Dacia Sandero Stepway hatchback review
"Headline-grabbing price and improved features make the Dacia Sandero Stepway a tempting option"
- Great value
- Smart interior
- LPG version available
- Mediocre performance
- Just one engine
- Average warranty
Since its arrival, the Dacia Sandero has filled an important niche as Britain's most affordable supermini. The latest high-riding Sandero Stepway builds on this, offering vastly improved safety and technology, along with an added dose of style.
The price really is the main selling point when it comes to the Sandero. This five-seat hatchback with trendy SUV styling starts from around £11,000 and even the range-topping Prestige model is well under £15,000. For comparison, a Ford Fiesta Active starts from around £20,000, while a Honda Jazz Crosstar has a starting price of more than £23,000.
In the old model, it was easy to spot some of the cost-cutting measures at a glance but they're better hidden this time. It's a neater design than before, with attractive Y-shaped daytime running lights, swollen wheel arches, chunky alloy wheels and skid-plate style trim beneath the bumpers. The modular roof bars are a neat design too, turning into a roof rack for heavy or bulky items that won't fit in the 328-litre boot.
The Sandero is based on the same underpinnings as the latest Renault Clio - our favourite small car - and that's most evident inside. The climate control knobs are identical for instance, and overall, materials in the Stepway have taken a big step up in quality. We'd recommend skipping the Essential trim and going straight for Comfort; its eight-inch touchscreen makes the interior feel modern, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto should also keep connectivity up-to-date.
Both engine options are versions of the same petrol three-cylinder, badged either TCe 90 or TCe 100 Bi-Fuel. The cheaper version will suit most drivers, and returns up to 50mpg. The Bi-Fuel is intriguing, because it's one of the only cars on sale in the UK with an LPG (liquid petroleum gas) fuel tank in addition to its petrol one. This means it can switch between the two fuels, with LPG costing significantly less to buy.
Considering just how much you get for your money, the Sandero Stepway represents staggering value. The fact there are now fewer compromises in key areas like safety equipment only adds to its desirability, and should help broaden Dacia's appeal.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Considering the price of the Sandero Stepway is so low, even without the most economical engine fitted, your motoring budget would still be in the green. So the fact the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine is pretty thrifty only makes the Dacia more compelling. There are just two versions available - the standard TCe 90 and a TCe 100 Bi-Fuel version.
The former will be the best bet for most drivers, costing a bit less and returning a very reasonable 50.4mpg, while emitting 127g/km of CO2 for a middling Benefit-in-Kind band. With an automatic gearbox fitted, economy takes a hit - dropping to 45.6mpg - and emissions climb to 140g/km.
So what is the Bi-Fuel version? Costing around £400 extra, Dacia is currently the only mainstream UK brand that will fit an LPG tank as well as the petrol tank, with a switch to flick between the two fuels.
The advantage is that LPG is around half the price to buy, although there are a few caveats. Fuel efficiency isn't quite as good while running in LPG mode, and not every forecourt sells it - it's worth checking where you can buy LPG in your area before relying on it. This version can return up to 48.7mpg, with emissions of around 130g/km.
Insurance groups span from 11 (out of 50) for the TCe 90 Auto to group 15 for the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel, so the Stepway is unlikely to be expensive to insure for most drivers. Vehicle tax costs the standard VED rate each year.
Engines, drive & performance
It's not a car for enthusiasts, the Sandero Stepway, yet it carries out tasks like family trips around town and the occasional motorway drive perfectly well and without fuss. It's based on the same platform as the excellent Renault Clio afterall, albeit with a 39mm boost in ground clearance versus the regular Sandero. This hardly turns it into an off-roader - only front-wheel drive is available - but you won't have to worry about scraping its underbelly when driving up kerbs or along rutted farm tracks.
Even with the 99bhp three-cylinder petrol engine and a six-speed manual gearbox fitted, the TCe 100 Stepway isn't exactly quick, taking 11.9 seconds to get from 0-62mph and topping out at 109mph. It's not the sort of car you take out for a drive but it's quick enough to easily keep up with traffic.
