinion

I drive a lot of cars that make me wonder why, for all the money the company charges, they couldn’t have paid more attention to this or that detail. The Duster is the opposite: for its price, it’s got no business being as good as it is. I can absolutely see why Steve didn’t want to give it back.  

Illya Verpraet 

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Love it:

Ride refinement Long-travel suspension plus very good damping give a comfortable ride and help to quell road noise.

Sips slowly Smooth 1.5 diesel often delivers 60mpg-plus; decent tank capacity enables a range of over 600 miles.

Eye appeal Duster's well-proportioned shape emphasises Dacia's mantra that affordable cars can look good too.

Wheel sense Comfort trim's modest 16in wheels on tallish tyres improve ride quality and help guard against kerbing.

Loathe it:

Knobbly knees Rear knee room is nothing to write home about; barely better than in a Sandero, which is a size smaller.

Final mileage: 11,270

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The Duster's 4x4 system is top class - 22 June

After nearly 11,000 miles of trying, I put a proper low-grip surface under the Duster: not mud but wet grass, which can be like ice to drive on. With 4WD selected, it traversed gradients and side slopes with aplomb. In Auto (where it configures itself between 2WD and 4WD), there was a bit more hesitation and a hint of wheelspin, but traction was again excellent. Short overhangs and good ground clearance just make things better. 

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Mileage: 10,888

Breadth of budget 4x4’s capabilities continue to delight - 8 June

I’ve just busted the 10,000-mile barrier, the Dacia Duster and I. This SUV arrived at Autocar with fewer than 400 miles on the clock, which means it has done those miles all in this calendar year.

One reason is that I’ve been busy these past few months, but the major one is that the Duster continues to be a vehicle of choice. It’s small enough for traffic, big enough for loads and motorways, practical enough for daily chores and unobtrusive enough to go about its ownbusiness without fuss.

I’ve allowed selected (and insured) friends to drive the Duster of late, and three impressions shine out. First is that if you take the trouble to stand and look at it (as opposed to dismissing it out of hand because it isn’t expensive to buy), you notice how chunkily good-looking it is.

Second is the refinement: it’s quieter and suppler over bumps than new drivers expect, helped by its ideally sized 16in wheels (more on them in a moment) and suspension that feels as though more money has been spent on its damping than probably has been.

It can bounce a bit when driven hard over bad undulations, but it’s nearly always stable and comfortable.

Duster long term candm

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The third thing that everyone sees (after, I confess, I point it out) is this diesel’s propensity to average better than 55mpg however you drive.

As you will see from our figures, its running-average MPG is even higher. This means that when you dial up the range readout on the (basic but handy) trip computer after refuelling, it’s always north of 600 miles. That’s so reassuring.

Our Duster is a mid-range Comfort, which means it comes with 16in alloys, rather than the top, Elegance model’s 17in set, and I’ve come to see this as an advantage. Some familiarity with a 17in car shows that it has more bump-thump, and who would pay extra for that? What’s more, our 4x4 model also has standard Goodyear Vector 4 Season tyres: good in the wet and in light snow and reassuringly chunky to the eye as well.

Drawbacks? Okay, the Duster isn’t a fast car. After I’ve been driving something effortless and electric, its progress can seem laboured, although I’m still reassured by the mid-range torque. Also, it gets tiresome the way drivers of prestigious saloons clock the Dacia badges and cut you up as a matter of routine as if their own badges gave them some kind of pre-eminence. Affecting a sphinx-like lack of concern is the only remedy.

All in all, the Duster continues to do well and suits my use for it. We have just a few more weeks to spend together. I know I will enjoy them and be sorry when they’re over. 

Love it 

A decent profile

It has better proportions than many SUVs, especially the fairly few compact ones that can match its neat fit into parking spaces.

Loathe it 

Forget the image

Some like its lack of pretension, but the wider market’s dead-wrong presumption that it’s a second-class citizen can be irksome

Mileage: 10,005

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Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 5

Gearchanges are surprisingly similar to one of our favourite small sports cars - 25 May

At the beginning, I wondered if I’d ever get used to the diesel Duster’s six-speed manual gearchange. First gear is a dead-slow crawler, so you usually drive it as a five-speed with a dog-leg first, starting in second gear. I’m used to it now, and in fact the gearchange action it most reminds me of is my departed Mazda MX-5, one of the very best.

