Build quality is workmanlike rather than beautiful, but nothing feels as if it’s about to snap off in your hand
It’s a small irony that Renault owns Dacia and a big chunk (around 44%) of Nissan, and in recent years both have, overall, enjoyed greater success than their parent.
Mind you, things might be changing, as Renault is trying desperately hard to make cars that people actually want.
For years, Dacia was Renault’s near-comatose Romanian outpost that kept churning out the banana-shaped Renault 12 long after it was pensioned off elsewhere. Dacia was set up during the rule of barking-mad Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and it’s only in the last 15 years or so that Renault really worked out what to do with the company, turning it into the sort of thinking person’s budget car maker that Skoda once was. Its cars are now all over Europe.
The Sandero hatchback typifies what Dacia is all about. An upright, not-quite-frumpy, five-door hatchback, it’s based on the old Renault Clio’s underpinnings, and none the worse for it. You can pay a fiver short of six grand for the white, wind-your-own-windows-and-add-your-own-radio entry-level version, but spend a bit more and the Sandero remains a cheap car with a decent amount of kit.
Build quality is workmanlike rather than beautiful, but nothing feels as if it’s about to snap off in your hand. The seats are comfortable, there’s room for a quartet of grown-ups, five at a pinch, and the boot is decently spacious.
We drove a 0.9-litre three-cylinder petrol and – aside from a slightly floppy but accurate gear change – found it perfectly pleasant to drive. Put on the brakes and the car stops, turn the steering wheel and it goes round corners with undemonstrative competence. The thing is perfectly refined mechanically and would be easy-going company on a long journey.
In the Grumpy video test of the Sandero we describe it as ‘quite likeable’, but thinking hard about this, we’ll upgrade that to ‘perfectly nice’.
There’s a mix of unpretentious honesty and lack of ‘look at me’ desperation about this car that’s genuinely refreshing. We wouldn’t recommend the slightly jacked-up, fake 4×4 version, which is called something like the ‘Cross Dresser’ (note from sub-ed: actually it’s ‘Stepway’, whatever that means) on grounds of taste and personal bias, but the standard car strikes us as a very good deal.
Dacia Sandero 0.9 TCe90 Ambiance
Top speed: 109mph
Combined fuel consumption: 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 116g/km
What more do you need?