What Car? says...
The Dacia Sandero is from a Romanian brand owned by a French car maker (Renault), but its name has its roots in Greek. It means warrior – and we have to admit it fights hard to give good value.
In fact, there isn't any new small car that competes as strongly on price. Even the tiny Kia Picanto is more expensive than the entry-level Sandero, and no version of the Skoda Fabia gets anywhere near this level of price-cutting.
Okay, so it’s cheap. But are you simply getting what you pay for – that is, a basic box on wheels? Well, if you’ve had any experience of the original 2013-2020 Sandero, you might well be thinking, “Oh yes”. The most modern thing about that was that it felt like it could travel through time. Sadly, straight from the 1990s.
Forget all that for this latest-generation Sandero, though. It’s based on the underpinnings of the latest Renault Clio so it’s thoroughly modern under the skin, and arguably its styling is just as bang up to date.
Dacia gives you a straightforward choice between just two trim levels. Entry-level Essential comes with a basic level of standard kit, while Expression trim balances a slightly higher price with more modern creature comforts.
Still, we’re talking about a car class that includes the Ford Fiesta, the Honda Jazz and the VW Polo. Can the Dacia Sandero really compete with such well-established models on anything other than price? That's a question we'll be answering over the next few pages of this review.
By the way, we're focusing on the standard Sandero model here – we have a separate review of the SUV-inspired Dacia Sandero Stepway. The Stepway gets roof bars, jacked-up suspension and chunky plastic wheel-arch extensions.
If you do decide to buy a Sandero – 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 good new small car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Dacia offers two versions of its turbocharged 1.0-litre TCe engine for the Sandero: the TCe 90 petrol and the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel. The TCe 90 offers a respectable 89bhp, and in our tests managed 0-60mph in 11.0sec. That’s slightly slower than the Ford Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost 100 and the VW Polo 1.0 TSI 95, but it doesn't feel sluggish. There’s plenty of low and mid-range shove to help you keep up with traffic.
The TCe 100 Bi-Fuel – which is our pick of our range – benefits from a bit more power (99bhp) and can run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as well as petrol. On LPG, it feels stronger from low engine speeds than the standard TCe 90, and is also smoother and quieter.
If you want an automatic gearbox, you'll need to go for the TCe 90 and Expression trim. However, the auto box does blunt performance a bit.
Suspension and ride comfort
The Sandero has relatively soft suspension, which smoothes out creases and folds in the road without bouncing you around in your seat nauseatingly, as the Citroën C3 does.
It’s fair to say that the Sandero isn’t the most exciting car to drive down a twisting B-road. If you want bigger thrills, buy a Fiesta (used, if you can't stretch to a new one), which is a cracking little car to drive.
The Sandero is absolutely fit for purpose, though. Sure, there’s some body lean through tight twists and turns, but you get a decent amount of grip and the steering weights up enough through bends to give you confidence at higher speeds. It's far more confidence-inspiring to drive than the soft and wallowy C3.
Noise and vibration
In terms of being able to drive the car smoothly, which is one aspect of refinement, the Sandero has no real vices. The clutch has a clear biting point, the brakes are not too sharp and the engine picks up cleanly and smoothly when you squeeze the accelerator.
Even in Bi-Fuel form, Dacia’s 1.0-litre TCe is not as quiet as the Peugeot 208 equivalent (or those of many other rivals, for that matter). You tend to hear whooshes from the turbocharger and a distinct thrum when you work it hard. That fades away as you hit a steady cruise, though.
You'll hear less wind and road noise at motorway speeds in a 208 or Polo, but compared with small cars at the lower end of the price spectrum, the Sandero is a reasonably hushed mile-muncher.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The Dacia Sandero has a height-adjustable driver’s seat and central armrest, and a steering wheel that adjusts up, down, in and out (the similarly priced Kia Picanto does without telescopic adjustment). Therefore you shouldn’t struggle to get comfortable behind the wheel.
You won’t have any problems seeing the instrument dials, and all the dashboard controls, including those for the air conditioning, are simple and clear. In fact, the Sandero is better than some posher small cars in that respect. For example, the Peugeot 208 has fiddly touch-sensitive dashboard buttons.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The windscreen pillars on the Sandero are not too wide, but the rear pillars are quite chunky and the back window is a little shallow. While the same is true of many rival cars, the Skoda Fabia offers a clearer over-the-shoulder view when you’re reversing.
You get rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera if you go for the Expression trim we recommend. Impressively, automatic LED headlights are standard across the range to improve visibility in the dark – although only for the dipped beams.
Sat nav and infotainment
The Sandero in entry-level Essential trim has a DAB radio with controls on the steering wheel, Bluetooth and a USB slot, so you can connect your phone to the car. Information is shown on a small screen on the dashboard but it’s fairly basic by modern standards, with no touchscreen interface.