Mileage: 9340

Any interior cloth you like, so long as it’s black. Which is just fine - 11 May

I boast about the Duster all the time. Friends are getting bored with this; I can see it in their eyes. But every time the dark blue Romanian diesel 4x4 and I take a trip together, the essential refinement surprises me again, and these impressions are made pretty trustworthy by my contact with some of the Duster’s higher-born rivals.

The other thing that gets me is how amazingly close this mid-range Comfort model gets to an ideal specification, showing the truth of Dacia’s beguiling mantra: everything you want and nothing you don’t. It’s a pleasure consulting the configurator, getting to ‘Interior’, and seeing again that the choice is black fabric or black fabric. You can almost feel money dropping off the purchase price.

The cabin looks good  and works fine, including in weather when comfort-lovers who drive leather-lined ritzmobiles must pay (including in weight) for integrated seat heaters.

We’re up to 7500 miles now and I’ve given up counting the number of times I’ve grabbed the Dacia in preference to something f lashier, just because it’s convenient, comfortable and modest.

Modest is important: I’m done with arriving at places where you’re judged by your motor. I’d rather choose a car for my own reasons and park around the corner.

Of course, the Duster’s not the perfect car. We had an early glitch with the electronics, although I think that was my fault for constantly tricking the stop-start by keeping my clog half on and half off the clutch.

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There’s a fair bit of hard plastic around the cabin, and as the weather warms, I’m noticing a section of trim buzzes. And the Duster does lean a bit in corners (as much because of the squashy 16in tyres as the suspension), although decent grip is there, rain or shine.

There's also a very odd, faint but persistent buffeting, evidently from underneath, that seems to occur at around 60mph when the wind’s in a particular direction. And rear room is no better than in the smaller, cheaper Sandero I had before, even if the generous boot (with its optional £300 full- size spare) is part-compensation.

The Duster’s fuel consumption gets ever more spectacular. Lots of my driving is up the Fosse Way from Cirencester, and quite often you’re baulked by traffic that won’t do more than 50-55mph. In those circumstances, the average fuel consumption can easily exceed 60mpg (can this frugal, modern, fuel-saving, Euro 6 car really be dismissed as a ‘filthy diesel’?).

Regularly – make that irregularly – when I fill the tank, the dashboard range readout promises 640 miles. I feel smug standing among my fellow fuellers because when I part with £50, they’re often stung for £100.

I know what you’re thinking: here he goes with another paean of praise for a car most people wouldn’t find desirable. But to me the remedy for doubters is simple: try one.

Love it: Styling 

The Duster design looks great – tough, well proportioned, perfectly sized and muscular. Even rival car designers agree.

Loathe it: Rear leg room

The price of desirable compactness, I suspect: full-size adults feel pretty confined in the rear. It’s not the height or width, just the leg room.

Mileage: 7517

Duster's versatility knows no bounds - 27 April

I’m disappointed the threat of snow has abated, because I was desperate to test the Duster’s 4WD system and snow tyres. But this do-it-all car has done everything else: carried five people, shifted furniture, driven on wet grass, cruised lots of motorways and done urban driving and parking. Versatility is its strength; no wonder you see so many on our roads. 

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Mileage: 6174

A sound-guided speedometer  - 13 April

The Duster’s transmission emits a dainty but unmissable whine at about 70mph, though this mostly disappears at other speeds. A maker of ritzier cars would probably spend big money eliminating it, but Dacia doesn’t see it as a priority. As the user, I find it a) endearing, and b) a handy kind of audible speedometer.

Mileage: 5858

Life with a Dacia Duster: Month 4

It’s diesel, it costs about £20,000 and it might just be all the car you will ever need - 30 March 2022

The Duster has already started doing that familiar Dacia thing: gobbling miles just because it’s so damned convenient and economical. As I write, the car has been here exactly two months and the mileage has climbed from 385 to just over 5000. I happen to have one of those lives in which you accumulate miles, but normally I spread them more across other cars.

The Duster is like its brethren: one of those cars that’s easiest to fall into than most – convenient enough, small enough, quick enough, quiet enough, comfortable enough, frugal enough. Chuck in the facts that when you take it places it doesn’t try to make any particular statement about you (a bonus in our trade) and that even rival designers feel able to praise its chunky styling and you have an extremely complete car. All of this for £20,000.

