Dacia Sandero long term test: austerity done right

Published: 14 January 2022

► We live with Britain's cheapest car
► Dacia Sandero long-term test diaries
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Month 1 of our long-term test: getting to know the Sandero

The Dacia Sandero could well be the perfect car for these troubled times. In this winter of discontent, as supermarket supplies dry up, fuel runs out and pandemics rage, where better to retreat than the back-to-basics simplicity of Britain’s cheapest new car? 

Colleague Anthony ffrench-Constant was surprisingly smitten when he first drove it in our 2020 launch review and now we’ve the chance to put it to the ultimate test: real life during this country’s dreariest months.

First things first, we need to explain that this particular Sandero is not the cheapest model. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s the range-topper. Dacia restructured the range in autumn 2021, by which we mean it’s raised prices, pared back choice and adjusted specs. And currently there aren’t any available in boggo Essential spec in the UK. CAR’s a persistent type, though, and after we pushed Dacia relented and agreed to build us an entry-level model in UN white on steel wheels – so in the meantime we’re tooling around in this fancy £12,045 Comfort version.

It should be a fascinating half year, topping and tailing the Sandero range. We’ll be testing this rather fetching Iron Blue model for a few weeks before it’ll miraculously turn into the entry-level car that catches all the headlines with its RRP of £9845. That’s miraculously cheap for a small car, even if it has risen by nearly £2k in the past year of turmoil. In case you were sleeping and missed the super-inflation that’s affected all superminis, Ford won’t sell you a new Fiesta for less than £16k these days. 

Of course, nobody pays list price any more. At the time of writing, Dacia is offering a PCP of £99 a month over three years for our range-topping Comfort, after you put £4026 down. Some smartphone contracts will match that each month.

Our Dacia Sandero is the Comfort TCe 90

So we’ve established it’s cheap, but is it any good? Our initial impressions are entirely favourable. This five-door hatch looks crisp and Euro-smart and modern, and you wouldn’t know its 15-inch wheels weren’t alloys, so clever are its hubcaps. 

As you approach, the Sandero unlocks automatically; its keyless entry is possibly the best I’ve yet used – unlocking and latching perfectly as you approach and leave without having to touch the handle, with just enough of a thudding bolt that you know it’s secure. Honestly, it’s better than the entry systems on most premium cars I test.

Slide inside and the dashboard is crisply styled and does all the basics well. It’s a joy to be back in a car with physical switches, heating controls that don’t require a touchscreen and – praise be! – a manual gearlever and handbrake. This cabin doesn’t feel at all dour and cheap: the plastics are well judged and lifted by some clever technical fabrics running across the dashboard, and there’s a media screen that’ll sync wirelessly with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to bring your ents and mapping with you. Will I wish it had an expensive built-in system? We’ll see.

First impressions are that the Sandero drives well, with a joyful simplicity to the controls, perfectly reasonable performance from the tiny sub-1.0-litre triple and the chops to survive the cut-and-thrust of a motorway schlepp as much as thriving around town. It’s surprisingly roomy, too, with lashings of space in the back seats and boot for carrying my family and their associated teenage clobber around.

So if you see me driving around sporting a huge grin as the world around us falls apart this winter, you’ll know why. I might just have chosen to live with the bargain of the decade, when austerity done right couldn’t be more in sync with these troubled times.

Dacia Sandero Comfort TCe 90 logbook

Price £12,045 (£12,890 as tested)
Performance 999cc turbocharged three-cylinder, 90bhp, 11.7sec 0-62mph, 111mph
Efficiency 53.3mpg (official), 120g/km CO2
Energy cost n/a (we’ve not filled up yet!)
Miles this month 128
Total miles 3716

More Dacia reviews by CAR magazine

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet