Alex Kersten 10 years ago

Dacia Sandero Review: Britain's Cheapest Car

Dacia: formally synonymous with cheap, brown shitboxes that no one gives a stuff about. But hello, what’s this new box of super-affordable awesomeness?

Remind me later

Under the hood

As you might already know, Dacia is the budget sub-brand of Renault. Think of it as the Tesco Value version of the famous French car maker and you’re on the right track… For that reason, the engines you’ll find under the hood of the all-new Dacia Sandero are also the ones you’ll find in the new Renault Clio. Sounds like a cheeky move, but it’s commonplace in the car world. During our two-day hoon through Spain we had a play with both the mid-spec 89bhp three-pot 0.9-litre and 1.5-litre dCi engines, but we’ll concentrate on the puny petrol for now.

Behind the wheel

With prices kicking off at £5995 for the entry-level 1.2 petrol (that makes it the cheapest new car in the UK) you certainly don’t get a lot of kit; central locking, a radio and electric windows? Forget it, buddy. What you do get, however, is a spanking new car, with plenty of character and a name badge that should read Dacia ‘Sanhero’ not Dacia Sandero. Based on a modified version of the previous-gen Clio platform, the Sandero’s ride quality is spot on. It’s comfortable and softly sprung like a memory foam mattress and feather quilt combo and rides on big ‘ol rubberised wheels for extra softening bounce.
"The Sandero's 0.9 engine is peppy enough to dominate tractors and slow-moving lorries on motorways, but is hesitant under hard acceleration"
But while that’s great for smoothing over the poor excuses for roads we have in the UK, it’s far from beneficial when it comes to a cheeky B-road blast. The Sandero’s body rolls more than your favourite porn star, and thanks to skinny tyres, isn’t the grippiest hatchback in the land. Its steering isn’t much cop either – it’s very light and doesn’t give you much of a clue in which direction the front tyres are pointing - but let’s face it, if you’re in the market for a Sandero, you probably won’t give a damn about how many Gs you (or your son or daughter) can pull through a tight bend. While the Renault-sourced three-pot engine is a pretty decent companion to the new Sandero, it doesn’t make this bargain banger quick by any stretch of the imagination. It is peppy enough, however, to dominate tractors and slow-moving lorries on motorways, but can be hesitant under hard acceleration. Used normally, you’ll never spot this discrepancy, however. So that’s ride, handling and ‘POWERRRRRR’ (or lack thereof) covered. Ah yes, there’s the small matter of how decent (or otherwise) the gearbox is. First off, bad news to those lazy sods out there who drive boromatics; there is no auto ‘box option, just a five-speed manual. But fear not, it does the job well, is light and precise and easy to work with. Looks? Debatable… It’s certainly an improvement on the old Sandero (a car which has been on sale in Europe for a while now), if a little innocuous-looking. That fairly blunt front-end also doesn’t do the Sandero any favours in terms of intrusive wind noise when you’re cruising at anywhere above 50mph.

Splash the cash?

If you think all this sounds like the Sandero’s a bit of a shitter, you’d be dead wrong. While flawed in terms of driving dynamics and outright performance, it’s a seriously charming little motor, offering bags of character and unbeatable value for money. It's also comfortable, easy to drive, practical and the perfect car to buy if you're low on casheesh, yet crave that new car smell, plenty of warranty and desire to confuse passers by who won't ever have heard the name Dacia, let alone be able to pronounce it properly. (According to the French, it's Dah-see-aah)... And let's face it, we Brits love an underdog. Christopher Maloney, anyone?