There was an early electronic glitch when the power steering stopped working and an array of warnings flashed up on the instrument display. However, the problem turned out to be temporary and is quite likely to have been caused by operator error. By the time Dacia’s people had taken the car away and checked it, it had reset itself and was behaving faultlessly.

When a couple of weeks later it happened again, I noted that it had followed an extended bout of traffic crawling, during which I’d developed the thoroughly undesirable habit of resting my clog on the clutch while stationary, thus not quite allowing the stop-start system to kick in. I’m now convinced my bad habit was tricking the electronics into a failure mode, especially since I’ve now stopped doing it and the car has been faultless for 3500 miles.

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I’m still cogitating on the spec we chose: our Comfort 4x4 is one above bog-basic and there are two more on top with the potential to add up to £1800 to the fully built price (less towbar) of £21,040. But Comfort brings you plenty of equipment including a reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and a driver’s seat height adjuster, while keeping the extremely important (to me) 16in alloy wheels that allow the car to ride better and quieter than pricier models on 17s.

I feel no guilt about going for diesel, because every time I fill the car, my trip computer average for the 4600 miles so far – 57.3mpg – promises a 600-to-620-mile touring range. These two figures are such obvious signs of efficiency in the real world, especially in a car with a standard 4x4 facility, that I rate the Duster’s smooth and healthy 1.5-litre diesel engine as an ideal choice. In any case, you can’t have four-wheel drive without diesel in the Duster, and I’m still praying for snow so that I can properly test the 4WD traction. Living where I do, it’s looking as though I’m going to be disappointed.

The Duster is giving a decent account of itself as a motorway car, which really counts to me. It will cruise in the business-driver traffic without excessive din (even on rough bitumen, the road noise is lower than in many); and even when you cruise as fast as you feel comfortable and can get away with, you still get most of 50mpg.

The comfort is fine for me, although the Steering Committee is inclined to whinge a bit about a lack of lumbar support on long trips. And rear room is acceptable for kids, poor for adults. Lots of boot space, mind.

All said, I’m simply looking forward to more effortless miles in this prince of all-rounders. Its clearest claim to fame is that it just makes motoring simple.

Love it:

All-round ability This car displays a rare willingness to make a decent fist of anything you want, short of track days.

Loathe it:

Rear seat room Don’t expect big people to be comfortable in the back for long. Knee room is at a premium.

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Mileage: 5015

97 Dacia duster 2022 long term handover tracking rear

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Time for a change - 9 March 2022

It was one of those car-swap moments when you can’t decide whether to be disappointed or elated.

On the positive side, the sun was shining, a handsome new £21,000 Dacia Duster DCi 115 4x4 Comfort had just turned up in our drive and would be sticking around for the next few months.

The downside, and it was sizeable, was that the Dacia Sandero Stepway TCe 90 Prestige I’d been running for the previous seven months (during which I’d amassed a practical, economical, always-busy 16,000 miles) was about to drive out of my life forever. We had bonded, and I knew it was going to be tough parting.

Still, the big consolation was that I’d remain plugged into the unique Dacia ethos, a straightforwardness I’ve come to value greatly. Others make the same ‘everything you need and nothing you don’t’ claim as Renault’s highly successful budget brand, but Dacia really achieves it, following through with prices no one else is inclined to match.

You want a nice paint finish and proper panel fit? Today’s Dacia is as good as any Ford, Volkswagen or Renault. I was continually impressed by the lustre of my Stepway’s Sunset Orange metallic paint, optional for £560 (now £595), which was one of only two factory options that could be fitted to my car. The other was a £150 (now £300) full-size spare wheel. My only after-fit gadget was a towbar with a detachable goose neck (£788 as fitted), which I occasionally used to tow my motorbike trailer.

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You want climate control, LED headlights or Apple CarPlay? No problem at all. But when it comes to specifying interior seat colours or trim materials, you will discover just one cost-crucifying choice – ultra-durable black fabric with light- coloured stitching. It looks perfectly modern and stylish, and ours was unmarked after 16,000 miles. On most models, you get one wheel/tyre choice – the one Dacia knows works best. It takes one minute to configure a Duster online: who would have thought having your mind made up for you could feel so liberating?