The TCe 90 has an 89bhp three-cylinder petrol engine and manual gearbox. It’s only slightly behind the TCe 100 engine, managing 0-62mph in 12 seconds and a top speed of 107mph.
Buyers can opt for a CVT automatic gearbox with the TCe 90 engine for around £1,000 extra. Officially, the automatic Sandero Stepway is the slowest of the range, taking 14.2 seconds to do 0-62mph.
On the road, the engine remains an effective performer that doesn’t feel as slow as its official benchmark figures. It offers maximum pulling power at around 2,000rpm, helping it to get up to speed at a reasonable pace, and is refined and relaxing at motorway speeds. While the CVT box isn’t particularly advanced and is slow to react, it does suit the relaxed nature of the Sandero Stepway.
The laid back driving dynamics are helped by the suspension setup, which is fairly soft compared with most of the car’s rivals. This helps make it comfortable most of the time; only larger bumps and lumps make it through to the inside of the car. The trade off is that the suspension does little to prevent body lean, so the car pitches quite a lot in sharper turns.
Interior & comfort
The interior could be the area of most noticeable improvement, because its design now appears more modern and less obviously 'budget' - despite the car’s small price tag. Top versions feature soft-touch material and stylish trim, there's padding where your elbows rest on the doors, and Comfort trims even get an eight-inch touchscreen. There are also neat touches like a smartphone holder on the dashboard, complete with a USB charger right next to it so you don't need to trail wires across the fascia.
Trim levels are called Essential, Comfort and Prestige, with the entry-level car getting 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, DAB radio, Bluetooth and a smartphone holder. Considering how affordable it still is, Comfort seems like a good pick, particularly as it adds the eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also gets soft-touch interior trim, keyless entry, modular roof bars and a rear-view camera. The Prestige range-topper has diamond-cut alloy wheels, heated front sets, front parking sensors, climate control and extra safety kit.
Practicality & boot space
Rather like Skoda in the Volkswagen Group, Dacia is Renault's affordable and practical sister-brand. Not only does it have a raised ground clearance, but the Stepway also gets a boost over the normal Sandero thanks to its modular roof bars, fitted as standard to Comfort and Prestige versions. These can quickly be converted into a roof rack, and they can carry an impressive load of up to 80kg on the roof - all without having to splash out on accessories.
There's plenty of room inside too, with two adults who sat in the back during our test drive both remarking on how comfortable it was. There's a decent seating position for the driver and visibility is also pretty good, no doubt helped slightly by the higher ride height. Boot space measures 328 litres but like the Renault Clio, there's a fairly high boot lip to lift heavy items over. Choose the Bi-Fuel version and the LPG tank is hidden under the boot floor but this does mean there's no longer a spare wheel.
Reliability & safety
While Dacia models have always majored on affordability, this has come at the expense of safety kit in some models.Thankfully, the move to more advanced new underpinnings has given Dacia access to the latest safety features from across the Renault group.
For instance, autonomous emergency braking can now help mitigate or avoid a collision, and it's fitted as standard. If a serious collision should occur, there are six airbags and an E-call system will automatically alert the emergency services of the vehicle's location. The Prestige trim is also fitted with blind spot warnings, making it safer to change lanes on the motorway or manoeuvre in built-up areas.
When the new Sandero Stepway was tested by Euro NCAP, it scored a paltry two stars. This low rating was due to its basic radar-only autonomous emergency braking system, which lacks pedestrians and cyclist detection and lane keeping assistance. According to Euro NCAP, the Sandero Stepway offers respectable protection in an accident and would have earned a four-star rating if it wasn’t for the technology shortfall.
It will be some time before we can judge the Sandero Stepway's reliability accurately because so much of it is new. However, its petrol engines are very common across other Renault models, and should prove cheap to maintain and robust. It's a shame the three-year or 60,000-mile warranty isn’t longer, though, as many rivals from the likes of Toyota and Hyundai now come with five years of cover or more.