Well folks. It’s been a long time coming. Because good news – it’s the Dacia Sandero Review!
[Full disclosure: Dacia wanted me to drive the Sandero so badly that they sold one to my boyfriend’s mother in for her tri-weekly commute to the hairdresser and for the rest of the time, sits quietly on the curb. Needless to say, he and I borrowed it for a roadtrip.]
Ah, the Dacia Sandero. A humble little economy car that has risen to a rank of fame so high, it’s as recognisable and renown amongst the British people as the next supercar, with help from a certain Mr James May. For young drivers in the UK with a healthy starter income, this could be their first car. And it will continue to be the first car for many people on the secondhand forecourt. But how does a car as cheap as the Sandero complete tasks that more expensive cars simply breeze through with ease? To test this, we took a little roadtrip into the Yorkshire Dales up onto a little mountain road called the Buttertubs Pass. Top Gear frequently film segments there and Clarkson once thrashed an Escort Cosworth along it. Along the way, we would encounter all manners of traffic, speeds, road types and surfaces. Let the review begin!
Let’s face it – it’s not the most striking design in the world. Compared to similar rivals such as the Ford Fiesta, Renault Clio and Vauxhall Corsa, it is comparatively dull. And unless you go for the top-spec Laureate trim, the holes for the fog lights are filled in. Crucially though, it’s not an offensive design either. With sharp, angular lines constructing its face and big, clear taillights highlighting the rear, the Sandero certainly looks modern enough to keep pace with contemporary designs in traffic. If you really want to look different however, you can specify the poverty-spec Access model, which comes only in white with steelies and black rubber bumpers.
And when I say poverty-spec, I mean it. You’ll see why later.
The interior of the Sandero bears a striking resemblance to world-famous British weather – it is exceedingly dull. Compared to its rivals, the Sandero’s dashboard makes do without any groovy lines, funky shapes and shiny materials save for some chrome trim around the air vents. Instead, the Sandero resorts to a plastic sea of black, grey, black-grey and grey-black. That being said, it is solidly built and well screwed together. Not once on our journey did the dashboard squeak or rattle, and while there is an acre of plastic, some of it is soft and cushy to the touch, lending a slightly more premium feel. What few buttons and controls were on the dashboard, they moved solidly and smoothly.
Obviously as an economy vehicle, cloth seating is standard but for an extra £600 ($791) one can upgrade to leather upholstery. The seats themselves are comfortable but lack true support – thus on long journeys, one will emerge from the Sandero a little creakier than when you started. Space is good but if you are in excess of 6 feet in height, you won’t be leaving much space behind the driver’s seat, making any passenger unfortunate to sit behind you wonder if their lower limbs will actually undergo tessellation to fit properly. While there are three seats for three passengers on the rear bench, they’re really only good for short journeys and if they’re really good friends.
That being said, there is a healthy amount of headroom, even for 6 foot-ers. In-car storage is reasonable, with deep door bins both front and rear, two cupholders in front of the shifter and a well sized glovebox. The real practicality party piece of the Sandero is its boot (or trunk for you
ungrateful ex-colonials Americans!), which is absolutely huge for a car of its class. In fact, it’s bigger than the boot you would find in the Ford Focus, a car one class higher. At 320 litres it is only bested by its nearest rival, the Hyundai i20, that has a boot capacity of 326 litres. Fold the rear seats down and you get an absolutely enormous 1,200 litres.
But you really don’t want to load the Sandero to full capacity as it will simply refuse to move very quickly, for reasons that will become very apparent in the next section.
Oh dear. Oh deary me. Yes, the Sandero may weigh less than 2,500lbs, but its 1.2l engine is hysterically gutless. Coupled to a clutch that has a surprisingly high biting point and a complete lack of torque, you’ll have to rev it until the valves are bouncing through the bonnet before you start moving. And once you are on the move, the powerband feels practically non-existent. Above 3,500RPM, a little light on the dashboard bemoans you to change up a gear for economy reasons but even if you consciously ignore it, your ears will not and they will plead until you do change gear.
That being said, there is an enormous sense of occasion – for example, when you turn off a roundabout onto a motorway on-ramp, you steer into the corner and boot the throttle in 3rd. The noise levels start to rise as the little Dacia starts to tip through the bend, hanging onto the gear. As you cling on for dear life, you rocket out of the corner, engine singing at 4,500RPM and you change up to 4th and prepare to merge. Only to realise you’re doing just 50MPH and you still need to keep your foot pinned to the floor until your ears start to bleed, otherwise known as 70MPH. I suppose the old adage of “fun” being “slow car fast, not fast car slow” is true in certain circumstances.
And when you’re in top gear at 70MPH, it is not a pleasant experience. The little 1.2 will sit there buzzing at 3,500RPM and if you want to go any faster, it will very begrudgingly start to move. At motorway speeds, the Sandero does not accelerate - it advances and will very quickly run out of puff. If anyone has ever done a top speed test in a 1.2l Dacia Sandero, please let me know how many weeks it took.
Realistically, the 1.2l Sandero is best suited for the city driving. It can do motorways but it will leave you and your passengers deaf and depressed. You are probably much better off with the more powerful and torqier 89hp 0.9l turbocharged unit that also conveniently saves more on tax as it produces fewer emissions than the 1.2l. If you do long motorway drives, there is also the option of a 1.5l dCi diesel engine, which I’m sure makes the Sandero far more relaxing at higher speeds.
Speaking from a beginner driver’s perspective, they’re fairly easy to modulate and will securely bring the Sandero to a halt. ABS is also standard, but only the front wheels have disc brakes, whilst the back wheels make do with drums. Basically – the brakes effectively stop the car, as they should. That’s about it really.
