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Dacia Sandero

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Dacia Sandero
7/10

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Road Test

Dacia Sandero Laureate 90 driven

Driven February 2013

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Six grand buys you a lot. Not a lot of luxury, admittedly, but a lot of goodwill, a lot of forgiveness. The Dacia Sandero, when UK deliveries start in late January, will be the UK's cheapest new car. By a huge margin. Over a grand less than a Suzuki Alto or Nissan Pixo. And bigger, too - almost Golf-sized.

Whatever criticisms can be laid at its door - and there certainly are some - the fact the base 1.2, 75bhp Access model costs £5,995 is a cause for celebration. So it's a shame I can't tell you what it's like to drive. The only version Dacia lets us drive is the turbocharged 0.9 in top-spec Laureate trim. Which costs £8,795. It has satnav, alloys, Bluetooth and leccy windows. The entry model has pre-wiring for an aftermarket stereo and wind-your-own windows.

But strip the fripperies away from our car and they're the same. Of course you can see where money has been saved - there are scratchy plastics, tinny metals, sharp edges to the doors, simple styling creases, spindly suspension. But it doesn't feel like a bland box. It feels honest, has a bit of charm. And none of the flaws are so massive as to put you off the car. Well, except one, which we'll come to in a moment.

The seat is mounted in line with the steering wheel, helping the car to hold a reliable course. It's not scary around corners, nor excessively noisy at speed. The biggest dynamic flaw is the gearshift, which, though awful, isn't a deal-breaker.

No, the biggest issue is the expected three-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating. Dacia breezily suggests this isn't an issue, but the one thing people shouldn't have to compromise on is safety, and four airbags plus standard stability control aren't enough to cover up what is clearly not the world's toughest body structure.

Moving on. The 898cc turbo three-pot struggles a bit even though it only has 962kg to move around, and throttle response is hit and miss. But this is part of the fun - you never forget you're driving a budget car. However, this is to tar the Sandero with the same brush as a hire car (incidentally, it would make a brilliant one), when most buyers would be much better off with the 1.5 diesel, which is as refined, doesn't need to be constantly thrashed and takes motorways in its stride. It's another £1,000.

Incidentally, we have India - where the Sandero is built - to thank for Dacia coming to the UK at all. Economies of scale dictated that right-hand-drive sales only made sense once India was factored in - despite Dacia hoping to sell not far shy of 20,000 cars a year here (putting it on a par with Suzuki).

Not that the UK public needs much convincing. Dacia already has 1,700 advance orders, and all 149 Renault dealers will be selling Dacias too - although the firm doesn't deny this could be a contingency plan against falling Renault sales. Either way, Dacia is here, and we're happy to see it.

Ollie Marriage

The numbers
898cc, 3cyl, FWD, 90bhp, 100lb ft, 54.3mpg, 120g/km CO2, 0-62mph in 11.1secs, 109mph, 962kg

The verdict
A car like cars used to be for a price like prices used to be. Aside from a query over safety, the Sandero is a bargain of the highest order

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