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First drive: Dacia Sandero Stepway. Image by Dacia UK.

First drive: Dacia Sandero Stepway
Higher riding it may be, but does the Dacia Sandero Stepway serve any higher purpose?

   



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Dacia Sandero Stepway

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Following on from our first drive in the third-generation Dacia Sandero, now we try out the latest Sandero Stepway. Looks great, but... wouldn't you just rather have a Duster TCe 130 instead?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige
Pricing: Sandero Stepway range from 11,495, 90 TCe Prestige from 13,895, car as tested 14,605
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door budget crossover-supermini
CO2 emissions: 127g/km (VED Band 111-130: 180 first 12 months, then 155 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 50.4mpg
Top speed: 107mph
0-62mph: 12.0 seconds
Power: 91hp at 4,600-5,000rpm
Torque: 160Nm at 2,100-3,750rpm
Boot space: 328-1,128 litres plus 78 litres of underfloor storage

What's this?

If you want a full rundown on the pricing structure and specifications of the new Dacia Sandero and Stepway catalogue, then click on the bold, underlined words which read 'Dacia Sandero' in the intro. We've gone into chapter and verse there, so what we're going to keep it to on this review is precisely what has changed in the transition from Sandero to Stepway.

As we've already outlined, the Stepway is the taller, more rugged-looking model of the two. It gives over all the pretence of additional off-road ability but, save for the fact it is 41mm further away from the deck than a Sandero and therefore has a total of 174mm of ground clearance, it has no other tricks than that up its sleeve in order to get you ever further into the rough stuff. There's certainly no four-wheel drive. There's not even a special 'Trail' setting to go at on a drive-modes switch in the cabin. No Hill Descent Control. Nothing.

It's therefore purely the styling attributes you're going to have to sign on the dotted line for, if you're going to spend the 1,500 uptick in going from an identical engine/spec Sandero to a Stepway. So you're specifically looking at its bespoke grille, its 'Stepway' logo just above the front bumper, the revised fog-lamp housings in the Dacia's chin, the chintzy faux-metal underguard plates fore and aft, all that black plastic cladding along the lower fringes of the car and dotted on the doors, larger wheels (16 inches on all models) and a set of roof rails up top. Further, the Stepway gets one exclusive colour - Desert Orange, the finish seen in the pics here - to make it stand out (if you'll forgive the pun, given its ride height) even more in showrooms, and that then makes sense of an interior which is spruced up in places with orange to differentiate it from the Sandero. The eye-catching, bright hue adorns the door cards, the air vents and also the seats, the latter of which get 'Stepway' emblems on their facings as well.

Overall, the Stepway does feel a touch nicer still inside than the already-improved Mk3 Sandero hatch's cabin, while it's smart to behold outside too. But as we said in our first review of this new bargain line of cars, the Stepway is a more expensive offering than the Sandero in every regard. Not just model-for-model, but as an entire 'mini-range' - where the plain hatchback starts at 7,995, the Stepway (which has no Access entry level trim nor SCe 65 engine, remember) kicks off at 11,495. This car, a top-line Prestige, which is a specification denied to the regular Sandero entirely, starts at 13,895 and if you add the two solitary cost options of metallic paint (560) and a spare wheel (150), then you end up with a 14,605 machine. About the only way you could drop much more money on any model of the Dacia Sandero and Stepway lines is to bolt the CVT auto onto this same engine in this body, for another 1,200.

At least for 'all' this money, the Sandero Stepway Prestige comes with proper 16-inch alloy wheels (the only specification of the entire lot to do so), as well as the eight-inch touchscreen Media Nav infotainment, parking sensors front and rear, a reversing camera, electric windows all round, cruise control and proper, digital climate control in the cabin. Whisper it, but this Sandero Stepway almost felt plush.

How does it drive?

If you're going to do this whole 'crossover based on a car body, and not one that mimics an SUV' routine, then the dynamic trade-off you've got to absolutely nail is tangible ride comfort and refinement increases versus minor sacrifices to the handling. The Stepway is, after all, about 25kg heavier than a comparable Sandero and it stands higher in the airstream. Which accounts for the fact that, for every on-paper metric going, it lags behind a Sandero 90 TCe manual: the Stepway does 107mph flat out, 0-62mph in 12 seconds exactly, returns up to 50.4mpg and emits 127g/km of CO2. The same digits for the Sandero read 111mph, 11.7 seconds, 53.3mpg and 120g/km.

