The Dacia Sandero is here. It's cheap, it's very cheerful and it could very well completely change the way you think about budgeting for a new compact family car. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Dacia Sandero might be the cheapest car on sale in the UK but that doesn't mean it's not without merit. In fact the Sandero is big, solidly built and features some decent engines. The entry-level car will be too spartan for many but even the range-topper looks good value. If you're just about to buy a mainstream brand citycar, supermini or family hatch, you need to stop right here and read on....
It's not often that a car is introduced to the UK market having already been a regular on BBC Top Gear repeats for six years. But then, the Dacia Sandero isn't your run of the mill supermini. If its importers believe that no publicity is bad publicity then it's off to a flying start, with millions of people already aware of its name. What's more, Dacia is a company that's generating a whole lot of positive press. The brand has had a relationship with Renault since 1966, building cars under licence in Romania, and in 1999 Renault quietly acquired the company.
It's now become a way for the Renault-Nissan alliance to build and market cheap cars to South America, Africa, Asia and Central and Eastern Europe, but a number of these models are also making their way to our shores and they make a whole lot of sense in a market where new car prices often look unsustainable to private buyers. The Duster SUV has gone down really well and now the Sandero steps up to the plate offering a lot of space for a little money in the compact hatchback market. Good news? Find out here.
This model is actually the second generation Sandero, unveiled at the 2012 Paris Show. It's a good deal more sophisticated than its predecessor and rides on a version of the Nissan B0 platform that underpins the Note and the LEAF. This car is built tough though. How many other superminis are promoted as having excellent ground clearance enabling them to take on all kinds of road conditions with "robust underbody protection for impressive performance on unpaved tracks"? I've experienced the roads in this car's home state of Romania and if this Dacia can cope with them, it shouldn't have any problems with our potholes and speed humps - though I should point out that models produced for the brand's home market actually ride 14mm higher than our Sanderos.
The engine selection is fairly modest as you might expect but that doesn't mean it's archaic. The 900cc three-cylinder TCe 90 petrol engine is sure to prove popular. This is an unit that's great in Renault's Clio and powers the smaller Sandero adequately, with great fuel economy and a decent turn of speed. It's an powerplant that needs to be worked, as it won't make peak power until a heady 5,250rpm, although there's a reasonable 135Nm of torque from just 1,650rpm, so you shouldn't have to row the car through town with the gearlever. For those on tighter budgets there's a 75PS 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine that's not quite as peppy and there's also a couple of diesels. Both are of 1.5-litre capacity and come in 75 and 90PS guises.
Design and Build
So where does the Dacia Sandero fit, sizewise? That very much depends on how you position the car. On price, you'd have to say it's competing with city cars but in terms of the amount of metal you get, it's actually sized somewhere between a Fiesta-sized supermini and a Focus-sized family hatch. In other words, for the kind of money being asked, the interior and exterior dimensions are very generous indeed, with the ordinary five-door hatchback Sandero offering 1436mm of rear elbow room, giving enough space to seat three adults comfortably or install three child seats. Boot volume is 320-litres (slightly more than a Ford Focus) which is extremely good for this class and there's a 60/40 split fold rear seat to improve practicality still further. The cabin offers plenty of storage, notably with the addition of a central cubby box. The oddments spaces in the front and rear doors are large enough to house a 1.5-litre and 0.5-litre bottle respectively.
But we don't just get one Sandero body style. As well as the Sandero, there's the Sandero Stepway. This gets a choice of the two 90PS engines and is styled to look a bit more rugged without actually offering any four wheel-drive underpinnings. Think VW Polo Dune or Rover Streetwise and you're not far off the mark. The ground clearance is a useful 40mm higher than the standard Sandero, so it's not just a cosmetic job. It does get a redesigned front end and body features such as front and rear skid plates, fog lamps, a two-tone bumper, pronounced wheel arches, 16-inch Flexwheels rims, two-tone longitudinal roof bars and exclusive blue paint. Inside, there's embroidered upholstery and grey overstitching for a bolder look.
