What Car? says...
The Dacia Sandero Stepway isn’t a fiendish new exercise machine – it’s an SUV-themed small car at a very competitive price.
It's based on the regular Dacia Sandero hatchback but gets a more heavily sculpted bonnet, roof rails, chunky plastic wheel-arch extensions, an increased ride height and bumpers with integrated skidplates – all additions that are well suited to the urban jungle. There are just three trim levels to pick from, and no options apart from colour and a few dealer-fit accessories.
Some might be disappointed there’s no hybrid or diesel version, just a couple of turbocharged petrol engines. One is entirely conventional, but the other offers an interesting way to reduce costs and CO2 emissions, as we’ll explain later. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard with an automatic available as an option.
Of course, Dacia isn't the only car maker producing a high-riding hatchback. For a start, there’s the Ford Fiesta Active and the Honda Jazz Crosstar. The Sandero Stepway is significantly cheaper than both of those cars, though, and is priced more in line with the tiny city cars like the Kia Picanto.
So does this bargain basement price bring any inherent compromises? Over the next few pages of this Dacia Sandero Stepway review, we’ll tell you how good the Stepway is to drive, how practical it is, and whether it can compete with the best small cars.
If you do decide to buy a Sandero Stepway – or indeed any new car – you could make a big saving on the brochure price by checking out the free What Car? New Car Deals pages. They have plenty of great new small car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Technically, there’s only one engine available in the Dacia Sandero Stepway – a turbocharged, three-cylinder 1.0 litre petrol – but it can either be powered by petrol, or a combination of petrol and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
The petrol-only option, called the TCe 90, has 89bhp, and can be had with an optional automatic gearbox. It has perfectly acceptable performance for the class, with a decent amount of punch from low engine speeds. It’s not the swiftest to reach motorway pace, but it’ll sit there all day long without fuss once you’re up there.
For a little bit more money, there’s the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel. It has a bit of extra poke at the expense of MPG economy, but because LPG is half the price of petrol, it can be much cheaper to run. You can flip between the two fuels using a switch next to your knee, so if you can’t find anywhere to fill the LPG tank, you’ve always got petrol to fall back on.
The TCe 100 Bi-Fuel is our preferred engine because it’s a little stronger from low engine speeds and accelerates a bit more quickly. Crucially, it’s smoother and quieter when accelerating than the TCe 90. Regardless of the engine choice, though, you’ll find far punchier options in most rivals.
We don’t have any issues with the light gearshift and easy-to-modulate clutch of the standard six-speed manual. The optional CVT automatic gearbox available on the TCe 90 is smooth enough around town, but does cause the engine revs to flare under heavy acceleration (a characteristic of CVTs).
It’s also far more comfortable than the Ignis – as well as most other small cars – smoothing out rough roads impressively, especially at higher speeds. Potholes and expansion joints do send a bit of a thwack through through the car, but not as noticeably as in similarly priced rivals. Indeed, you’d have to spend a fair chunk extra on a Skoda Fabia or a Polo for a more comfortable ride.
The soft suspension means handling isn’t the Stepway’s forte, though. There’s plenty of body lean in corners and it never feels particularly agile. Still, there's decent grip and the steering weights up in a reassuring manner when cornering, which inspires confidence. The Fiesta Active is more fun for keen drivers.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The Sandero Stepway comes with a height-adjustable driver’s seat with an armrest, plus a height and reach-adjustable steering wheel. You’ll find plenty of easy-to-use switches and knobs conveniently placed around the interior to control all the major functions, plus legible instruments in front of you that can be seen at a glance.
Your forward view is improved very slightly by the raised ride height, and if you jack up the driver’s chair enough, you can just about convince yourself that you're in a small SUV. The windscreen pillars aren't thick enough to get in the way, but those at the rear are rather chunky. That’s one of the reasons we recommend Expression trim, because it brings rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
Impressively, all Stepways have LED headlights as standard, while Journey trim adds front parking sensors.
As for infotainment, entry-level Essential trim makes do with a DAB radio, Bluetooth and two speakers, with no touchscreen interface.
The touchscreen is mounted helpfully high up on the dashboard and is tilted towards the driver, with some touch-sensitive shortcut buttons down the side that you can use to switch between functions. We’d prefer physical shortcut buttons, but the operating system is easy to get the hang of and responds quickly to prods and swipes.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Dacia Sandero Stepway is one of the biggest cars in the small car class. In fact, it almost matches the Honda Jazz for front head room and actually beats it for leg room. The Stepway's interior is relatively broad, too, so you won’t feel hemmed in. There are plenty of handy storage bins for all your clutter, and a couple of cupholders.
Rear space also impresses. True, it doesn't have quite as much leg room as the Jazz, but six-footers will still enjoy a gap between their knees and the seat in front. There's absolutely loads of head room, and its considerable breadth helps when you need to put three people in the back. In fact, our only grumble is that the rear door bins are quite small.
