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First drive: Dacia Sandero. Image by Dacia UK.

First drive: Dacia Sandero
Dacia’s budget supermini is back as a new model, on a new chassis and looking sharper than ever.


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Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel

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The Dacia Sandero is back for its third outing, but look - it has new LED headlights and a cabin which isn't just pure, spartan simplicity any more. Has the Romanian budget brand made the wrong move, chasing a premium edge that its bargain-basement hatchback plainly doesn't need?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort
Pricing: Sandero range from £7,995, 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort from £11,995, car as tested £12,555
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol plus LPG capabilities
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door budget supermini
CO2 emissions: petrol 123g/km, LPG 109g/km (VED Band 111-130 Alternative Fuel Cars: £170 first 12 months, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: petrol 52.3mpg, LPG 39.8mpg
Top speed: petrol 114mph, LPG 111mph
0-62mph: 11.6 seconds
Power: petrol 91hp at 4,600-5,000rpm, LPG 100hp at 5,000rpm
Torque: petrol 160Nm at 2,100-3,750rpm, LPG 170Nm at 2,000rpm
Boot space: 328-1,128 litres (no underfloor storage of 78 litres due to LPG tank fitment)

What's this?

It's the all-new Dacia Sandero and before you start making snide comments about it looking a lot like the old car, you ought to understand that this isn't simply an immodest change of panels in the shift from Sandero Mk2 to Mk3. Sitting on the same Common Module Family (CMF-B) platform as a Renault Clio V, albeit a sub-development called the LS (low specifications; ahem...), Dacia has made a real effort in smartening up the Sandero's appearance. Naturally, it's still not a car replete with overtly showy, flowing design lines and intricately creased sections of bodywork, because it still has to be made to a budget. But those LED lamp clusters fore and aft, bearing the Y-motif like a full-on Lamborghini* baller, give it some easily identifiable presence. The grille is a tad more defined, up-spec models are cohesively body-coloured when they weren't before, and overall it's a pleasing little thing on the eye. Especially in Iron Blue, which is a lush Renault colour. And one of only two options available for the Sandero, at £560. We'll come back to this in a moment.

Inside, even more dramatic changes have taken place. Now, to temper your rising expectations, let's be clear and say there remain acres of hard, unyielding black plastics in the Dacia Sandero Mk3 that make up almost all of the fascias; this has not turned into some cut-price, soft-touch paradise within. But there's a natty little belt of fabric running around the dashboard's midriff that gives just a splash of texture and aesthetic appeal to the ambience, while much of the switchgear - and the lever for the six-speed manual gearbox - comes straight out of the contemporary Clio. Less affordable Sanderos (we can't call them expensive, really) also gain an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation and while this array is not going to have an Audi MMI interface running for cover with its graphics and presentation, it's certainly more than passable. Not only that, but it supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay if you'd prefer - and the vast majority of car owners do. Wondering what infotainment you'd get if you don't, um, splash out on the Sandero? Well, lowlier variants have Media Control, which comprises a cradle on the dashboard designed to hold your smartphone. A corresponding app can be downloaded and this then allows owners to deploy their phone as the in-car navigation and audio overlord, connecting the device either wirelessly or via the dashboard USB.

Beyond this, the steering wheel feels that little bit less shockingly cheap in your hands than it did in the second-gen Sandero, there's a digital screen between the plain but easy-to-read dials in the instrument cluster, the seats are a touch more supportive than the wooden-feeling items in the old car - although they're still not the most sumptuous chairs in the business, or indeed this B-segment class - and most models will have at least air-conditioning (manual) to keep occupants cool. Space, though, is superb: there's 42mm more legroom in the second row of the Sandero than there was in the Mk2 and it feels genuinely capacious to sit back there, while the boot stands at 328 litres with a further 78 litres of underfloor stowage available. All in all, the cabin doesn't feel as obviously cheap as a gulag any longer, while a smattering of useful equipment items and some clever touches make it more amenable to Dacia's loyal customers - and probably good enough to tempt in a few folk who are wondering about making the budget-motor switch. It's a very well-judged job inside and out, the third-gen Sandero.