To get one of those, you'll need to go for our favoured Expression trim. The 8.0in colour touchscreen system comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring (so you can use apps from your phone on the infotainment screen).
The screen is mounted helpfully high up on the dashboard and is tilted towards the driver, with some touch-sensitive buttons down the side that you can use as shortcuts between functions. We’d prefer physical shortcut buttons, but the Dacia operating system is easy to get used to and responds relatively quickly to prods and swipes.
If you want a plush interior, have a look at the Mini 5-door Hatch first and foremost, and then the Peugeot 208. They both look and feel really upmarket inside by small car standards.
They’re far more expensive than the Sandero though, which – bearing in mind its price – is well-finished inside. True, the plastics are hard, but then they are in the pricier Hyundai i20, Kia Picanto and Skoda Fabia too.
Besides, the plastics in the Sandero are not unappealing to look at, and there's some tasteful fabric trim on the dashboard to lift the ambience.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The interior is relatively broad, too. You’d have to be mighty big to feel cramped (some of our testers are well over six feet tall and didn’t have any problems).
There’s a good amount of storage space, including a large glovebox, a couple of cupholders, reasonable-sized door bins and various other cubbies.
As with front space, the Sandero is one of the roomiest small cars when it comes to rear space. It doesn't have quite as much leg room as the Jazz, but six-footers will still have a gap between their knees and the seat in front.
There's absolutely loads of head room, and the Sandero is broader than many rivals, which helps when you need to put three people in the back. The rear door bins are quite small, though.
Seat folding and flexibility
There's not much to get excited about here, to be honest. All Sanderos come with 60/40 split folding rear seats – which is par for the course among small cars – but there's no ski hatch or any other handy features.
The Jazz does all sorts of clever tricks, with rear seat bases that flip up like those in a cinema. Then again, it costs nearly twice as much as the Sandero to buy.
While the design of the Sandero's boot could be improved by reducing the size of the lip at the entrance, you can’t argue with its size.
Officially, you get 328 litres of space below the parcel shelf, and we managed to fit six carry-on suitcases inside. That's more than most cars in the class (including the Jazz) and a match for the Skoda Fabia.
There's some exposed bodywork around the boot entrance that's easy to scuff and scratch when lifting heavy items in and out. We'd recommend investing in some protective film to stop that happening.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
If you go for entry-level Essential trim, the Dacia Sandero is the cheapest new car available in the UK. We'd recommend going for top-spec Expression trim, which is still very good value compared with equivalent versions of the Skoda Fabia – let alone the surprisingly pricey Ford Fiesta. The only new car that gets close on price is the rather lacklustre Citroën C3.
So, is the Sandero expensive to run? Not at all. It'll lose you a lot less in depreciation over three years than its small car rivals, and because of that low sticker price, monthly repayments are staggeringly cheap for those buying on PCP finance. You can check the latest prices by using our New Car Deals pages.
On our real-world test route, the TCe 90 petrol returned an impressive 47.1mpg. The Toyota Yaris will do better than that but you’ll need to do a silly number of miles to get a return on the extra investment. The TCe 100 Bi-Fuel (our pick of the engines) isn’t as efficient on paper, but LPG is a lot cheaper than unleaded. There are cars that emit less CO2, but the Sandero’s low list price keeps company car tax down.
Equipment, options and extras
Even with entry-level Essential trim, you get a respectable amount of standard kit. That includes body-coloured bumpers, 15in steel wheels with wheel trims, cruise control, front electric windows and air conditioning.
Even so, we’d recommend going for the range-topping Expression trim if you can. It’s still astonishing value but comes with lots of extra toys, including rear parking sensors, automatic lights and windscreen wipers, keyless entry and a touchscreen infotainment system.
Safety and security
The Sandero received a disappointing two out of five stars for safety after being tested by Euro NCAP under the latest, much tougher test requirements.
It out-performed the Hyundai i10 for protecting adult occupants in a frontal collision, but the Honda Jazz and the Yaris – which were awarded five stars – are in another league when it comes to overall safety, and have far more sophisticated active safety systems.
In comparison, the Sandero has to make do with just automatic emergency braking (AEB), tyre-pressure monitoring, six airbags, hill-start assist, Isofix child-seat mounts and e-Call emergency assistance.
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The Sandero is perfectly capable on a motorway, but it's not the quickest or quietest small car available, and you certainly won't get limo-like cruising refinement.
No. The Dacia Sandero Stepway is essentially a more rugged-looking and higher-riding Sandero. It's more suited to the 'urban jungle' than an actual jungle, though, and costs more to buy. We think the regular Sandero is the better choice.
|RRP price range||£13,795 - £14,795|
|Number of trims (see all)||2|
|Number of engines (see all)||2|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||52.3 - 53.3|
|Available doors options||5|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£727 / £785|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,454 / £1,569|