Cheap and cheerful

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If you’re after no frills driving and aren’t worried by the badge or desirability, then the Dacia Sandero offers excellent value for money. A recent facelift also brings plenty of small improvements, meaning you really do get a lot of car for not much of an outlay.

No matter which trim you go for, the Sandero isn’t exactly sophisticated from behind the wheel. The interior does have plenty of space, but it’s not the most luxurious place to be and the quality is questionable in places. That’s how Dacia manages to keep its prices so incredibly low.

The Dacia Sandero is the cheapest new car for sale in the UK. With a starting price well under £10,000, the Sandero (as well as the Sandero Stepway) rivals used cars for value, but unlike a used car, it comes with a full manufacturer’s warranty.

While the price is less than you’ll pay for a city car, the Sandero is supermini-sized, which makes it a top choice for buyers needing a practical car on a budget. In terms of size, the Sandero rivals the likes of the Renault Clio, Skoda Fabia and Hyundai i20, although prices still undercut the smaller Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10.

Under the skin, the Sandero uses running gear from parent firm Renault, which is why it can be sold at such a low price. The entry-level Access trim has been dropped from the price list, so there are just two specifications to choose from: Essential and Comfort.

Engines, performance & drive

On the road, the Dacia Sandero doesn’t really do much wrong, although you’ll never really enjoy driving it. Despite its elderly Renault Clio underpinnings, the Sandero rides well and has decent grip. However, kickback through steering, limp gearshift and poorer refinement betray the car’s 90s mechanical roots.

Still, the ride quality is really impressive. This is down to the relatively small wheels and high-profile tyres, and the fact that Dacia never set out to give the Sandero sporty responses.

Engines

When you read the story behind its development, you’d think all the Sandero has to offer is decade-old Renault tech that’s well past its sell by date. But that’s not quite the case. While the chassis is old, the 900cc TCe turbo three-cylinder is bang up-to-date. This is a thoroughly modern unit, essentially designed by Renault to replace the old 1.2 in its more modern cars – you can find it in service in the likes of the Clio and Captur. In the Sandero it produces 89bhp and offers reasonable acceleration, with 0-62mph reached in 11.1 seconds.

It’s a lightweight, hi-tech engine with advances such as a light-pressure turbo and multipoint fuel injection. And in use it revs freely and is very willing, not to mention more refined than the entry-level engine. Mind you, that refinement from under the bonnet does show up how noisy the Sandero is in other areas, with tyre roar and wind noise letting the side down. Power delivery could be smoother, but it revs eagerly, pulls strongly and emits a characterfully thrummy soundtrack.

The basic 1.0-litre petrol engine needs working hard, although it’s just about acceptable as long as you don’t ask too much of it. For those who buy Sanderos for short journeys, or just bumbling around town, its 74bhp output will be fine, but start extending it on motorways or main roads, and you’ll soon find that it struggles to keep pace with traffic. 

The 1.5 Blue dCi diesel is no longer available, instead Dacia has added the 1.0-litre TCe 100 Bi-Fuel to the lineup. This is a dual-fuel petrol and LPG engine producing 99bhp and 160Nm of torque, with drivers able to switch between the two fuels at the touch of a button on the dashboard.

Dacia claims that the new engine will deliver enhanced performance due to more torque and reduced fuel costs for customers – while also delivering lower emissions.

MPG, CO2 & running costs

The Sandero now comes with a new dual-fuel petrol and LPG engine, replacing the previous 1.5-litre diesel unit. The TCe 100 Bi-Fuel sits alongside two other petrol engines in the range and offers customers improved economy and lower emissions.

But before you take the plunge, think about how you’ll be using your car. It’s probably around town where Sanderos will spend most of their lives, in which case the cheaper petrol engined-models are the best bet. In terms of economy, there’s little to separate the two – the 89bhp 898cc TCe petrol turbo returns 47.0mpg, with CO2 emissions of 134g/km, while the 74bhp 1.0 SCe improves on this slightly, delivering 48.7mpg and 130g/km. 

The lethargic 1.0 SCe model is only offered in base spec Essential trim, so unless you’re searching for the ultimate in cost-efficiency, the extra outlay on the TCe unit will be worthwhile, as the SCe is particularly slow and noisy. But for young drivers, the low insurance group will make all the difference.

The TCe 100 Bi-Fuel unit delivers a maximum 49.5mpg, with CO2 emissions of 116g/km. Models are priced at £350 over the TCe versions, so it really comes down to annual mileage. If you plan on using the Sandero for longer trips then it would pay to take advantage of the low cost of LPG at filling stations – which is approximately half that of petrol.

Insurance groups

The main attraction of a Sandero is that it’s cheap to buy and, if the worst happens, cheap to repair, so insurance groups are correspondingly low. 

The SCe 75 and TCE 100 Bi-Fuel versions sit in group 5, although the TCe 90 is in group 9 or 10, depending on whether you choose Essential or Comfort trim.

Depreciation

As you will have paid so little to buy a Sandero, it’s hardly going to trouble you how much money you’ll lose over three years of ownership. However, the Sandero still manages to hold onto a decent chunk of its value over three years and 36,000 miles, keeping around 48% of its original list price.

