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First drive: Dacia Sandero 1.0 SCe 2017MY. Image by Andy Morgan.

First drive: Dacia Sandero 1.0 SCe 2017MY
Revised looks and a fresh engine for the UK's most affordable new car, the Dacia Sandero.

   



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Dacia Sandero 1.0 SCe 2017MY

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Dacia gives the Sandero, a car that is incredible value-for-money, a mild facelift and a new engine. It's at no point an exciting machine in which to travel, or to look at, but as it clearly sets its stall out as a simple transportation conveyance, it doesn't need any glitz or glamour - as its USP remains that it is the cheapest showroom-fresh vehicle you can buy today.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Dacia Sandero 1.0 SCe Ambiance
Pricing: Sandero from 5,995; Ambiance from 6,995
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 117g/km (VED Band C, 0 first 12 months, 30 annually thereafter if registered before April 1, 2017; 160 year one, 140 annually thereafter post-April 1, 2017)
Combined economy: 54.3mpg
Top speed: 99mph
0-62mph: 14.2 seconds
Power: 73hp at 6,300rpm
Torque: 97Nm at 3,500rpm

What's this?

The cheapest... or least expensive, however you want to phrase it... new car you can buy in the UK, the Dacia Sandero, given a midlife facelift - and, in the case of the entry point for motive power, a new engine. Gone is the old 1.2-litre, four-cylinder 16v petrol unit, replaced by one making roughly the same power (73hp) from a single litre of swept displacement and just three cylinders. This engine, said to be up to 10 per cent cleaner than the 1.2 it replaces, is called the SCe and it can be found on the most basic Access (the Sandero that will cost a fiver less than six grand, if you can avoid the options list and you don't mind driving around in the motoring equivalent of a sparsely furnished, brutalist Russian apartment) and mid-ranking Ambience models; it's this latter grade that makes up the vast bulk of Dacia UK's Sandero sales, accounting for roughly 70 per cent of the customer cars leaving the showrooms.

The latest iteration will look familiar to you, though, if you already own one or you're a big Dacia fan (James May, perhaps?), because little has been done to the dumpy Romanian's shape. Key alterations focus on the graphics for the daytime running lamps (DRLs), a chrome accent in the grille that visually emphasises the Sandero's width, new colours and alloy wheel designs and light signatures front and rear that feature four stacked rectangles. Kia's 'ice cube' DRLs, anyone? Nevertheless, as it's more than four metres long, you know you're going to get a lot of cabin and boot space for your minimal outlay.

Talking of what lies within, Dacia says it has improved the interior finishing, although you're still going to have to accept that the quality levels are several country miles behind modern standards. Rivals like the Ford Ka+, Vauxhall Viva and Hyundai i10 have all proved that cheap build prices need not mean enormous swathes of what looks like off-the-back-of-a-lorry-polypropylene have to clothe all the major surfaces; Dacia would appear to disagree. The Sandero's case is not helped by Renault switchgear that was clearly left over from Vel Satis and Avantime production, but come on - Dacia is selling you an entire car here for as little as 5,995, in an era when a set of carbon ceramic brakes on an Audi RS 6 will relieve you of 9,300, or a Naim sound system on a Bentley is a five-figure upgrade. Therefore, complaining about its interior quality is like going into one of those honest-to-goodness cafes that sells glorious bacon 'n' egg butties and builder's tea in Styrofoam cups for 50p a go, and then carping on about the fact you can't have olive oil-brushed Bruschetta drizzled in Modena balsamic, accompanied by the sort of ridiculous hot drink Niles Crane might order in a Seattle coffee house.

So revel instead in the space (just about enough for four adults as it's not exactly voluminous in terms of rear knee room), the massive boot and the fact that DAB radio is now standard on all specifications, or that the Ambiance is the most affordable car with factory-fit air conditioning in the country at 6,995. Or even, if you're prepared to drop (gasp!) 8,195 on a Laureate, Dacia will now give you satnav displayed on a seven-inch touchscreen and rear parking sensors as part of the original equipment. Along with cruise control, front fog lights, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors and an on-board computer, among more. You know what the word is: bargain.

How does it drive?

Efficiently and with reasonable composure, but lacking any shred of emotion or flamboyance. Don't expect the Dacia Sandero to offer up any surprising jewels of dynamic discovery, as it drives in a fashion that is precisely aligned with the modest promise served up by its dowdy appearance. The steering is bizarrely unassisted feeling, yet mute, the five-speed gearbox is a real old clunker, the brakes feel a bit spongy and there's a lack of on-the-move refinement, courtesy of constant rubber chatter from the tyres and an extraordinary amount of wind noise generated by oddly stunted door mirrors. Furthermore, for all its lovely low-speed three-cylinder gargling, the new engine has no desire whatsoever to venture into the realm occupied by its peak power output, as it becomes audibly harsh and breathless once 4,000rpm is breached.

However. The engine is absolutely fine at lower speeds and has no trouble propelling around a Sandero with a sub-tonne kerb weight in city driving conditions, even if it is painfully slow out on larger roads. Again, though, once it is wound up to cruising pace on a motorway, it will happily sit at 70mph and more without feeling like it is hopelessly out of its depth. The ride is above average; not as smooth as you might think on 65-profile tyres wrapped around 15-inch alloys and teamed to suspension that allows for a lot of lean during hard cornering, but it's more than acceptable for daily needs. Indeed, the whole car is; there's no doubting that the models equipped with turbodiesel engines feel like much more convincing cars overall, but if you can't stretch to one of those, then this SCe will serve your purposes just fine if you're a strict A-to-B motorist who desires nothing more from their vehicle than trustworthiness.

Verdict

The 2017MY Dacia Sandero, no matter its additional bits of visual primping and the cheerful 1.0-litre engine, is clearly a car that isn't going to meet universal approval. Try as Dacia might, offering toys and supposed luxuries on a vehicle that sets out to be super-duper cheap seems counter-productive and it won't in the slightest entice in the sort of person who has to have a Volkswagen at any cost. All the air conditioning and fancy new steering wheels can't hide the astonishing crudeness of the Sandero's interior by 2016's prevailing standards of fit and finish.

Yet don't for a minute think the Sandero is a bad car. Indeed, our overall mark might not reflect this, but it could be argued that it is unquestionably brilliant for so thoroughly meeting its singular design brief of offering a functional machine that's bigger than a supermini, for used car prices. So while we might have sounded disparaging about the basic Sandero Access in the intro, actually we couldn't be more in favour of buyers aiming at getting a 5,995 example out of the dealerships. If you're going to have one of these motors, don't mess about trying in vain to make it feel like a cut-price Skoda Fabia; instead, accept the honesty of Dacia's value ethos and have it in full UN-spec, with wind-up windows, black plastic bumpers, no air conditioning and steel wheels. What a marvellous car that would be.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Safety

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

3 3 3 3 3 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 12 Dec 2016



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