This is the Dacia Sandero Stepway. In basic form, the Dacia supermini is the cheapest new car on sale in the UK, at £5995. The toughed-up Stepway version you see here is £7995, and even the flagship 'Laureate' models, complete with touchscreen sat-nav, cost less than £10k. Should you consider this bargain buying option? Read on for the CAR verdict.
Dacia's Sandero Stepway: the car of our times?
We’ve all been there. Those times when you drive down to Waitrose only to find the car park so full of Range Rovers that there’s no spaces left. So you venture to Aldi, with its searingly bright aisles and zombified poor people doing their big shop, and you fill your basket with some of its surprisingly tasty Czech pilsner lager and lovely Spanish sliced chorizo.
I was reminded of such enlightening adventures into austerity Britain and how things are not always as they seem while driving the Dacia Sandero. Parent company Renault is pitching Dacia as the Aldi of automotive with a car euphemistically termed ‘the most affordable’ (that’s cheapest to you and me) in Britain, with prices starting from under £6k.
What's it like?
It’s actually quite good, if you ignore the comically bad handling which sees it take crests and hollows with all the steely comportment of a space hopper (there’s bits of Kangoo and other archaic Renaults down there in the chassis), and the interior plastics, some of which lack the structural integrity
of a yoghurt pot.
The question is, though, what will buyers make of a value brand that purports to make Skoda, Kia, Hyundai and the rest look positively gluttonous and profligate? After all, it has taken those brands years to get to a position of respectability in this country, riven as it is by all manner of odd delusions and complexes about class and station.
Dacia reckons it will hit the ground running since it is being sold through all Renault dealerships (funnily enough that indomitable bunch all signed on the dotted line with barely a second thought when offered something other than Clios to sell), and it aims to grab a 1% share of the UK market in 2013, which means about 18,000-20,000 units of the bargain basement Sandera hatch, the slightly swankier Stepway version pictured here, and the Duster SUV.
The plan in the UK, as elsewhere, is that buyers will pay the price indicated on the big luminous stars and no less, and dealer profit margins are set up to encourage this. In theory this should work but there is a vast black cloud looming: the UK market is being flooded with pre-registered product unsold in Europe and stymied by the Euro, so there’s more secretive bargains about than ever at the moment. Certainly a lot will be made of the entry-level Sandero’s price, but in truth it is, as always, mostly marketing spin. This Access version doesn’t even have a radio, and power steering is about the only thing of any note on it. Actually, the real competition begins with the excellent three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine in Ambiance trim, priced at £7395, or £7995 for the Stepway crossover version, which I liked a great deal.
Talk me through the Dacia Sandero spec
The Sandero Ambiance comes with Bluetooth, remote central locking, electric windows and the luxury of not only a radio, but a CD player, USB and auxiliary input. You won’t know what music to play where first. This is £2400 cheaper than an entry-level, similarly sized Fiesta, and although you might factor-in the possibility of getting a cheery Ford salesman to throw in all sorts of discount to narrow the gap, the Dacia still looks good value.
Dacia thinks the vast majority of buyers will come from used cars and stick with their Sandero or Stepway for many years rather than trade down from newer stuff. But if you’re in the market for a second car, a car as usefully cheap and cheerful as the Stepway could be quite the thing. For £600 more than the rather bland Sandero, the Stepway is sprinkled with a splash of style and sophistication. Sitting 40mmm higher, with satin chrome roof bars and front and rear scuff plates, it is chunkier and much more distinctive.
There’s a quieter 1.5 diesel, but it’s £1000 more expensive than the three-cylinder petrol. Would owners really do the miles to justify it? Both engines still offers a rather utilitarian driving experience anyway, with recalcitrant gearchanges akin to breaking the legs off roast chicken. But there’s space, lightness and, if you go with the top- spec Laureate version, a touch-screen MediaNav system with sat-nav, all still for less than £10,000.
Austerity has never been so endearing. I can’t wait to park one next to the Range Rovers at Waitrose.