None of them chasmic deficiencies for the Stepway to overcome, sure, but then you drive the higher-riding Sandero and, well... you're left scratching your head and wondering what it's all about, Alfie. Like the regular Sandero Mk3, the Stepway is a notable step on in all regards from the vehicle it directly replaces. Compared to a Mk2 Stepway, this one rides with real composure, it's quieter on a motorway cruise, the engine feels sweeter and more willing than it did before, and the CMF-B LS chassis does tauten up everything the Mk3 Stepway does when it comes to cornering manners and handling feel. If the Sandero didn't exist, the Stepway would be bagging the same four-star overall rating we gave to that car. Considering the modest outlay needed to own even the flagship model like this one, we heartily approve of the manner in which the Stepway 90 TCe drives.

But the Sandero does exist and there's simply no discernible difference between the two of them when you're out on the road. The Stepway's taller, presumably softer suspension provides no better insulation from lumps and bumps in the road, nor any additional grace when the Dacia is just creeping around urban areas at low speeds, and yet it does take away a tiny sliver of body control in faster corners, so that the Stepway comes across as a tad woollier and more imprecise than the Sandero. And, looking the other way in the Romanian manufacturer's portfolio, the Stepway 90 TCe is nothing like as convincing an all-round product as the Duster TCe 130 that's only a grand or so more expensive. For a vehicle with another 40hp and 80Nm to play with. Also, the Sandero Stepway picked up a tragic two-star safety rating in the latest Euro NCAP crash-testing, as well. Yikes.

In the end, it boils down to the necessity of the Stepway. We can totally see where Dacia is coming from. People like crossovers, ergo people are surely going to like a crossover version of Britain's most affordable new car. It's sound logic, except for one problem: crossovers like these are dying off left, right and centre. The only comparable car on sale right now is the Ford Fiesta Active, another fundamentally likeable yet baffling soft-road hatchback that doesn't really do anything a decent standard Fiesta can't. Volkswagen gave up on the Polo Dune in this country years ago, Hyundai has killed off the i20 Active and doesn't look like it'll bother replacing it, the Picanto X-Line was a weird 'city car with lifestyle themes' dalliance from Kia, and even the venerable crossover estate, of which Audi's allroad clan has always been the best, appears to be a dwindling market these days. The truth is, people who want a crossover want it to look like a shrunken SUV, not a car on stilts. And the Stepway might make more sense if Dacia didn't already make a perfectly decent crossover-SUV in the first place. Except it does. And it's called the Duster.

Can you see our dilemma? The Stepway is very good, for what it is. It's just that it's not as good value a supermini as the Sandero and it's not as good a crossover as the Duster. So unless you've always had your heart dead-set on a Fiesta Active but you somehow thought the Blue Oval's product was criminally expensive, we're not sure why you'd buy the new Sandero Stepway in the first place.

Verdict

It seems entirely churlish to castigate a brand-new vehicle in 2021 which, when you look at it in isolation, costs a mere 14,605 in absolute bells-and-whistles (well, as far as its particular manufacturer is concerned) specification. There's no doubt the Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe is a more rounded, more polished and more likeable machine than its somewhat underbaked immediate predecessor and it surely represents one of the cheapest ways into crossover ownership for new-car buyers.

Having said that, it still doesn't convince us as much as the less expensive model upon which it is based - unless you're a massive fan of orange, that is. Maybe you're Dutch, or something. The Stepway, as good as it is and as nice as it is to look at, costs more money to purchase and run than a Sandero with the same engine, while it offers precisely nothing bar a tiny bit more ground clearance for the privilege. It's also nowhere like cheap enough to seriously undercut its more talented, more overtly crossover-y relation, the excellent Duster Mk2. Fine enough car, the new Sandero Stepway. But seriously, what's the point?

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 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



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2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige. Image by Dacia UK.

2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige. Image by Dacia UK.2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 TCe Prestige. Image by Dacia UK.








 

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