I have only one regret about the departing Stepway: in early reports, I banged on about a kink in the torque curve that introduced an annoying non-linear throttle response. It came, I discovered, from my overuse of the car’s Eco setting, a button on the dash that dulls throttle response. Ignore that facility (as I rapidly learned to do) and the effect disappears – without damaging fuel consumption in the slightest. My overall fuel mileage was 48.9mpg (the real figure undercutting the on-board trip computer by just 0.6mpg). I never used the Eco button again. 

96 Dacia duster 2022 long term handover sc driving

And so to the new Duster: as is well known, it’s a bigger car than the Sandero (4.3 metres long instead of 4.1) and the model we’ve chosen is a mid-spec Comfort that differs from the Prestige by ditching climate control in favour of perfectly decent manual air-con. It also means that rather than the Prestige’s admittedly elegant diamond-cut 17in alloys, you get an all-silver set of 16s wearing taller tyres. No bad thing, as we’ll see.

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Going against fashion, I opted for the Blue DCi 115 diesel engine, producing a meagre-sounding 114bhp but redeeming the situation with a very solid 192lb ft of torque – more than any other Dacia engine offered. The diesel decision wasn’t hard: for one thing, this is the only engine available with Dacia’s excellent and  convenient 4x4 system, electrically configurable with one twist-knob in three ways: 2WD, on-demand 4WD and locked-in 4WD. For another, I knew that this docile 1.5-litre diesel machine, which has already settled into mostly rural life delivering an average 55mpg, was likely to do far less environmental harm than most cars already on the road – petrol or diesel. It has turned out to be a good decision.

This Duster has one major quirk: instead of having its six manually selected ratios spaced so that you take off from stop lights in first and reach a motorway cruise in a ‘long’ sixth, this 4x4’s first gear is a crawler intended for off-road applications, probably with permanent 4x4 and the standard hill descent control engaged. Use it in town and you’ll find it so short it will practically trip over itself, and you’ll be dead slow away from traffic lights because the engine is blaring at 20mph and you’ll have to make a very early gearchange.

To achieve normality, you must get used to starting in second gear (it takes a few of us back to revered supercars with dog-leg first-to-second shifts), which is no hardship, so long as you remember. The engine is smooth and quiet but has plenty of low-end shove and the fifth gearing is perfectly relaxed well beyond the motorway limit, so you’re never aware of a shortage of on-road ratios.

The Duster is good looking and spacious in the front and for boot space, but its rear passenger knee room is barely better than the Sandero Stepway’s. That makes it okay until your kids reach their teenage years, but it will ultimately feel confined.

My best discoveries so far have been this 4x4’s truly surprising ride quality and its fairly light but accurate steering. All Dusters ride well, having a sophistication of damping that completely belies their low prices. When you add the fact that the diesel off-roader has about 30cm more ride height (therefore suspension travel) than the 2WD models and combine this with the Comfort’s modest 16in wheels that run relatively tall 215/65 Goodyear Vector M&S tyres (with a handsome cross-cut tread pattern), you have a machine that’s quieter and more cosseting on difficult surfaces than it has any right to be.

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One weird glitch so far. The electric power steering stopped working one morning, and a lot of dashboard warnings appeared. The car was recovered by the importers, but by the time it reached their home base, all had returned to normal. The Duster passed all inspections there and has been fine ever since, to the acute embarrassment of your humble servant. The mileage is already amassing fast, just as it did with the previous model, and I’m enjoying every one of them.

Second Opinion

I found it hard to overlook the rudimentary aspects of the Mk2 Duster that I ran back in 2019, but I find that its appeal grows inexorably with every passing news story of an EV that thinks it’s a smartphone. I’m interested to hear how much Steve values his Duster’s extra driven axle, as I was impressed enough by the 4x2 (petrol but also manual) that I recently tested.

