"Comfortable, spacious and cheap to run family transport for the price of a much smaller city car."
The Dacia Sandero is the cheapest new car on sale in the UK, but don’t dismiss it yet. Dacia is a budget sub-brand of Renault that's already made its mark in Europe, and the Sandero, along with the more rugged Sandero Stepway and Duster SUV, are looking to do the same in the UK. Despite being the size of a Ford Fiesta or a Renault Clio, it's actually priced at the same level as smaller, cheaper city cars. Base-spec models do without air-con, electric windows and a stereo, but top-spec models are well equipped and there's the even the option to add sat-nav and leather seats. There's a good choice of engines too, including a 1.2-litre four-cylinder and 0.9-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrols, plus a 1.5 dCi diesel with sub-100g/km CO2 emissions.
For such a rock-bottom price you'd expect the Sandero to be awful to drive, but that's not the case. The engines, in particular, perform quite well – especially the 900cc TCe, which accelerates briskly. The 1.5-litre dCi is smooth, quiet and makes light work of long motorway journeys. However, the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine is wheezy and underpowered. Soft suspension and good sound insulation mean the Sandero is quiet and relaxing on the move, but the price you pay is lots of body roll in the corners, especially at higher speeds, so its best to take things slow and steady. The steering is heavy and indirect, too, but traction control, ABS and four airbags are all included as standard.
You might find yourself rolling from side to side in the corners, but keep the Sandero in a straight line and the supple suspension absorbs bumps in the road well. The seats are soft and add just enough support to keep front passengers in place, while three adults can squeeze across the rear bench – something that can’t be said for similarly priced city cars. Unless you don’t mind a complete lack of comfort and convenience features, we’d avoid the base model - which doesn’t even include a radio - and look further up the range.
As a sub-brand of Renault, Dacia has access to its pool of proven technology. Engines are taken from the Renault range, including the new three-cylinder 900cc TCe unit and the efficient 1.5-litre dCi diesel, so the engineering is right up to date. On base-spec models there's so little equipment there's very little to go wrong. Dacia claims that a large proportion of its customers are buying a new car for the first time, so compared to the used cars they’re used to, the Sandero's reliability and three-year warranty will be a breath of fresh air.
Producing practical and simple-to-use cars is an important part of Dacia's philosophy, and the Sandero is just that. The 320-litre boot, which expands to 1,200-litres with the rear seats folded flat, is one of the biggest in its class and nearly 50 litres larger than the new Renault Clio. There's ISOFIX points to hold child seats firmly in place on both sides of the rear seat, too. A Touring pack, which costs £280, can be added to any model in the range and includes a front centre arm rest, a boot luggage net and roof bars, to improve practicality even further.
Value for money
Value for money is what the Sandero is all about, and it doesn’t just come down to that remarkable starting price of £5,995. Equipment levels are generous on all but the base model, and the few options that are offered are cheap compared to rivals. For example, the entry-level Access model does without a stereo, air-conditioning and electric windows, but for £600 more, the Ambiance model adds a CD stereo, front electric windows and remote central locking. Top-spec Laureate models are expected to be the biggest sellers in the UK and include air-con, electric mirrors and cruise control, while a built-in sat-nav system (£250) and leather seats (£600) are optional.
The saving shouldn’t stop when you drive away from the showroom in your new Sandero. The entry-level model falls into insurance group 2E – the lowest bracket of any UK car – and visits to the petrol station should be fairly infrequent. The 74bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine returns 47.9mpg and emits 137g/km of CO2, while the 89bhp 900cc model manages 54.3mpg and 116g/km. The most efficient, but also the most expensive, is the 1.5-litre dCi unit, which also produces 89bhp, returns 74.3mpg and emits 99g/km of CO2. A three-year, 60,000 mile warranty comes as standard, but there's the option to buy an extended five or seven-year plan for £395 and £850, respectively.