"The Dacia Sandero offers comfortable, spacious and cheap to run family transport for the price of a much smaller city car."
Say hello to the cheapest car on the UK market. The Dacia Sandero is a budget-busting bargain that is a game changer by simply offering what no other car on sale in the UK currently offers – being incredibly cheap to buy and run.
Dacia is owned by Renault and is the manufacturer's budget brand that has already showed its worth in mainland Europe prior to taking the UK by storm. Along with its more macho brother the Sandero Stepway, the 2013 CarBuyer Car of the Year, the Dacia Duster SUV and new Dacia Logan MPV, the Dacia brand is a totally new concept here in the UK. The Sandero is the same size as superminis like the Renault Clio and Ford Fiesta but is priced in the same brackets as the smaller city cars from those manufacturers.
Entry-level Sanderos do without air-conditioning, electric windows and a stereo, but the top-spec models are much better equipped, even offering you the option to add sat-nav and leather seats. You get a good choice of engines too, including a 1.2-litre four-cylinder and 900cc turbocharged three-cylinder petrols, plus a 1.5-litre dCi diesel with sub-100g/km CO2 emissions. The Dacia Sandero comes in three main specifications – the very basic entry-level Access, better-equipped mid-range Ambiance and top-of-the-range Laureate, which Dacia expects to be the biggest seller.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Costs will be low for the Sandero. The base-spec Access model falls into the second lowest insurance group (2), while any trips to the petrol station will be few and far between because of the Sandero's frugal fuel consumption. You will have to pay the highest price for the most efficient engine, though, with the 1.5-litre dCi producing 89bhp while returning 74.3mpg in combined fuel economy and emitting 99g/km of CO2. Of the rest of the range, the 74bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine returns 47.9mpg in economy and emits 137g/km of CO2, and the 89bhp 900cc model manages to return 54.3mpg and emit 116g/km. All Sanderos are sold with a standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty, plus the choice to extend it up to five or seven years for a small premium.
Interior & comfort
It's cheap, so isn't the most comfortable. There's quite a lot of body roll when driving around corners, but as long as the Sandero is going straight ahead, its soft suspension does a decent job of ironing out any major bumps in the UK's roads. Likewise, the seats are comfortable and supportive enough, keeping passengers in place just enough to weather that body roll – which isn’t always true for city cars of the same price. We’d give the entry-level Access model a miss, simply because the total lack of accessories and convenient features (no radio!) makes it a little barren on long journeys.
Practicality & boot space
We say it often, but if you’re buying a compact supermini, broad practicality isn’t going to be its strong suit. That's not to say it can’t be practical compared to its direct rivals, though, and Dacia is committed to making their cars as simple to use as possible. So you get a 320-litre boot that expands to 1,200 litres when the rear seats are folded flat, which is one of the biggest in its class, providing almost 50 more litres extra luggage space compared to the new Renault Clio. That's particularly excellent considering its small dimensions. ISOFIX child seat anchor points are also standard, while the optional Touring pack adds a front centre armrest, a boot luggage net and roof bars that further improve practicality on any model in the range.
Reliability & safety
Dacia may be too new to feature in any customer satisfaction surveys, but parent company Renault certainly appears. It's fortunate for anyone thinking about stumping up for a Sandero, that Renault actually made an improved showing in the 2013 Driver Power survey, ranking a full six places higher than its 2012 position and coming 21st out of 32 in the manufacturers list. Significantly, that means Renault is no longer sat at the bottom of the chart, even if it's still in the bottom third. Dacia itself is quick to point that one of its cars may well be the first new car that its customers have bought, which means they’ll see a huge improvement in reliability compared to their previous cars – especially given the Sandero also comes with a good three-year warranty for more peace of mind. So, the Sandero is made of up tried-and-test Renault parts and technology, including the up-to-date three-cylinder 900cc TCe unit and the efficient 1.5-litre dCi diesel. Plus, while you may find the lack of equipment in the Access model frustrating, it does mean there's less to go wrong! One more red flag is safety, however, with it only getting four stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests because of some missing safety technology in the base models. But it does still come with anti-lock brakes, electronic traction control (ESP), ISOFIX child seat anchor points and four airbags fitted as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
The Sandero's engines are never going to win any prizes, but if you think it's going to be rubbish to drive just because it's a bit of a bargain, you’re barking up the wrong tree. It gets two stars because compared to the rest of the cars in the UK, it's only a so-so performer, but the 900cc TCe does particularly well, accelerating reasonable quickly for such a low-powered engine. Up a notch, and the 1.5-litre diesel feels powerful, offering smooth performance, though the basic model's 1.2-litre petrol engine is a little underpowered. The Sandero is generally relaxing and calm on the go, though, with efficient sound insulation and nicely sprung suspension, but it's that soft setting that creates a lot of body roll when you’re driving through corners. It's particularly pronounced at high speeds, so we’d recommend keeping it slow and steady. The steering is also pretty lumpy and heavy, but with traction control, ABS and four airbags all included, you’re not left entirely out in the wind.
Price, value for money & options
It would be hard to say that the Sandero wasn’t good value for money. No matter how flawed the car may be, no matter how basic, it is so cheap that a brand new model still costs less than many of its supermini rivals do second-hand. It's a bargain. The Sandero comes rammed with accessories and equipment for your money – as long as you don’t but the entry-level Access, which is beyond basic and will test your patience over the long term, lacking a stereo, air-conditioning or electric windows. But shell out only an extra £600 and you can buy the Dacia Sandero Ambiance, which comes fitted with a CD stereo, front electric windows and remote central locking. Reflecting this, Dacia expect the top-of-the-range Laureate to be the biggest seller in the UK market, coming as it does with air-conditioning, electric mirrors and cruise control, and the option of a reasonably price built-in sat-nav system and leather seats. It's a very upfront, honest proposition – you get what you pay for. It’ll be a bit of crapshoot on the used car market, though, as resale values are still unknown.