Kris Culmer

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Specs: Price New £20,145 Price as tested £21,040 Options Metallic paint £595, spare wheel £300

Test Data: Engine 4 cyls, 1461cc, turbocharged, diesel Power 113bhp at 3750rpm Torque 191lb ft at 1750-2750rpm Kerb weight 1263kg Top speed 108mph 0-62mph 10.2sec Fuel economy 53.3mpg CO2 139g/km Faults None Expenses None


Dacia Duster Blue DCi 115 4x4 Comfort specification

Prices: List price new £20,145 List price now £20,945 Price as tested £21,040

Options: Metallic paint £595, spare wheel £300 

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 53.3mpg Fuel tank 50 litres Test average 58.5mpg Test best 64.0mpg Test worst 39.9mpg Real-world range 643 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 10.2sec Top speed 108mph Engine 4 cyls, 1461cc, turbocharged, diesel Max power 114bhp at 3750rpm  Max torque 191lb ft at 1750rpm Transmission 6-spd manual, 4WD Boot capacity 411-1623 litres Wheels 19in, alloy Tyres 215/65 R16 Kerb weight 1405kg

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Service and running costs: Contract hire rate N/A CO2 129-140g/km Service costs None Other costs None Fuel costs £1624 Running costs inc fuel £1624 Cost per mile 14.9 pence Faults None

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98 Dacia duster 2022 long term handover side pan

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Life with a Sandero Stepway: Month 3

The only option - 17 November 2021

I’m so plugged into Dacia’s ‘all that you need and nothing that you don’t’ ethos that I tend to tell even non-car-loving friends about it quite a bit. And do you know what plays best with them? Hearing that if you buy a new Sandero Stepway TCe 90 Prestige like mine, you can specify only one option: a full-size spare wheel (replacing a tyre repair kit) for £250. They really love that.

Mileage: 12,050

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Impressive economy - 27 October 2021

Concerned by problems of finding fuel, I set off on a 190-mile return trip to London from Gloucestershire, doing my best to save fuel while staying on schedule. Efforts were aided by sundry 50mph and 60mph restrictions on the M4, but the result – 75.8mpg – was still pretty good, I think. It later fell into the 60s when we struck strong headwinds.

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Mileage: 11,202

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Non-stop odometer - 6 October 2021

The Sandero keeps accumulating miles at breakneck speed, for two important reasons. First, it always seems to be convenient in conflicting roles, such as easily carrying four adults while fitting down narrow suburban streets. Second, it’s frugal and has a fairly big petrol tank, so it hardly ever seems to need refuelling, which is especially handy in the present circumstances.

Mileage: 10,340

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Life with a Sandero Stepway: Month 2

Not so lesser-spotted any more - 18 August 2021

I’m starting to see new-shape Sanderos all over the place – and a lot of them in the bronze hue of mine that suits it so well. People you meet in a Dacia treat you in two different ways: those who appreciate its great value are respectful, while the quick and impatient imagine you will hold them up – or perhaps they just want to pass you for reassurance that it was worth all that extra money.

Mileage: 7464

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Rugged, value-brand supermini proves its do-it-all credentials - 11 August 2021

Img 8844

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The Sandero Stepway has been acquiring mileage hand over fist, for a couple of excellent reasons. First is our extra dependence nowadays on reporting-by-driving jobs around the country, rather than day trips via Heathrow to Germany or France (an excellent development, in my opinion).

Second is the Stepway’s do-everything nature: it’s small enough to fit into tight traffic gaps and parking spaces suitable only for superminis, yet it’s roomy enough in the rear (partly because it’s taller) to accommodate full-size adults, with enough boot space for their stuff.

Even if you have access to other cars, you tend to grab the Dacia because it’s convenient. Its cheerful and willing nature means it’s always ready. The result is that I’ve amassed close to 7000 miles since it arrived in early May, and that progression doesn’t look like stopping.

One frustration is that I haven’t managed to get the trip computer’s running fuel economy figure to the 50mpg that my initial gentle treatment promised. It seems to have settled at 48.9mpg and hardly changes whatever I do. But that figure matters even less now, because recent accurate checks of the fuel computer’s veracity have established that it’s exactly 1mpg optimistic, so the real running figure is 47.9mpg.

That’s still excellent for a car I’ve used for absolutely everything, even towing my motorbike trailer with an (admittedly light) old Douglas on the back.

It still amuses me that this ultraaffordable car, for which you can get only two options (metallic paint and a full-size spare wheel), has automatic lights and wipers, climate control, auto walk-away locking and an autorelease electric handbrake – plus a knurled gear knob, just like a Bentley.

Given that the Stepway is performing so well, it’s not hard to understand the truth of Dacia’s claim that this is Europe’s most popular privately bought (as opposed to business fleet) car. Maybe business fleets need to get with the programme as well.

