Test drive - Dacia Sandero

WHAT a great little car for the economic times we are living in.

Dacia Sandero

WHAT a great little car for the economic times we are living in.

It hardly seems feasible that the Dacia Sandero can be purchased brand spanking new for under five grand, but its on the road price is just £4,995 for the Access model.

True, there are few, if any, frills – on the most basic model there are manual windows and no stereo – but Dacia’s philosophy is to give the  owner the choice to pay only for the gadgets and finishes they want.

Dacia, part of the Renault Group, is Europe’s fastest-growing brand of car, with more than 350,000 sold in 35 countries in 2010. It’s the fifth-best-selling brand in France and a market leader in Romania and Morocco, so Dacia has clearly judged its market correctly.

It produces two models, the SUV Duster – previously tested by Motoring – and the hatchback Sandero.

Since taking the Duster for a spin last year, your correspondent has been waiting with interest to meet the Sandero.

First impressions are good. It looks solid and stylish, well designed and a little bit Gallic. That will be the Renault influence, no doubt.

Inside there is everything you might expect in a modern car and it is surprising how much you get for the price.

There are two petrol engines available for the Sandero – a 1.2-litre version and a more powerful 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine. There is also a 1.5-litre diesel model. All use a five-speed manual gearbox.

Core features include the kind of safety basics you want to be included in any car – anti-lock brakes and emergency brake assist, power steering and airbags for driver and front passenger.

Dacia SanderoThe Sandero, like its stablemate the Duster, comes in three levels of equipment finish. The most basic is the Access, there is the mid-range Ambiance and the top-of-the-range Laureate.

Not surprisingly, the model tested, a Laureate, has more luxurious interior features than the Ambience or Access. It has graphite and chrome styling, dark carbon ‘quantum’ cloth upholstery and a leather steering wheel. It also has more equipment, including a CD player, MP3 reader with steering-wheel controls and electric windows throughout.

The interior trim looks and feels of good quality. Although the Dacia ‘manifesto’ claims to favour function over frivolity and to have made ‘an enemy of the unnecessary’, there is no feeling that there has been any skimping on the detail or the finish.

Driving the Sandero is enjoyable, the TCe90 engine has plenty of poke and it makes a good throaty noise. Acceleration is great and a slight nudge of the toe on the pedal has the Sandero straining at the leash.

The Renault/Nissan connection means the Dacia range is backed by a wealth of research and development and uses technology that is already proven. This keeps costs down without the need to compromise on styling or driving experience.

And the motoring press has given the brand its endorsement for its budget pricing policy, solid styling and decent driving capabilities. What Car? gave it four stars out of five, saying it was a ‘great package that asks acceptable compromises given the list price’.

It also awarded the Sandero ‘Best Supermini’ under £12,000 in its 2013 awards.

As we remain in the grip of the economic downturn, it seems highly likely that we will be seeing more of Dacia in the future.