Dacia Sandero – First Drive

The bargain-basement Dacia Sandero has been spruced up for 2017 so Chris Pickering got behind the wheel to check out what's changed.

When the Dacia Sandero was first launched in 2012 it was the cheapest car on sale by some margin. Five years later, this facelifted model retains that title. More impressively, the entry level model still costs just £5,995.

Even half a decade ago that represented a bit of a bargain, but in the meantime the Sandero’s rivals have tended to drift further and further away. What’s more, the only other options you’ll find within a country mile of its price are pint-sized city cars. The Dacia, on the other hand, is a deceptively spacious five-door supermini, with room in the back for a couple of adults and more boot space than you’d find in a Ford Fiesta.

Admittedly, the Sandero’s opportunities to upstage the premium opposition are few and far between thereafter. It’s not that it’s a bad car – far from it, actually – but it is an unashamedly budget offering. Scratchy black plastic abounds in the cabin of our mid-range Ambiance-spec test car and the interior design could best be described as functional.

Ultimately, though, everything works as it should. It’s reasonably comfortable, despite a limited range of adjustment on the seating positon, and there’s plenty of visibility front and rear. There’s also a respectable amount of standard equipment. Ambience trim may bump the price up to £6,995 with the base spec petrol engine, but it includes a DAB radio with Bluetooth and USB input, plus front electric windows and air conditioning.

Today, however, we’re in the 90 hp diesel model. With 220 Nm of torque it feels genuinely punchy by supermini standards and it’s more than up to the job of motorway driving. The five speed gearbox feels a tad notchy at times and the engine can get a bit vocal if worked hard, but overall it’s a respectable package. It’s impressively frugal too, with a claimed 80.7 mpg on combined cycle, although like most cars you’d struggle to achieve that in the real world (think more like 60 mpg unless you spend your entire life on the motorway).

Dynamically, the Sandero is competent, although neither especially sporty nor especially cosseting. The ride can be a little bouncy at times, there’s a fair amount of body roll and the steering isn’t the last word in precision. At speed there’s more wind and road noise than you’d find in the more polished opposition too.

The diesel does add significantly to the price. Our test car came in at £9,790 (including £495 of metallic paint), but that’s still thousands less than you’d expect to spend elsewhere for a new car. And that is really what it comes down to with the Sandero. It’s a brand new car with a 60,000 mile warranty and an admirable record in reliability surveys for less than the amount you can spend on customising some superminis. True, those in search of glamour or excitement would be better off elsewhere, but nothing beats the Sandero on value for money, providing you’re looking for basic, dependable transport.