One recent interesting episode was spending a week in a Renault Clio powered by the same 1.0-litre petrol turbo engine as the Dacia’s – and riding on the same platform – to clock the differences. The fact that the Stepway has a slightly lumpier ride and creates a bit more road noise is understandable enough, given that there looks to be £3000-ish extra value in it. But you have to wonder which came first: refinements to the Renault’s platform and engine to make them quieter and smoother or deliberate omissions of sound-deadening measures to create a small but noticeable difference.

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The only meaningful fault I can find with the Dacia, given its great price and equipment and decent quality, is the lumpy engine response, which includes a gigantic flat spot around 2800rpm that you can never quite ‘drive around’. In the Clio, interestingly, the same was present, but it was far less noticeable, causing me to wonder again whether my own car’s electronics would benefit from some sort of reprogramming.

Enough readers have now raised this issue, either through ownership or on test drives, to convince me that it’s a genuine foible of the Sandero Stepway. Before I write about it again, I’m going to lift the phone and establish whether a cure exists. If it doesn’t, it probably should.

Love it: Outrageous value

This sector is supposed to be stuffed with alternatives, but you won’t find another car with this much capability for the money.

Loathe it: Engine response

The engine trips over itself at 2800rpm. It’s smooth, economical and strong, but its progression through the range needs attention.

Mileage: 7688

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Life with a Sandero Stepway: Month 1

We compare old and new Stepways to see how far it has come - 21 July 2021

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When we road-tested the Dacia Sandero Stepway a few months ago, the verdict was so effusive (not the perfect car but much better than you would expect for the money) that we started wondering exactly how big the upward step had been to this all-new model, utilising its modern Renault Clio platform.

Dacia, not remotely shy about helping us quantify the scale of its improvement, happily sent a previous Stepway for assessment, similarly powered to our TCe 90 but on a now- outmoded platform. Immediately obvious were that car’s much- discussed lack of rear knee room and less comfortable ingress/egress, despite there being only millimetres of difference in the overall package.

This old-versus-new thing was especially beguiling when we made an on-paper list of what the two cars have. They’re remarkably similar. The real differences are in execution: the new car looks classier and much more modern. The fuller, more sculpted body sections give it far more presence; it’s less willing to ‘know its place’ in the car firmament.

Proof that the new Stepway is as attractive as any supermini lies in the fact that people who don’t study car brand hierarchy simply see no status difference between this latest Dacia and, say, the Volkswagen Polo. The previous Stepway was much more styled to stay in its pigeonhole.

Such differences continue into the cabin. A knurled metal gearknob in the latest Stepway is a dig at sellers of much more high-tone cars. Clever use of fabric-covered hard plastic softens it in the eye of the beholder, while saving money. The central screen is as businesslike and well executed as that in many a pricier supermini.

With a sensibly sized and shaped wheel and low-effort input, the steering competes well with better cars’, too, whereas its ancestor is fairly vague. Only after many miles do you notice a few foibles. Just sometimes, around the straight- ahead, it does some minor tramlining and lacks a bit of precision.

On our favourite B-road, the old Dacia is softer but also less well controlled. The new one is more chuckable, cornering neutrally even in very long bends taken hard. The differences also show in ride quality. The new car is night-and-day f latter and better controlled, although there are still times when it feels it could do with more wheel travel and better control at the extremities. While both 1.0-litre turbo three-pots are remarkably smooth, the new car has noticeable cut-in noise intrusion and footwell vibration.

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These differences won’t matter to everyone. For the many to whom the price is the be all, such shades of difference barely have significance. But for those with an Autocar-led order of priorities, there’s a big step up in driver appeal: the new edition is constantly enjoyable to drive.

But the nub of the matter is more fundamental. Whereas the previous Stepway was content to undercut its supermini peers and be happy with that, the new one offers at least the same price advantage yet is quite prepared to challenge its betters anyway. That approach gives the car a powerful and enduring appeal.

Love it: Plenty of presence

Dacia’s designers have found ways to modernise the Stepway’s shape and toughen its character.

Loathe it: Engine flat spots

It’s smooth and quite powerful, but the engine’s uneven mid-range response can be annoying.