Right, so we've mentioned specs, therefore it's time to lay out the new UK range. As before, there's this regular Sandero and also a raised-up Stepway model, too; the Sandero has three trims of Access, Essential and Comfort, while the Stepway drops the first of these and replaces it at the other end of the chart with a top-line Prestige specification. Prices for the Sandero start at £7,995 and peak at £12,795, while the Stepway kicks off at £11,495 and culminates at £15,095. Which immediately begs the question 'why not just a Dacia Duster?', but we digress.

Anyway, the Access comes with black exterior detailing, plain 15-inch steel wheels, LED lights all round, a trip computer, a speed limiter, electric front windows and a one-piece folding rear bench seat. Move up to Essential (from £8,995) and you gain centre caps for your steelies, body-coloured bumpers (but the mirrors and door handles remain black), chrome air-vent surrounds in the cabin, 60:40 split-folding rear seats, cruise control, manual air-conditioning, remote central locking and the basic Media Control system with DAB and Bluetooth; for a £1,000 premium, it seems like the extra kit of the Essential makes a lot of sense if you're not prepared to go full hardship with your Dacia (shame on you!). The Comfort (from £11,595) really ramps up the, um, luxury, with 15-inch Flex wheels (they're like alloys in appearance but cheaper to build/buy and supposedly more durable), a chrome front grille, the soft-feel steering wheel, front foglights, electric door mirrors, keyless entry, automatic wipers, rear electric windows, entirely body-coloured exterior detailing, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, and the eight-inch Media Nav touchscreen infotainment with mapping all included.

The Stepway's Essential and Comfort (this one from £13,095) specs are broadly the same, except the Stepway Essential gets larger 16-inch Flex wheels while the Stepway Comfort also benefits from modular roof bars, while the Stepway Prestige (from £13,895) comes with 16-inch diamond-effect alloys, a high centre armrest with storage, an electronic parking brake, front and rear parking sensors, Blind Spot Warning and full automatic climate control. The only options across the board are metallic paint (at £560) and a spare wheel (at £150, not available on the BiFuel models - read on for more details), so the absolute most money you could possibly spend on a Mk3 model is to buy a Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Automatic Prestige and then fit it with metallic paint and a spare wheel, which would set you back the princely sum of just £15,805. Oh, and if you're going the other end of the scale, don't think you can have a nice metallic paint on the Sandero Stepway; in the monochromatic inverse of the famous Henry Ford line, you can have it in any colour you like as long as it's white.

All sound good? Yes, it does to us too and a starting price of eight grand for a pretty decent car looks tempting. However, we'd sound two notes of caution here. Because when we last drove a second-gen Sandero at the very end of 2016, the range started at £5,995. And, inflation-adjusted, six thousand pounds in 2017 works out as £6,450 in 2020 according to the Bank of England, and roughly £6,600 in 2021 on the assumption of 2.5 per cent a year. And the Sandero Stepway has just garnered a particularly poor two-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating, mainly because its ADAS tech is not up to the highest standards. So are we really getting £1,350 of extra engineering talent here, from the CMF-B LS platform and improved interior? Time to find out.

* = some artistic licence may have been used here.

How does it drive?

Three-cylinder petrol power with a 1.0-litre swept capacity is your only option for the Dacia Sandero line-up, starting with a 67hp/95Nm non-turbo unit badged the SCe 65 that's teamed up to a five-speed manual 'box. Now this little fizzer is the sole choice for that magnificent 'UN-spec' Sandero Access which continues to be offered in the Mk3 line - you know the one: only comes in a flat white paintjob, has next to no kit fitted to it, runs on 15-inch steel wheels without hubcaps, and has black plastic bumpers fore and aft and black door handles too. We'd love to drive one of these, if Dacia UK ever gets one on its press fleet.

The SCe is also available on the Sandero Essential as well, although it's not offered at all in the Stepway line, so as soon as you make the step up from the automotive equivalent of Tesco value bread in the form of the Access, then the turbocharged engines become available. There's a 90 TCe, outputting 91hp and 160Nm, which Dacia couples to a six-speed manual as standard, with a new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) available as a meaty £1,200 option on Comfort and Prestige cars. We haven't tried the CVT, yet we'd caution against it nonetheless - not only is it going to add yet more needless extra cost to the Sandero, but we also reckon it's going to lack for refinement and it further affects the eco-data (it increases the TCe's fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in one hit) while stripping 18Nm out of the equation to leave you with just 142Nm to play with. A glacially slow 13.4-second 0-62mph time is your 'reward'.