While the design of the boot could be improved – reducing the size of the lip at the entrance, for one thing – you can’t argue with its size. Officially there are 328 litres of space below the parcel shelf, and we managed to fit six carry-on suitcases inside. That's more than in any other car in the class, including the Tardis-like Jazz. Just be careful of the exposed metal instead of tough plastic around the boot opening – there's a risk of scratching the paint.
If you suddenly need a small van, the rear seats fold in a standard 60/40 split. The Jazz Crosstar, in contrast, offers all sorts of clever features, including rear seat bases that flip up like those in a cinema to create an extra luggage area. Then again, it costs nearly twice as much.
As you’d expect for the money, the Sandero Stepway has acres of hard, unyielding plastic, although a fabric insert on the dash and a few little chrome trim pieces on Comfort and up help lift things a little so it doesn’t feel too austere. Everything is solidly constructed, although those looking for a bit of luxury will need to dig much deeper for a Mini or Peugeot 208.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
On the face of it, the Stepway seems quite a bit more expensive than the regular Dacia Sandero. However, even in higher-spec forms, it's good value compared with a reasonably well-specced Hyundai i10 or Ford Fiesta Active. As such, we recommend jumping up to Comfort trim. The traditionally strong predicted resale values of Dacias make the Stepway attractive on PCP finance.
Fuel economy isn’t quite as good as that of the regular Sandero, let alone a hybrid Honda Jazz or Toyota Yaris, but the TCe 90 still returns an official figure of more than 50mpg. In our experience, more than 40mpg will be easily achievable in the real world, so you’d have to drive your Yaris an awful lot to recoup the cost difference. The official CO2 emissions are nothing to write home about, but the low purchase price will lead to company car drivers enjoying a low benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax rate.
On paper, the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel isn’t quite as efficient as the TCe 90, with higher CO2 emissions when running on petrol and slightly heavier fuel consumption when using LPG. However, LPG is much cheaper per litre than petrol, so if there’s a filling station near you that sells it, you should see your fuel bills drop surprisingly quickly.
Essential trim gives you just that, with wheel trims, electric front windows, cruise control and remote central locking, along with a basic infotainment system. If you can, we'd recommend going for Comfort trim. It's still astonishing value but comes with a deep pool of extra kit, including electric rear windows, rain-sensing wipers and keyless entry, plus extra infotainment goodies and visibility aids. Prestige adds even more parking aids, along with alloy wheels, climate control and an electric parking brake.
Dacia did well in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey finishing in tenth place out of 32 brands. Every new Sandero Stepway comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which is par for the course in this class. It can be extended to six years or 100,000 miles for a reasonable cost, but Kia still provides a longer warranty as standard.
The Sandero Stepway received a disappointing two-star safety rating from Euro NCAP. However, it’s worth noting that it was assessed under the latest, much tougher test requirements. If you dive into the detail of the results, you’ll find that it outperforms the i10 (the closest rival to be tested under the new regulations) for protecting adult occupants in a front collision.
In terms of safety kit, the Sandero Stepway gets automatic emergency braking (AEB), tyre-pressure monitoring, six airbags, Isofix child-seat mounts and e-Call emergency assistance. Prestige adds blind-spot monitoring, but more expensive rivals such as the Jazz and Yaris are in another league when it comes to safety, with both cars awarded a full five stars. They also get far more sophisticated active safety systems as standard.
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There’s a variety of 1.0-litre petrol engines to choose from, but our pick is the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel. It’s the more powerful of the Bi-Fuel engines, and makes the Sandero Stepway quieter and smoother than the TCe 90. It can run on LPG if you choose, allowing you to save money at the flick of a switch when you top up. We recommend Comfort trim as the best balance of kit for the price.
Dacia’s Essential trim is aptly-named: you get only the most basic infotainment, without even a touchscreen to control it. Comfort trim and above adds an 8.0in colour touchscreen with built-in sat-nav, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Overall, the system is adequate. It’s easy to get used to and reacts quickly to inputs.
Not particularly by today’s standards. It received a two stars out of five rating from Euro NCAP. It’s worth noting that it was tested under the latest, toughest-ever criteria, which include a heavy weighting for electronic driver aids that Dacia has taken a conscious decision not to offer to keep costs down.
There’s 328 litres of space below the parcel shelf. That’s enough for us to fit in six carry-on suitcases, which is more than any other small car we’ve tested, including the ultra-practical Honda Jazz. Just be warned that the boot opening is surrounded by exposed, painted metal, not tough plastic, and can be easily scratched.
The Stepway is a more rugged looking and higher-riding version of the Dacia Sandero hatchback. It has chunkier looks to match including a revised bumper design with skidplates, plastic wheelarch extensions, roof rails and a sculpted bonnet.
|RRP price range||£15,295 - £19,145|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||45.6 - 51.4|
|Available doors options||5|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£810 / £1,205|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,619 / £2,411|