Mileage: 6262

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Three cylinders, one litre, 89bhp: what more could you want? - 7 July 2021

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One of the enduring fascinations of the new Sandero Stepway is just how much all-round capability is delivered by its modest 89bhp 1.0-litre three-pot turbo engine. You can cruise as quickly as the others on motorways with a decent amount of shove left in case you need it and you can thrum smoothly along right at the bottom of the rev range in traffic.

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The price you pay (if price is the right word) is gear-changing. You’re in top gear far less than you would be in a car with, say, a 1.5-litre engine.

Sixth is geared at over 28mph per 1000rpm, which means you never select it until you’re doing 50mph- plus. You spend a lot of time in third, fourth and fifth, which seems wrong at first, because you think it’s going to blow a hole in your fuel consumption. Only it doesn’t. We’re averaging a tad under 50mpg, and I’m using the revs more freely now than ever. But why doesn’t the tacho have a redline?

My gripe about engine flat spots persists, but with familiarity you drive around it. The bottom line is that I’m enjoying the car. Every single day, I like comparing the modesty of its name and price with its excellent all-round delivery. It’s easy to see why so many private buyers choose the Sandero.

Mileage: 5235

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One key feature - 30 June 2021

The Stepway’s key card is turning out to be an unexpected boon. I love the way you don’t have to remember to lock the car – when paying in filling stations, for example. I was initially worried about losing the card (feeling it there was no substitute
for the reassuring rattle of a regular key), but if you keep it in your wallet, there’s never a problem.

Mileage: 4398

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Welcoming the Sandero to the fleet - 23rd June 2021

I have to admit that it was quite a change. Going from a £200,000-plus Bentley Bentayga with a blizzard of classy but pricey options to a Dacia Sandero Stepway Prestige priced at £14,605 – including the only two offered extras, metallic paint at £560 and a £150 spare wheel – is the kind of step that a real car buyer never makes. But I was really looking forward to it.

For one thing, our road testers had already established that the Dacia is a very decent car according to the ‘fitness for purpose’ criterion that guides all well-founded verdicts. And Dacia’s own sales experience across Europe, which has established the Sandero as the most bought retail car going, was irresistible. I have a weakness for simple, affordable cars, and so do 1.3 million Sandero buyers (around 10% of them British).

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Not that I’m truly slumming it, even in Dacia terms. The Stepway Prestige sits right at the top of the Sandero pole. The cheapest Sandero hatchback costs a shade under £8000, and even the taller and better-equipped entry-level Stepway is just £11,500.

Sure, our Prestige model bristles with what others regard as options (8.0in touchscreen, LED headlights, reversing camera, electronic parking brake and keyless entry), but all of that comes in the price. And as well as saving money, it also spares you the trouble of understanding a complex range and the time of filling in a fiddly form when your choices might be wrong. Dacia does the job for you.

Right from the off, the Stepway has overdelivered. Its £560 paint – in lively Desert Orange – has been applied with a quality that would distinguish the panels of a Ford or a Volkswagen. Which is to say very well. The car looks modern, well proportioned and eye-catching. The many people who don’t know Dacia as a value brand presume the Stepway carries a far bigger price than it does. Get familiar with this car and you soon start wondering why people spend so much on other makes.

The Stepway came our way with 1400 gentle miles already on the clock, and though its tiny turbo triple engine is naturally free-revving, it felt rather tight. At that stage, it was delivering around 46mpg (praiseworthy enough, you might think), but now that the engine (and gearbox) are better run-in, we’re much more used to seeing 50mpg and occasionally a bit more. This means the car has an easy touring range of 350 miles, yet it costs less than £45 to fill. No matter what your state of wealth, these are heart-warming figures.

The prospect of spending much of my driving life behind an 89bhp, 999cc three-cylinder engine didn’t excite much at first, but it has turned out to be a remarkably easy thing to do, especially since there are plenty of ratios, including a gratifyingly long-legged sixth that doesn’t really work below 50mph. The engine pulls surprisingly well at lower speeds, but spins so smoothly into the 5000s that such use is routine. It has become routine on another count, too.

