Dacia Sandero long-term test review

It's not the headline-grabbing ยฃ5995-spec Sandero, but hopefully our 0.9 TCe Ambiance-trim car should prove easy to live with...

Words By Jimi Beckwith

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Dacia Sandero long-term test review
  • The car: Dacia Sandero 0.9 TCe 90 Ambiance
  • Run by: Jimi Beckwith, special contributor
  • Why it's here: Britain's cheapest car has received a mid-life facelift. It's here to show us just how much it's improved, and if cheap can be cheerful.
  • Needs to: Have a far-reaching appeal, and impress a wide range of people without the archetypal budget car lack of dignity. Big practicality, and small running costs a must.

List price: ยฃ7995, Price as tested: ยฃ8640 Miles covered: 1000, Official economy: 57.6 Test economy: 42.6mpg Options fitted: Height adjustment pack (ยฃ50), Metallic paint (ยฃ495), Emergency spare wheel (ยฃ100)

18 July 2017 โ€“ The Dacia Sandero joins our fleet

Itโ€™s not easy being a budget carmaker; thereโ€™s pressure from all sides to be practical, functional, good value and appealing to a wide audience, all while being desirable enough to accrue sales.

Lucky, then, that Dacia seems to have got it right with the Sandero, and the others in its range; theyโ€™ve passed 100,000 registrations in the UK since Daciaโ€™s UK launch, with no signs of slowing.

Weโ€™re not off to a good start, though, the Sandero and I, having driven one a few years ago - in ยฃ5995 Access trim - I disliked it from the off, for its spartan interior and weird, lumpy clutch.

In the years since, a facelift has brought the Sandero into 2017, and good news; theyโ€™ve sorted the clutch. Itโ€™s disconcertingly light, but gone is the weird lumpiness responsible for my ire, and several embarrassing stalls in traffic, the first time around. Again, so far so good. Weโ€™ve also got a mid-range Ambiance-spec car, so itโ€™s more just-about-enough than holiday-rental-spec, so thereโ€™s no fretting about the lack of creature comforts, for one.

So what do we have, if not in the headline-grabbing poverty-spec Access? Well, in Ambiance trim, thereโ€™s most notably, remote central locking, air conditioning, electric front windows, a DAB radio and Bluetooth, aux and USB connectivity. Weโ€™ve also got the ยฃ100 height adjustment pack - for the driverโ€™s seat, steering wheel and front seatbelt - although the former is barely needed; thereโ€™s oodles of headroom in the upright supermini. Weโ€™ve also gone for the attractive Cosmos Blue paint (ยฃ495) which in Ambiance spec, also covers the bumpers. On Access-spec, it doesnโ€™t.

More surprising, given Daciaโ€™s reputation as the go-to budget brand, are the automatic emergency braking, hill start assist, front fog lights, LED daytime running lights, tinted windows, gloss black interior trim, and an ECO driving mode with Stop-Start. For a car which costs in such a well-equipped state, a full ยฃ1000 less than the entry-level Citrรถen C1; a much smaller car, I was impressed. The Sandero Ambiance genuinely feels like you get more than youโ€™re paying for. Sadly, so often it feels the opposite in modern cars.

That said, some of the included equipment is decidedly average. Despite a slick, quick USB connection, easy Bluetooth connectivity and logical ergonomics, the speakers in the Sandero arenโ€™t up to much. Rich sound quality, it seems, is reserved for the rich. On top of this, our recent summer heatwave has had me reaching for the air-con button much more than usual. Itโ€™s pretty pointless, though; the air-con isnโ€™t particularly cold, and on the stronger fan settings, itโ€™s noisy.

As expected, the interior of the Sandero isnโ€™t plush or luxurious, but feels well screwed together, and the seats are some of the most comfortable Iโ€™ve sat in - on a car of any price. So comfortable are they, that I didnโ€™t notice my keys in my back pocket at any point of a 90-minute journey from one side of London to another.

Another surprise was the amount of character instilled into the car; Iโ€™ve driven cars at five times this price with not an ounce of the personality. Thereโ€™s a pluckiness and cheer to the Sandero, with its supple ride, light weight and nippiness with the 0.9-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine, once the turbo delivers the power itโ€™s supposed to after a momentโ€™s hesitation. Itโ€™s no Mazda MX-5 for being fun to drive, but itโ€™s far more chirpy than youโ€™d expect.

So whatโ€™s the mission for the months to come with the Sandero? Well, in exactly this spec weโ€™ve given it a What Car? Award - for the fifth year running - as the Best Small Car under ยฃ12,000. Itโ€™s clear that at this price point, in this segment, that the Sandero is cheap. Remarkably cheap, in fact. So Iโ€™m going to set about and find out if itโ€™s got the cheer to go with it, while seeing how easily it fits into my life, with a little help from those around me. The Sandero, as a large supermini eyeing up bigger players with a smaller price tag, canโ€™t just be cheap; itโ€™s got to be good. Think small running costs, big practicality, flexibility and ease of use. Itโ€™ll have to please many; from young, first-time drivers to those in need of a runaround to the shops and back in their retirement.

So, why buy one, over a second-hand, better-equipped supermini with a couple of thousand on the clock? Thatโ€™s precisely what I intend to find out, by any means possible. Itโ€™s already won over a former critic who wouldnโ€™t have recommended one to anyone, but itโ€™s not quite convinced me yet to recommend it outright.

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