Dacia Sandero hatchback
Price £5,995 - £10,295
- Incredible value for money
- Cheap to run
- Big boot
- Not much fun to drive
- Interior feels cheap
- Very dull design
At a glance
"The Dacia Sandero is the UK's cheapest new car, yet it's spacious, economical and feels grown-up."
The Dacia Sandero is a large five-door supermini whose main rivals are likely to be much smaller city cars or second-hand examples of leading small cars such as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo. The reason for this is that the Sandero range is one of the cheapest on the market – the most basic Access version, at £5,995, is just about the least expensive new car you can buy, full stop.
Usually, low prices translate to poor design and crude engineering. But in fact, because Dacia is owned by Renault, the company has managed to produce a spacious, well packaged and reasonably good-looking car using proven Renault parts.
The downside is that in basic Access form, the Sandero is very poorly equipped (for example, it has no stereo and only dreary black plastic bumpers). However, it does have an impressive roster of safety equipment, including anti-lock brakes, emergency braking assistance, tyre-pressure monitoring, ISOFIX child-seat mounting points and electronic stability control.
Higher trim levels – Ambiance, Laureate and top-spec Laureate Prime – add more equipment, including air-conditioning, electric windows and body-coloured bumpers. However, even the most expensive Sandero (the dCi 90 Laureate Prime) costs less than £10,500, or around the same as the cheapest three-door Ford Fiesta.
Three engines are offered, including a modern, economical three-cylinder petrol and a very economical 1.5-litre diesel that can return over 74mpg and costs nothing to tax. The Sandero is tuned more for comfort than outright driving fun, but this suits its frugal character well.
The Sandero hatchback has since spawned a 'crossover' version called the Dacia Sandero Stepway, with a raised ride height and some rugged off-road features.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Avoid the 1.2-litre if you want tiny bills
The Dacia Sandero is fitted with Renault engines that have previously appeared in the Renault Clio supermini. Even the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol returns a reasonable 48.7mpg, with CO2 emissions of 135g/km resulting in a £130 annual tax bill. The 0.9-litre TCe 90 model is faster and cleaner thanks to a turbocharger. It returns 56.5mpg, while its 116g/km CO2 emissions mean it costs £30 to tax each year.
For tax-free motoring, you need the 1.5-litre dCi 90 diesel, which is capable of an impressive 74.3mpg while emitting 99g/km of CO2. It's the most expensive model in the range to buy, though, so you'll need to cover high mileage for it to make financial sense.
The Sandero requires servicing once a year or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. A service plan is also available, covering the first three years or 36,000 miles of servicing for a reasonable one-off payment of £489. A three-year/60,000-mile warranty is standard, but this isn't as long as rivals such Kia and Hyundai offer. However, it can be extended to five years for £395 or seven years for £850.
Engines, drive & performance
The Sandero’s comfort impresses
At this price, you'd hardly expect the Dacia Sandero to be as fun to drive as a Ford Fiesta or MINI Hatch. Instead, Dacia's engineers have fitted soft suspension to soak up rough roads and potholes. So while it won't put a grin on your face in every corner, the Dacia is fine for getting from A to B with a minimum of fuss. And, despite its no-frills interior, wind and road noise aren't too pronounced inside the cabin.
While the entry-level 1.2-litre engine is adequate around town, its sluggish 14.5-second 0-62mph time means it's probably best avoided if you travel longer distances on faster roads. Both the TCe 90 petrol and dCi 90 diesel have 89bhp, but the petrol is a second quicker from 0-62mph, taking a reasonable 11.1 seconds. Despite being slightly slower, the diesel is better for motorway driving, because it's more economical and feels less strained at high speeds.
Interior & comfort
Dull but worthy
While you'd never expect the UK's cheapest car to have an exciting interior, it's not actually that bad. There's an abundance of space; in fact, the Dacia Sandero is very large for a supermini, despite costing less than most city cars. The dashboard isn't covered in soft-touch plastics, but it's functional and looks pretty tough, so should stand up to the rigours of family life. One sign of cost-cutting is the lack of driver's-seat and full steering-wheel adjustment on all but the top-spec version, so you might struggle to find a perfect driving position.
The front seats look basic, but they offer enough support for longer trips, while rear-seat passengers should be happy, too. Soft suspension and small 15-inch wheels are fitted throughout the range, and these offer a more comfortable ride than the sportier suspension and wheels of rivals like the Vauxhall Corsa.
Tall windows and a fairly upright driving position ensure visibility is not a problem in the Sandero, which is lucky as parking sensors are only available as an option with the top trim level.
Practicality & boot space
Incredibly spacious for its price
The Dacia Sandero is incredibly practical, even when compared to superminis costing almost twice as much. It's only available as a five-door, giving excellent access to its rear seats, where passengers will find superb legroom and headroom.
Its boot also punches well above its weight: 320 litres of space is more than you get in a Ford Focus (316 litres), Ford Fiesta (276 litres) or Vauxhall Corsa (285 litres). The Suzuki Alto – one of the next-cheapest cars on sale – has a tiny boot that holds just 129 litres.
You can also fold down the Sandero's 60:40 split rear seats to free up 1,200 litres of luggage room, although the rear seats don't sit flush with the boot floor, so there's a small lip to lift large items over. Cabin storage is plentiful, with a deep glovebox, large door pockets, two cup-holders and a space on top of the dashboard.
The Sandero can also be fitted with a spare wheel, although this is a £95 option across the range. We'd say it's money well spent unless you never travel far from home, as the standard tyre-inflation kit won't always do the job.
Reliability & safety
Stout reliability and plenty of safety kit as standard
Dacia recorded a stellar fifth-place finish in the Driver Power 2014 customer satisfaction survey, beating the likes of Kia, Porsche, Mercedes and BMW. Importantly, it was ranked third for reliability, so customers obviously haven't faced too many issues so far. The Dacia Sandero itself came an impressive 43rd out of 150 models, and was ranked 36th for reliability.
The Sandero was retested by Euro NCAP in 2013, when it was upgraded from three to four stars out of a possible five. It scored 80% for adult occupant protection, making the Sandero considerably safer than the pricier Suzuki Alto, which only managed 55% and three stars overall. If you won't consider a car with less than a five-star Euro NCAP rating, the SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo are the cheapest new cars to receive this accolade.
Standard safety equipment in the Dacia includes three rear seatbelts, anti-lock brakes, rear child locks, electronic stability control, front and side airbags, seatbelt warning buzzers and two ISOFIX child-seat mounts in the back.
Price, value for money & options
The Sandero costs half as much as some rivals
The Dacia Sandero has to be the best-value car on sale in the UK today. If we take the top-selling Ford Fiesta as an example, the Sandero is more spacious and costs from £5,995, while the entry-level Fiesta is £9,995 and comes with a less powerful engine. For customers who simply want a set of wheels, the Dacia offers an alternative to buying a used car.
Most customers won't go for the headline-grabbing Access trim level, because it's extremely basic, with no stereo or speakers and manual window winders. The Ambiance grade is much better, featuring remote central locking, electric front windows, a passenger vanity mirror, a CD player and Bluetooth phone connectivity, as well as USB and MP3 player ports. It's just a shame it doesn't come with air-con – for that, you have to move up to the top Laureate trim, which also has leather trim highlights, cruise control, foglights and rear speakers – all for less than the starting price of most rivals.
Optional extras are equally good value, with a seven-inch touchscreen and sat nav costing £300 (but only available with the Laureate trim), while leather seats are £600 and rear parking sensors will set you back £250.