Ollie Marriage10 December 2012

GOOD NEWS! It’s the new Dacia Sandero!

Control yourself James – we’ve finally driven Britain’s cheapest car. Ollie Marriage reports

GOOD NEWS! It’s the new Dacia Sandero!

What have we got here then?
It's nothing less than Britain's cheapest car, the £5,995* Dacia Sandero

Hold your horses, what's the asterisk all about?
Well, here's the thing, the car we wanted to drive was obviously the most interesting one, the base 75bhp 1.2 petrol in Access trim. However, the cheapest version Dacia made available was a 90bhp turbocharged 3cyl in top spec Laureate trim. With satnav. And alloys. And some electronics. It costs £8,795.

I'm guessing the basic one is less well equipped?
It is. It doesn't even have a stereo or speakers, just some wires in the dash so you can fit your own. But behind the gizmos these are the same car - a mid-sized five door hatchback that's bigger than a Fiesta, smaller than a Golf and not as well built as either. This shouldn't come as a surprise.

It doesn't.
You can see where Dacia (pronounced Da-tcha, the manufacturer is keen to point out) has saved money. Everything is very simple, from the creases in the body panels to the switchgear on the dash. Bean counters have been through it all and made it cheaper. But that's the point here - it's meant to be cheap and because it is, there's an inherent charm to it. This is a simple car, aiming to do a simple thing: provide budget transport.

And is it rubbish to drive?

That all depends how you judge it. If you approach it with the mindset of a ‘proper' family hatchback, like a Fiesta, then yes, it is a little bit rubbish. Nothing has been done to add zest or flavour to the driving experience, but by the same token it doesn't do anything scary either. It copes with corners, it doesn't need much directional correction on motorways and although wind noise is an issue, you can easily make yourself heard. Ride's a bit bouncy, though and that robs you of some confidence. No feel through the steering either. And the gearchange is plain rubbish. And even with only 962kg to move, the little turbo struggles. Oh, there I go judging it like a proper car again.

What about practicality?
Well, there's quite a bit of space inside - plenty of headroom and enough space for four grown-ups. Good boot too, although you do have to press one of those round metal buttons that always manage to catch your thumbnail uncomfortably. Also watch the top edges of the rear doors. They end in a point that somehow comes quite close to your cheekbone as you open them. The bonnet, however, has a gas strut. Hopefully this little luxury touch doesn't imply you'll need to open it very often.

Is reliability likely to be an issue?
I really don't think so - it has the feel of a car that'll go on and on for ever, probably outlasting most of the people that are likely to buy it.

It's safe too, right?
To drive, yes, in fact there's a bit of unexpected charm to the basic-but-honest way it goes about its business. The bigger question is one of safety. Renault, Dacia's owners, were one of the first to champion the EuroNCAP tests, making safety a real selling point. Nowadays almost all cars get five star ratings. But not the Sandero. When tested, it's expected to get a three star rating. This could be a problem. Although Dacia is a big success story internationally, proving that buyers are prepared to compromise on refinement, equipment, style and brand in order to own an affordable car, I think the one thing they're less prepared to compromise on is safety.

Agreed. Now anything else you want to get off your chest?
Couple of things. Some people may be wondering why it's taken Dacia so long to come to the UK given that Renault has owned it since 1999 and models (including a first generation Sandero) are on sale across 30 European countries already. The reason is that we're a right hand drive market, and although Dacia hopes to sell almost 20,000 cars a year in the UK, we're a minnow on the global scale and not worth tooling up for. However, India is also a right-hand drive market, and India is big...

Oh, and don't bother asking for a discount in a Dacia dealer. The price on the windscreen is the price you pay. You might be able to haggle a bit with extras, but Dacia's policy is no discounts. But you weren't going to ask for one, were you? A car for six grand, that's pretty much daylight robbery already.

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