For a car of its type, the Sandero has a surprisingly impressive ride. Designed to deal with bumpy Romanian roads instead of outright handling, the Sandero soaks up bumps and irons out lumps well, with little noise intrusion into the cabin due to good soundproofing. However, the Sandero’s low weight does mean it can get bounced around on bigger potholes when travelling at speed. In terms of handling, the Sandero remains composed around corners. Until it doesn’t and begins to list alarmingly as you go above 30MPH and apply more than 90º of steering lock. It is highly amusing though.
I took the Sandero myself for a quick blast on the bumpy runway of an abandoned aerodrome and came a quick conclusion regarding the handling. Turn the wheel and you will get the Sandero pointing in the right direction but there is absolutely no feel or feedback so when you start running out of grip, beware. A Fiesta it is not and never, ever will be, but it gets the job done like many other aspects of the car. Thankfully, there is some weight to the steering so you don’t feel completely helpless, but it’s also light enough to make piloting the Sandero around town a doddle.
Gearheads rejoice! The Sandero is available with just one transmission option – a smooth-shifting 5-speed manual. That being said, it’s far from the most precise gearbox in the world and has a fairly long throw. Weirdly, it kinda reminds me of the shift action on a Land Rover Defender. But like everything else, it gets the job done. I just wish it had a 6th gear to shut the engine up a little at motorway speeds.
Erm. No. If you were looking for audio quality, look far elsewhere. The bass, treble and fader adjustments do almost nothing and the sound quality itself is very tinny. In order to hear it over the racket of the 1.2, you’ll really have to crank the volume up. That being said, if you go faster or open the windows, the stereo will automatically do so. But if you were honestly looking for something good in the Sandero, you will be sorely disappointed. It’s an economy car, you’d be more likely to expect air conditioning than a good stereo.
Oh wait. The Sandero doesn’t get proper air conditioning - only the manual labour kind. Unless you go for the top-spec Lauréate trim spec. Normally I wouldn’t complain about a lack of air conditioning in UK weather but we’ve had some surprisingly warm and humid summers recently. If you opt for the base model Access (pictured far above), one gets very little in terms of standard equipment – in fact you don’t even get a radio or body coloured bumpers. Despite its initial sparseness though, all Sanderos come with four airbags, 3 point seatbelts for all passengers, ISOFIX points for child seats, tyre pressure monitors, split-folding rear seats, ABS and traction control. All of which is admirable for the cheapest new car currently on sale in the UK and totally makes it a usable daily driver.
If you want any notable equipment at all, you should opt for the Ambiente trim level, which gets you a radio with iPod connectivity + CD player, electric front windows and remote central locking. Top-spec Lauréate gets you alloy wheels, cruise control, electric mirrors & windows all round, A/C and a 7” touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation. Indeed, if you decide to spend more money, the Sandero becomes a fairly well equipped car. However, other equipment such as an alarm, spare wheel and leather upholstery are still optional.
Funnily enough, you can also get a towhook for the Sandero. In fact, it’s rated to tow 1,100kg (2425lbs). But I am skeptical about that…
There is no denying it – from £5,995 ($7,909), you get a brand new car. Even if you specify the top spec Lauréate trim level with no other options, you will only spend £8795 ($11,602) which is significantly less than a base model Fiesta. But inevitably, some argue that you can get more car for the same money or less on the used market, which is true.
However, you will very likely face higher insurance and running costs compared to a Sandero. The 1.2 Access is UK Insurance Group 2, making it one of the cheapest possible vehicles to insure. Furthermore, shopping on the used market won’t get you the Dacia’s standard 3-year warranty, which can be extended to 5 or 7 years. Also, while the Sandero is based on a platform that dates back to 1998, all of its technology has been tried and tested for years so the Sandero should prove to be reliable. And with so few pieces of equipment, especially on the Access, there will be less to go wrong.
While massive value for what you get, the Sandero isn’t the best thing to drive out there, nor is it the most comfortable or best equipped. It does what it says on the tin – it’s a car and will get you from A to B. But it’s not soulless either – there is a feeling of honesty about the Sandero, a feeling that Dacia built it so more of the common people could become mobile and further expand their horizons. In a way, it’s a bit like the original Beetle, Mini or Fiat 500. Honest, simple motoring but unlike base models from 10 years ago, not completely horrible to drive and live with.
And on a final note - it will be interesting when the Dacia starts hitting the used market in few years at low enough prices for young/student drivers in the UK. A combination of big space, reasonable equipment levels, low running costs and most crucially, low insurance premiums will make the Sandero a very appealing first car for many young drivers. It may actually help encourage young drivers to start driving in the UK, as ridiculously high insurance premiums here prevent many first time road users from affordably insuring and running a car. Even cars like a 15-year-old EK3 Honda Civic are out of the question. The Sandero might bring about a change. Plus, it’s endorsed by James May and who doesn’t like that?
Engine: 1.2l naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine
Power: 74 HP (54 kw) at 5,500 RPM / 79 lb-ft (107 Nm) at 4,250 RPM
Transmission: 5-speed manual
0-62 Time: 14.5 seconds
Top Speed: 101mph
Drivetrain: front wheel drive
Curb Weight: 1105kg / 2436lbs
MPG (UK): Urban – 38MPG | Extra urban – 57.7MPG | Combined – 48.7MPG
MPG (US): Urban – 31MPG | Extra urban – 48MPG | Combined – 40.5MPG
MSRP: £7,095 / $9,360 (as tested)
Thank you for putting up with so many words! This has been quite a piece in the making...