2013 Dacia Sandero Stepway review
It costs £400 more than the equivalent regular Sandero, but still represents incredible value for money, with prices starting at less than £8000.
For the extra money, you get a 40mm increase in ground clearance, larger wheels and higher profile tyres to fill those more pronounced wheelarches.
Further embellishments include a chunkier front bumper with foglights, and satin chrome roof bars. Front and rear skid plates are also fitted to help to protect the undercarriage, should you venture off the beaten track.
What's the 2013 Dacia Sandero Stepway like to drive?
Although the Stepway's raised ride height and protective skid plates are there to help you negotiate the occasional rutted farm track, there's no four-wheel-drive transmission or low-ratio gearbox to call upon, so off-road adventures are beyond the Dacia's remit.
Still, if you accept the limitations, the Stepway is a pretty decent vehicle to drive.
Most notably, the ride is much softer than that of most modern superminis. The forgiving suspension soaks up bumps with ease at low speeds, and it deals with broken surfaces noticeably better than its lower-riding sibling.
That said, this softness does have its drawbacks, because it means things get rather bouncy over high-speed dips and crests.
You'll also notice plenty of body roll when negotiating bends, but the decent level of grip means you can breeze along a typical B-road at a respectable pace.
The steering weights up inconsistently when you're pressing on, but it feels light around town, which comes in handy when slotting the Stepway into tight parking spots; something that's made even easier by the tall windows and excellent all-round visibility.
Undoubtedly, the worst aspect of the Stepway is its refinement.
Even at tickover, the 89bhp 1.5-litre diesel engine produces a discernable amount of vibration. This can be felt through the seats, steering wheel and pedal box.
The 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol engine doesn't suffer to the same degree at idle, but it starts to feel thrashy above 2500rpm, so the reverberation simply kicks in while you're moving along instead.
Generally, the engines are punchy enough, but the notchy, rubbery shift of the manual gearbox makes the driving experience less slick than you'd hope for – although given the Stepway's price you shouldn't expect a lot more.
The car's bluff front end and standard-fit roof rails also generate lots of wind noise at motorway speeds. There's plenty of tyre roar even at lower speeds, too.
What's the 2013 Dacia Sandero Stepway like inside?
Apart from the price, the most impressive thing about the Stepway is the sheer amount of space it provides.
There's loads of room in the front, and rear-seat occupants will never feel claustrophobic thanks to lots of headroom and huge side windows.
The boot – at 320 litres – is pretty big compared with those of most other superminis, too.
However, while the bottom and backs of the rear seats can be tumbled and flipped down to free up even more space, you're left with a step in the load bay; not ideal if you've got longer items to carry.
The driving position isn't great, either – you only get height adjustment for the driver's seat and the steering wheel if you choose a top-spec model, and even then there's no option to adjust the wheel for reach.
Unsurprisingly, hard grey plastic dominates the dashboard, but there is the odd dash of sparkle to brighten matters, including chrome surrounds for the instrument dials.
You get a reasonable amount of kit, too. Entry-level Ambiance models come with Bluetooth, electric front windows and a CD player.
Laureate trim starts at £9795 and adds heated door mirrors, rear parking sensors, air-conditioning, rear electric windows and a seven-inch colour touch-screen with integrated sat-nav.
Safety isn't one of the Stepway's strengths – even though all models get four airbags, emergency brake assist and stability control as standard, many rivals come with more protection. The four-star Euro NCAP crash test result of the standard Sandero, on which the Stepway's based, isn't as good as the safety ratings of most other superminis, either.
Should I buy one?
To find anything even remotely comparable at this sort of money you'll need to look on the second-hand market, and that is enough to forgive the Stepway almost all of its flaws. Even if you choose the top trim with the petrol engine, you'll be spending less than £10,000.
If you want a Dacia with real off-road ability, the cheapest four-wheel-drive Duster is £1200 more expensive. A Fiat Panda Trekking is probably the most similar new car to the Stepway on spec, but that's a substantial £2700 extra and it comes with less equipment.
Unless you do a lot of motorway miles, we wouldn't recommend spending the extra £1000 on the diesel Stepway over the turbocharged petrol. The power delivery of the latter isn't perfect, but it's the more refined of the two.
Regardless of the engine choice, there's no escaping the fact Dacia has redefined budget motoring.
What Car? says...
Fiat Panda Trekking
Engine size 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol
Price from £7995
Torque 100lb ft
0-62mph 11.1 seconds
Top speed 105mph
Fuel economy 52.3mpg
Engine size 1.5-litre diesel
Price from £8995
Torque 162lb ft
0-62mph 12.1 seconds
Top speed 104mph
Fuel economy 70.6mpg
By Ed Callow