Most new superminis have list prices near £12,000, but from next year Dacia will sell one for just £5,995, making it Britain's cheapest car. Can it possibly be any good? Russell Bray investigates.
Park the new Dacia Sandero on a UK street and it won’t stand out like an Eastern European Trabant or shout cheap or nasty.
In fact it’s a handsome car and the shock is that it comes from a Romanian car maker founded only in 1966.
It’s also bigger than cheapies like a Peugeot 107 or a Toyota Aygo, with room for five and a generous boot.
But like so many car makers, Dacia’s owners, Renault, chickened out providing a bottom of the range Sandero for the international press launch.
In their defence, the model range we drove, the 90bhp Laureate petrol, is forecast to take more than two-thirds of sales and still only costs from £7,995. It's essentially the same car as the most basic version, with a slightly tweaked up 89bhp turbocharged 898cc three-cylinder compared to a base 74bhp 1.2 litre petrol.
So what’s it like? Well, the door handles feel a bit cheap, but the doors don’t shut with a tinny clang and though the wheels are steel their well fitted plastic covers make them look like alloys.
The rather flat dashboard is brightened up with some chrome and while the seats are short under your knees I didn’t get any leg or back ache.
Powering this £8,795 version of the Laureate is an 898cc three-cylinder turbocharged Renault petrol engine driving the front wheels through a five-speed gearbox.
The clutch is light and though there’s quite a long gear lever movement it always found the right slot.
I couldn’t get an ideal driving position because the steering column only adjusts for angle and not for reach.
On the open road (in Spain) it was clear there’s not the final ten percent of honing for the handling and refinement you get with a Western European car.
Work the engine on an ascent and you can feel some trembling through your seat and the pedals at times, especially if you have pressed the ‘eco’ button to reduce engine torque and save fuel.
Wind noise is noticeable at speed but overall refinement is still acceptable. Closing the dashboard air vents didn’t completely stop the air flow and the car developed a speed-related sound from behind the instruments. It sounded irritating more than expensive.
At speed the Sandero feels a bit floaty on its suspension rather than planted, and the steering could be more precise, but it never feels dangerous or unpredictable.
Yes, there is more body lean through bends than we are used to, but general ride comfort is good even over bumps.
The 2008 Sandero scored only three stars out of five in the Euro NCAP crash tests for adult safety, despite safety features including anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control. The latest version is expected to do similarly while a Vauxhall Corsa, for example, scores five.
Laureate kit includes air conditioning, remote control central locking, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and electric windows.
The Sandero will be sold with a choice of three trim levels and three engines, a 1.5 litre 89bhp diesel, the engine we tried and the headline priced version with a 74bhp 1.2 litre petrol.
Pick the base Access trim and you get power steering, split folding rear seats, electronic stability control and driver and passenger front and side airbags, but all cars are white and there’s no radio, no alarm and black plastic bumpers.
Options include metallic paint (£470) and alloy wheels (£425) and rear parking sensors, alarm and a boot liner for £430.
The warranty is three years/60,000 miles, extendable to five years for £395, or seven years/100,000 miles for £850.
Dacia started building Renaults under licence. Renault took control of Dacia in 1999. Since 2004 it has been Europe’s fastest growing car maker and sales now top 350,000 a year.
Dacia Sandero Laureate TCe Eco 2
Engine: 898cc three-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power: 89bhp @ 5,250rpm/ 100lb ft @ 2,500rpm
Gearbox: Five-speed manual
Fuel consumption: 54.3mpg (combined)
Acceleration 0-62mph: 11.1sec
Top speed 109mph
Road tax band C: £Zero first year, then £30
Verdict: Good enough to upset the small car leaders
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