13 Dacia sandero stepway 2021 lt on road rear

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Our car’s main foible is a rather uneven torque delivery at lower speeds. It promises plenty from around 2000rpm but there’s an annoying flatspot around 2500rpm, which means one minute you’re getting too little, but by the time you get to 3000rpm, you’re getting too much. You can drive around it by staying further up the rev range (there’s almost no noise penalty and the six-speed gearchange is fun to use), but a more linear power delivery would be welcome and might deliver even better economy. When there’s time and the car has a few more miles under its belt, I might consult the service people to see if it makes sense to reprogramme the ECU.

On all other counts, the Stepway is faring well. It’s well built (I’ve cured the one and only dashboard buzz), and I’ve become used to niceties like the reversing screen and the Apple CarPlay capability. The seats are comfortable and appear especially great at the price. People comment on the impressive look of the fascia, unaware that it simply uses a durable fabric to cover hard plastic. It stands for Dacia’s resourceful approach to life: we can’t afford expensive stuff so we’re going to make affordable stuff work hard for its living. And so far I see absolutely no durability penalty evident or on the horizon.

Three Stepway features I love above all others. First is the way you can detach and refit the standard roof rails across the car to make a roof rack, for which you would pay extra on almost any other car. Second is the convenient keyless locking and unlocking, considered a luxury feature on a Range Rover. Third and best is the well-executed knurling of the gearlever knob, an especially amusing feature, because the makers of my previous Bentley claim knurling as an emblem of quality.

In a way, this modest metal detail stands for the whole car. It eats other manufacturers’ lunches. It sets out deliberately to reward buyers who are not brand conscious, and the benefits are real. I have warmed already to the Dacia ethos and am bonding with the Stepway as the miles roll easily by.

Second Opinion

I spent a day in the Cropley Dacia and liked it a lot. Dead easy to rub along with and, thanks to things like the natty fabric trim and the quiet drivetrain, you’re never over-aware that it’s a budget car. I don’t remember the throttle hesitation on other Sanderos I’ve tried, mind.

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Matt Prior

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Dacia Sandero Stepway TCe 90 Prestige specification

Specs: Price New £13,895 Price as tested £14,605 Options Metallic paint £560, spare wheel £150

Test Data: Engine 3 cyls in line, 999cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 90bhp Torque 118lb ft Kerb weight 1096kg Top speed 107mph 0-62mph 11.9sec Fuel economy 50.4mpg CO2 127g/km Faults None Expenses None

6 Dacia sandero stepway 2021 lt sc driving

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Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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Add a comment…
Ivor Parker 16 August 2022

Great minds, Steve 'Shiny Arse' Cropley. Swapped from diesel Gen 2 Blingy to 4x4 Duster, though petrol, so only giving 50mpg & 500 miles range. Same 4.3Xm by 1.8m footprint, so a wieldy size on rural lanes. Only half the space in 'van' mode, but never did fill the Berlingo. Rear access much worse, but the Berlingo rear sliders would hard to surpass in child & dog mode. Both having monomeric street cred is another shared positive!

More critically, look at that 4.3Xm long Defender 90 on your fleet - 300bhp and cannot make 120mph? OK, academic, but very telling of its horrendous inefficiency! Alright if they saunder about at old Landy speeds, but these ghastly things are flying about in the outside lane, hence the 30, not 60 mpg. Almost twce the weight, three times the cost and woefully lamentable rear space & access.

Not envy, as could run a Bentayga or Cullinan, but having to limit my 4x4 motoring to the  hours of darkness would be a drag. Plus that constant, nagging worry that I had cut the eye holes in the paper bag in the wrong place....

liahughes 16 April 2022

A month ago I bought a Dacia Duster. Overall, the impression is positive. I am happy that I made the choice in favor of Duster. It has exceeded all my expectations - I drive it and I can't be happy about it. The feeling of euphoria does not leave me for a month. But the audio system, most likely, I will change - it turned out that the sound in the Duster is not worth even three. But there must be at least some disadvantages.

Lia Hughes - essay writer online in the company Writemyessaysos.

xxxx 15 August 2022

Lia, your post should be used as a warning for all students of English NOT to use 3rd parties for  university cousre work.

martin_66 15 August 2022

"cousre" work.  Oh, the irony!!!!

si73 5 September 2021
Not a bad looker and does seem to be a very decent family car, as long as you can ignore the ncap star rating and read into its crash result, you'll see that it is still a safe car in a crash, certainly seems as competent as the four star mokka, going by the written ncap verdict.