Interior, design & technology

Anyone who has driven a Renault hatchback from the late 90s will feel right at home inside the Dacia Sandero. The instruments appear to be from a 1999 Clio, the column stalks from a 2001 Scenic, and the hazard lights and central locking buttons from a Laguna. It would be unforgivable from other brands, but this is how Dacia keeps its prices so low. Everything works fine, so why would you worry about where it comes from or what it looks like? 

The same goes for overall cabin quality. Given its price, you’d expect the Dacia to feel basic. The materials aren’t up to Ford standards, but a new steering wheel and trim inserts help lift otherwise utilitarian feel. The plastics in the dash are functional, rather than pleasing to touch – they’re there to hold the instruments and switches in place, and to cover up the heating and electrical systems. 

If you want any kind of high-grade, soft-touch materials, you’ll have to look elsewhere and dig deeper into your pockets.  

A facelift in 2017 has added new lights and bumpers to the Sandero, so it’s looking a bit less tired these days – although the changes are pretty minor overall.

The Essential trim offers manual air-con and front electric windows, while buyers wanting rear electric windows, an upgraded steering wheel and a front central armrest will have to opt for the top Comfort models and then pay extra to add the Comfort Pack.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

While Essential spec includes a DAB stereo system, Comfort versions add a modern touch with rear parking sensors and the brand’s MediaNav touchscreen sat-nav. The seven-inch display features smartphone connectivity, too, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Practicality, comfort & boot space

While the Sandero isn’t the biggest car in the world, Dacia’s designers have come up with a good packaging compromise that sees it deliver a reasonable amount of interior space. 

The car is four metres long exactly, which is only very slightly longer than the late 90s Clio on which it’s based mechanically.

But the Sandero is quite broad, measuring 1.7 metres wide (not including the wing mirrors). This obviously helps cabin space, although it’s still a relatively compact car, and few drivers will have any trouble squeezing it into a tight car park space.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

One of the major drawbacks of the Dacia Sandero will become apparent to tall drivers and front seat passengers about an hour into any long journey. The front seats – again taken from a Renault Clio from the turn of the century – are quite narrow across the base and force you to adopt a slightly perched up position. This means it doesn’t take long for backsides to become numb.

Shorter, slimmer occupants won’t notice it quite so quickly, but it’s one of the areas where we wish Dacia had invested a bit more; most customers would surely be prepared to pay a little extra for more comfort. At least both the Essential and Comfort spec offer a height-adjustable driver’s seat.

Space in the back isn’t all that great – you can tell that the Sandero is based on an older platform, as modern rivals leave it trailing by some distance in this respect. Taller children will soon complain about the limited space, while it can be a struggle to squeeze in bulky child seats.

It’s also worth noting that Access cars do without rear headrests, which further compromises rear seat comfort.

Boot

The 320-litre boot capacity is very generous considering the relatively small exterior dimensions of the Dacia Sandero. 

All models get a 60:40 split rear seat, but only the seatbacks split and fold; the base is fixed. Even so, when you drop the backs, you free up an impressive maximum load space of 1,200 litres, which is almost as much as you’d expect to find in a compact van.

Reliability & safety

Even though Dacia only arrived in the UK market in 2013, its cars use proven Renault mechanical parts, so they should be relatively trouble free. The Sandero’s 1.0-litre petrol engine is quite old now, but the 898cc petrol turbo is shared with the latest Clio, as is the five-speed manual gearbox – there’s no auto gearbox option.

The super cheap supermini doesn’t feature in the latest Auto Express Driver Power car owner satisfaction survey, but Dacia as a brand came bottom of the pile in a 30-strong list of manufacturers.

Budget-feeling fit and finish inside may cause you to question the long-term durability of the car, but the evidence tends to suggest that the Sandero can cope well with the rough and tumble of everyday use. Dacia has built up a strong reliability record for its cars, while the cheap and cheerful nature of its products means owners are less likely to care for their cars in everyday use anyway.

Despite its budget roots, the Sandero comes with a respectable tally of safety kit. All versions are equipped with four airbags, stability control and Isofix child seat mountings. However, Euro NCAP only awarded the car a four-star rating in its independent crash tests in 2013, which doesn’t compare favourably with the maximum five stars achieved by most modern superminis. 

Warranty

The Sandero is supplied with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which handily includes roadside recovery. Owners can extend the warranty to four years/60,000 miles or five years/60,000 miles for about £200 and £350 respectively. For those wanting even longer cover, there is also the option of a six-year/80,000 mile or seven-year/100,000 mile warranty, too.

Servicing

Dacia’s servicing schedule is pretty simple: you just bring your Sandero to a dealer for a check-up every 12,000 miles or every year. The company offers a choice of pre-paid servicing schemes, to help keep maintenance bills to a minimum. Prices start at £150 for one year’s cover, £300 for two years, £575 for three and finally, £750 for four.

Verdict 3/5

Positives

  • Great value
  • Bigger than rivals
  • Owners like them

Negatives

  • Dated and fiddly interior
  • Poor ride and handling
  • Budget build quality

Stats

Price £6,170 to £9,480

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Source: ADI News

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