Several years ago while holidaying in France my eyes were cast upon one of the most unpleasant looking cars that I have ever seen. It was made by a small Romanian company called Dacia and was called the Solenza. This ridiculous little saloon didn’t have the power to pull the skin off of a rice pudding and looked so flimsy I’m pretty sure the chassis was made out of toothpicks and discarded chewing gum. It won’t surprise you then when I tell you that this car never set foot on the shores of Great Britain. The fact has been that if you wanted to go and buy a Renault produced Romanian car and happened to live in Britain, you would have had to travel to the continent to do so. Until now.
Despite the jokes and speculation over this super-cheap hatchback, with hordes of people mocking its origins and somewhat spartan looks, I felt as though this was a car that had to be tested. “There is no way that you can go to a garage and buy a brand new car for under £6,000 and travel more than 5 miles without the engine, doors or seats disintegrating” was my first thought, but my goodness was I wrong.
Stepping into the Dacia Sandero is a somewhat pleasant experience for someone as tall as myself and I felt comfortable in the seats which although didn’t provide the comfort of a BMW or Audi, were more than supportive in a car which costs about the same as a “nice watch.” In the Laureate model you are greeted with an LG produced touchscreen panel which allows you access to a number of functions like Satellite Navigation, Bluetooth, Maps and the Arkamys radio which you will also find in the new Renault Clio. Surprisingly this is only a £250 extra and well worth it. An attractive combination of chrome trim and a matted black effect meets a happy medium between bland and migraine-inducing bling with a comfortable steering wheel and attractive easy on the eye dials displaying MPG and other essentials. A leather steering wheel and gear knob also gives the cockpit a touch of class and the ‘carbon black’ cloth trim matches tastefully to the rest of the interior.
Arguably the weakest point of this car is its exterior. Striking chrome across the front grille (standard on the Laureate) and an eye-catching badge perching on top of a tasteful front bumper with two leering fog lights sets the tone, but along the sides this car leaves a lot to be desired. A somewhat clunky shape gives the Sandero the aerodynamic qualities of a barn. At the back a small lip spoiler adds some finesse to a questionably lumpy rear but this is understandable as the Sandero boasts a class-leading 320L boot with enough space to accommodate a large family shop. Thanks to a £425 option the alloy wheels wouldn’t look amiss on a any established hatchback.
Under the bonnet sits a little 1.5 diesel capable of kicking out 90 horsepower with 220nm torque @ 1,750 rpm. In a car that weighs a little over 1,000kg this means you’ll reach 60mph in a nudge over 12 seconds and hit 107mph. Speed is not the point of this car though, with excellent economy means you’ll be looking at 65mpg around town and anywhere up to 80mpg on the motorway. Thanks to it sitting smugly at 99g/km C02 you’ll also be in the lowest possible tax band.
It may not be the most engaging car to drive and its skinny tyres do leave a desire for more grip, but the car bumbles along quite nicely. The good levels of torque help the Sandero keep pace and its lack of weight makes it relatively nimble. Body roll through the corners, however, is noticeable and the suspension at times does struggle with the roughness of British roads.
What we have here then is a well built, very well equipped little hatchback with wallet-pleasing economy that costs a shade under £11,000 with this model coming in at exactly £10,940. Can I see this outselling the Ford Fiesta and other competitors? No. That’s not the Sandero’s aim. But what I can see is this giving the big companies something to worry about. I wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing a mass of budget hatches hitting the road soon from Volkswagen and Ford. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing a bigger push from Kia and Hyundai trying to pull their prices down to match the Dacia. Only time will tell, and with orders of the cars pushing 2,000 already, time is running out.