What is it: Budget supermini, backed by Renault
Key features: Spacious, quality far above basement price
Our view: The Dacia Sandero is a thoroughly competent supermini that performs way above its price.
Dacia is in many ways the brand of the moment – acquired by Renault in 1999, the Romanian budget marque is now being launched into the UK by its guardian – and in the process providing a bright spot in difficult times for the French state brand.
The launch model, the Duster SUV, received positive reviews, especially considering it costs from a mere £8,995. And now Dacia has a real attention-grabbing headline in the Sandero – a brand new supermini for under £6,000?
Actually the starting price – £5,995 – is not quite all it might seem to be, as we’ll see shortly. But equally, it’s by no means the only reason buyers should be looking at this car – it’s a lot more than its price.
UK journalists had their first driving experience of the Dacia Sandero at the same event that they first sat in the new Renault Clio – which at first glance might seem like Renault scoring an own goal.
The marketing man justified this move with the suggestion that Renault is moving into more expressive, Latin territory, while Dacia is fulfilling the more Germanic, functional role – the name Volkswagen was mentioned more than once…
You know what? He wasn’t far wrong… From the outside the car looks, well like many other superminis on today’s market. It’s not head-turning, particularly memorable, but that’s also a positive – it says mainstream car, it doesn’t say budget car.
And when one slips behind the wheel of the Sandero, the immediate impression is of a well put-together, no frills supermini. The joins are good, the plastics not too hard to the touch – it really did remind me of some German-owned cars I’ve driven.
The other big plus on the inside is the space. It doesn’t look a massive car from the exterior, but it outstretches its rivals in several key areas – shoulder and elbow room for example, rear knee room, and particularly bootspace. It’s 320 litres (most rivals struggle to beat 300) and rises to 1,200 with the rear seats folded.
There are three engine options – a 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol, the three-cylinder 900cc petrol familiar from recent Renault models, and a 1.5-litre diesel. The Car Expert drove the two petrol engines – diesels remain a niche buy in supermini land.
Dacia management believes that around half of the Sandero buyers will choose the 1.2 unit of 74bhp. We’re guessing that’s due to cost – there’s a trim level and £1,400 between separating the cheapest versions of the two units. Having driven both, a car fitted with the smaller but more powerful and thus quicker TCe 90 is by far a much more enjoyable experience.
The 1.2 is adequate – but only so. The 14.5 seconds it takes to get to 62mph feels laboured, whereas the 89 horses of the little TCe 90 propel it enthusiastically through the mark in a tad over 11 seconds.
Neither feels quite as refined as their perceived more upmarket rivals – something which does become obvious if immediately after driving the Dacia Sandero one jumps into one of those rivals, such as the Clio. Maybe it’s a case of extra soundproofing, more time, and money, spent on the motor industry nemesis Noise Vibration and Harshness. But, the Sandero is not bad in this area, and most owners will be quite happy with it.
On the road the car handles with competence and predictability. There’s nothing stand-out here, but there’s no reason for it to be – the Sandero is a very easy to live with car, which is all many (most?) supermini owners will want. And then we get to the price…
We mentioned that the £5,995 was not all it seemed. It gets you the entry-level Access with the 1.2 engine. It comes with the essentials, airbags, electronic Stability Control, but little else – you don’t even get a radio. And you can only have it in white with big black bumpers (see below) – even Dacia insiders dub it their ‘UN vehicle’…
Far better is to go for the Ambience, £6,595 with the 1.2, £7,395 with the TCe 90. Now the bumpers match the body, you can have it not in white, and you get more kit, topped by remote central locking, electric front winds and yes, a CD radio with MP3 capability, Bluetooth and and Aux socket.
So far, Dacia has seen most buyers choosing the top spec Laureate grade, which adds rather a lot to the list. Notable among them are lots of extra styling, leather on the steering wheel and gearknob, a trip computer, cruise control, heated electric mirrors, fog lights, and vitally, manual air conditioning.
To buy a Dacia Sandero Laureate with the 1.2 engine will cost you £7,995 – two grand more than that under 6K headline grabber. With the more desirable TCe 90, it’s £8,795.
But – and it’s a big but… The cheapest new Clio – with the same 1.2 engine and admittedly with much of the equipment you get on the top-spec Sandero (like a trip computer, and a sound system…) costs £10,595 – more than £2,500 more.
So what we have here is a thoroughly competent supermini, that in many ways performs way above its price. We think several previous used car buyers are going to become new car buyers, and that Dacia is going to sell a fair few Sanderos…
Dacia Sandero – key specifications
Model Tested: Dacia Sandero TCe 90, 1.2 16v 75
On Sale: January 2013
Engine: Petrol 1.2/898cc, Diesel 1.5
Power (bhp): 74/89, 89
Torque (lb/ft): 79/100, 162
0-62mph (sec): 14.5/11.1, 12.1
Top speed (mph): 97/109, 107
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 47.9/54.3, 74.3
CO2 emissions (g/km): 137/120, 99
Key rivals: Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Volkswagen Polo
Test date: February 2013