That then leaves the engine we've tried here, the 100 TCe BiFuel. Not for Dacia is adoption of a mild-hybrid electric system to try and provide some environmentally conscious posturing from its supermini. Instead, it makes the turbocharged engine run on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) as well as petrol. With one 50-litre tank for unleaded and another 40-litre reserve for the LPG (this sits in the spare-wheel well in the boot, so the BiFuel model doesn't have the 78 litres of underfloor stowage of its stablemates), combined this Sandero is claimed to do more than 800 miles on its twin-fuel resources alone. It's also, if you follow us, a 90 TCe if it runs on petrol - as in, the combustion lump delivers 91hp, 160Nm and around 52mpg with 120g/km-ish of CO2 emissions on regular unleaded. But switch it to LPG, and the outputs climb. It now punts out 100hp at 5,000rpm and 170Nm at 2,000rpm, gains of 10hp and 10Nm respectively, and while its LPG combined consumption falls to 39.8mpg as a result, this fuel-type is much cleaner to burn and so its CO2 emissions tumble too, down to 109g/km. It'll still be taxed here on its quoted petrol figure, of course, although it classifies as an Alternative Fuel Car which saves a tenner a year on road tax, but it's also nice to know that you're doing your bit to save the environment on LPG. And with the power and torque gains, then it's kind of like running the Sandero 90 TCe on nitrous in LPG mode.

All right, it's not. You can't really discern any difference to the way the Sandero 100 TCe drives when it's guzzling down LPG rather than unleaded, as the switch from one fuel to the other (managed by a button down to the right of the steering wheel) is utterly imperceptible and it's not as if the Dacia suddenly surges forward when you select the liquefied gas. It's a sweet little engine, though, this 1.0-litre three-cylinder, and while the on-paper performance doesn't look anything special, it feels willing enough and urgent enough to make good progress in the Sandero. You don't have to mercilessly thrash it to keep up with traffic flow and the car is more than capable of rolling confidently along a motorway, so it's a pleasing operator. Better yet, even if you do rev it out, the powerplant sounds reasonably good and it's linked up to a lovely, slick-shifting gearbox.

In the corners, the Sandero is perfectly adequate. Without ever being thrilling, the newer, more rigid CMF-B LS platform makes itself known because there's less looseness to the body control and an additional sharpness to the way the Dacia turns in. The steering is always light and feel-free, of course, and you'll experience more lean in the Sandero than you would in almost any other B-segment competitor we can think of, but it's tidy enough on a twisting section of open road to link a series of corners together with a notable degree of competence.

Where it most impresses, however, is for refinement. Not for the exemption of tyre roar from the cabin - you'll still hear quite a bit of road chatter from the Sandero at around 60mph and more, although we would say it is about middle of the pack in terms of modern-day superminis for how loud its cabin gets in this regard; given the Dacia's low pricing, that outcome should therefore be considered 'above average' noise suppression for a buyer's outlay. But the ride quality is excellent, definitely up there among the best vehicles in the segment. Not only that, but revised door mirrors reduce wind buffeting around the cabin so at speeds the Sandero conducts itself with a surprising amount of dignity that makes something of a mockery of its bargain-basement nature. This is a car which is considerably more assured in all regards than you might at first give it credit for.


We always liked the ethos of the Dacia Sandero, the company clearly setting out its stall to provide affordable motoring for the masses. That, though, previously meant you had to swallow some serious compromises in terms of rolling refinement, interior finishing and equipment levels if you were going to take the plunge on the Romanian runaround. Those compromises still remain, to a degree, but they are substantially less glaring than they were before - this is now a far more likeable vehicle to travel in and, crucially, to drive than its immediate predecessor. This is a vital difference between feeling 'cheap' and feeling 'superb value-for-money', and this new Sandero definitely gives the impression that it sits well into the latter camp. On this impressive first showing, the latest supermini from the Eastern European bunch is much improved and it gives supermini buyers on a tighter budget who might have otherwise been looking elsewhere much to ponder, too.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

3 3 3 3 3 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 14 Apr 2021    - Dacia road tests
- Dacia news
- Sandero images

2021 Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort. Image by Dacia UK.

2021 Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero 100 TCe BiFuel Comfort. Image by Dacia UK.


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