The standard Sandero isn't badly finished inside. No the materials quality isn't anything to write home about but at these prices, who's complaining? The seats are well sculpted and the instrument panel is attractive although the lower dash looks a bit sparse. Access to the rear is easy, with wide-opening doors and reasonable kneeroom.
Market and Model
So how much are you going to end up paying? Believe it or not, from around just £6,000. That makes the Sandero the cheapest car you can buy. It undercuts other much smaller budget models such as the Perodua Myvi and the Suzuki Alto by around £1,000 and offers more space inside than both. For some perspective, in size, this car is somewhere between a Fiesta-shaped supermini (models of which are priced from around £10,500) and a Focus-sized family hatch (priced from around £14,000). So you get the idea. It really is hard to argue with this kind of value proposition.
There's only a single five-door hatchback bodystyle but it does come in either standard form or as the 'Sandero Stepway', a variant that dresses up this design with a bit more SUV-style attitude and offers a higher ride height. Go shopping at the lower end of the standard hatch range and you can't expect too much in terms of standard equipment though. The entry-level Access versions come only with the 1.2-litre petrol engine and are equipped with manual windows all round. For this kind of money of course, you might expect to have to have to wind up your windows yourself and do without things like body-coloured bumpers or remote central locking, but it may be a shock to find that you don't even get a radio or something as basic as a passenger grab handle - and that the only colour on offer is white. Still, all these things are of course available on the plusher Sandero models that most British customers will choose.
The far more acceptable Ambiance trim level is available with every engine and even if you opt for the 1.2-litre petrol unit again, the amount of kit seems to justify the additional £600 outlay. Here you get body-coloured bumpers, remote central locking, lighting for the glove box and boot, Bluetooth for your 'phone and a CD stereo with a USB slot. Do bear in mind that air conditioning is not included, or even offered as an option. You'll need the range-topping Laureate trim for that. This opens at around £8,000 and rises to around £10,000. Here, as well as air-con, you'll find electric front and rear windows, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a four-speaker stereo, cruise control, speed limiter and a trip computer. That's not bad at all for an eight grand car.
Cost of Ownership
Given that much of a new car's cost of ownership is swallowed up in depreciation, it makes perfect sense to minimise your financial exposure in the first instance if you want to keep a cap on bills. If you've paid around £6,000 for a Sandero and it sheds half of its value in three years, you're still only three grand in the hole. And £1,000 per year in depreciation is something most new car owners can only dream of. In fact, I have a suspicion the Sandero will do a lot better than that, because the public is getting wise to the Dacia brand and the engines on offer in this car all offer decent economy and low emissions.
The TCe 90 petrol unit is the zippiest and even that will return a combined fuel figure of 54.3mpg and emissions of 120g/km. The 1.2-litre petrol engine that comes with that headline-grabbing price tag doesn't fare quite so well at 47.8mpg and 137g/km but that's not going to send many of you to the wall. Go diesel and you're looking at 74.3mpg and 99g/km - a truly excellent showing. All new Sanderos come with a 3 year/60,000 mile warranty (whichever is reached sooner). Rather than forcing buyers to pay a premium for a longer warranty they might not want, Dacia's offers them the option to extend their warranty should they wish.
The Dacia Sandero is an interesting car. Yes, you can buy it as a super stripped-out bargain basement item for around £6,000 but most of us want a few more creature comforts. Like the Duster, Dacia has very carefully worked the specifications list so that the super-low baseline model price tag draws customers into dealers where they will then realise that the car they actually want is the range-topper. After all, to many people these days, air conditioning isn't a luxury extra but something they expect on a modern car.
So how will the Sandero fare? Pretty well, we think. Even if you do migrate to the comparatively well equipped Laureate model, you'll still not be paying big money. Especially when you bear in mind that the opening price for a smaller five-door Vauxhall Corsa with air conditioning stands at over £13,000. For more than £5,000 less, you get a top specification Sandero. Couched in those terms, the good news is that this Dacia is a bit of a no-brainer.