What is it?
It’s safe to say Dacia has done pretty well in the UK since it launched on these shores in 2013, with the Renault-owned brand selling close to 200,000 new cars in that short space of time.
And the key draw behind its success has been value – the firm itself declaring its prices ‘unbeatable’. When a new Vauxhall Corsa sets you back a minimum of £16,000 and Dacia’s similarly-sized Sandero supermini can be purchased for half that, you can’t really disagree.
The only trouble with the Sandero – the brand’s best-selling car in the UK and impressively Europe’s most popular retail car – has been that it looked and felt as cheap as it was, putting off many buyers in the process. But now Dacia is back with a new generation model that aims to address that, so does it succeed?
Criticised in the past for being a seven-year-old Renault Clio, no such complaint can be levelled at the latest Sandero. That’s because it uses the same CMF-B platform as the latest Clio, which has only been in showrooms for around 18 months.
And it really is all new, with a greater focus on quality, safety and technology, yet it retains the old car’s more compact dimensions. But one thing that hasn’t changed – somewhat remarkably – is the price. That’s because a bare-bones Sandero is available for just £7,995, comfortably still making it the UK’s cheapest new car.
What’s under the bonnet?
Electrification is expensive and Dacia knows that, so for the time being the brand continues to resist any type of hybrid or electric powertrain, meaning that all models here make use of a choice of more regular petrol engines.
An especially sluggish 1.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine kicks off the range, helping to keep the Sandero’s price low – but if funds will allow, one of the turbocharged options is preferable – either the TCe 90 or TCe 100 Bi-Fuel.
It’s the latter that was in our test car, and is an interesting option as you can run it on both petrol and LPG, with Dacia being the only firm to offer this from the factory. The reasoning? Well, a litre of LPG costs 65p – roughly half what it costs to fuel a petrol car. While it’s thirstier to run on LPG (38.9mpg compared to 52.3mpg on petrol), CO2 emissions are lower with LPG; 109g/km rather than 123g/km with unleaded. Combined, though, it allows for a remarkable 800-mile range.
What’s it like to drive?
Behind the wheel, the Sandero is improved in virtually every area – no longer feeling cheap and backward to drive like its predecessor, but on par with plenty of more expensive rivals in this area.
Though it’ll never be bought for sheer driving fun, its combination of light steering, a comfortable ride and decent refinement will make it impressively easy to live with, while good visibility throughout adds to the appeal. The LPG fuel model is also rather attractive, not least with the fact it costs a minimal £400 more than a standard petrol model, while bringing lower running costs. You can flick between petrol and LPG at the push of a button, with no noticeable difference in performance, either.
Though we didn’t get a chance to try it, the Sandero is also now available with an automatic gearbox for the first time.
How does it look?
Though the Sandero remains a car that you won’t buy purely for the way it looks, it’s certainly a far more attractive design than before – bringing a lower roofline, wider-looking wheel arches and also new LED lighting at the front, with an almost Volvo-like Y-shaped LED signature.
It’s also wider than its predecessor (if no longer), while adopting machine-stamped panels helps to reduce some of the quite noticeable panel gaps you’d find before. That said, with no alloy wheels available across the range, the Sandero can’t match the street cred of other superminis, even in top-spec trims.
What’s it like inside?
Transformed is the easiest way to describe this new cabin, which no longer feels budget but very much equal to rivals. It certainly feels far more ‘Renault’ than ‘Dacia’ inside, and that’s certainly a good thing.
Though there are unsurprisingly plenty of cheaper plastics used throughout, they’re disguised well, while a new fabric dashboard strip that runs across the full width is an appealing new addition. Top-spec versions now feature a large eight-inch touchscreen, which is slick and easy to use, too.
It’s also impressively roomy for a car of this size, with class-leading levels of rear legroom that means even taller adults will have no trouble in the back. A 328-litre boot is also larger than both the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta.
What’s the spec like?
If you want to make the most of that £7,995 starting price (or an astonishing £99 per month with a sub-£1,000 deposit), you’ll need the sparse Access model. It doesn’t even get a radio or painted bumpers, though it does get more kit than before – such as LED headlights, autonomous emergency braking, electric front windows and a speed limiter. There’s also a clip you can plug your smartphone into, too.
For another £1,000, you can buy the Essential, with this bringing body-coloured bumpers, cruise control, air conditioning and DAB radio and Bluetooth. Most buyers, though, are expected to go for the top-spec Comfort model (costing from £11,595), which comes very well equipped, with keyless entry, a reversing camera and an eight-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring and satellite navigation.
Considering virtually all rivals start from £15,000 in the sparsest trim levels, the Sandero offers truly remarkable value for money.
Before, you’d buy a Dacia Sandero knowing you were getting the keys to the cheapest new car on sale, but being well aware that you’d be compromising in some areas to do so – driving dynamics, quality and safety, for example.
But this new Sandero really brings no compromise, and is truly improved across the board. How Dacia has managed to keep that £7,995 starting price (well, £8,995 in the spec you want) is a truly remarkable effort. It makes you wonder why on earth you’d spend thousands and thousands more on similar rivals, and for that reason it becomes the supermini to beat in this segment.
Model: Dacia Sandero
Model as tested: Dacia Sandero Comfort TCE 100 Bi-Fuel
Price as tested: £11,995
Engine: 1.0-litre petrol/LPG
Torque: 170Nm (LPG), 160Nm (Petrol)
Max speed: 114mph
0-60mph: 11.4 seconds
MPG: 39.8mpg (LPG), 52.3mpg (Petrol)
Emissions: 109g/km, 123g/km (Petrol)