Motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan test drives the 2021 Dacia Sandero Stepway, the lowest cost new car available in Ireland today.

It is now possible to buy a brand-new car in Ireland for €12,990. For the price of popular options that usually get added to a large SUV, Dacia will sell you the all-new Dacia Sandero subcompact supermini with a 100,000km, three years warranty and throw in Roadside Assistance.

Pay an extra €3,000 and the chunky Dacia Sandero Stepway compact crossover SUV is yours from €15,990. The Stepway is 40mm taller than the Sandero hatch with rufty-tufty plastic mouldings, 174mm ground clearance and roof bars that will carry 80kg.

“For the price it’s a cleverly packaged car that shames the more expensive brands without feeling like a bargain basement product”

As the Sandero hatch is Ireland’s cheapest car you’ll expect it to be below par to drive with the kind of interior that erodes your soul like a wet day in November.

You’d be wrong. My prejudices took a knock when I briefly tested both new cars this month. The new generation Dacia Sandero is available in Essential and Comfort spec with the Stepway offered in Comfort and newly available Prestige trim.

Sticking to the brief

Rear view of Dacia Sandero.

No matter which one you pick both are shockingly good in providing affordable car ownership at a budget that other car makers would scoff at. The essence of the Dacia brand is offering buyers with tight budgets or needing a second car everything they need. Either the five-door hatch or small SUV; both new Sanderos roll up their sleeves and work their brief perfectly.

Since its launch the Sandero has sold 1.7m units worldwide. In Ireland, we’ve snapped up over 10,000 new Sandero cars with the Stepway winning the most sales on the showroom floor. In this review we’re focusing on the Stepway and both cars retain high residuals of just under 60 per cent which is on par with Volkswagen’s Polo supermini. Dacia is also keen to point out the low BIK for business users.

Three engine choices are offered. One is an intriguing TCe Bi-Fuel petrol and LPG combo that is serviced by approximately 60 outlets in Ireland.

Dacia has been owned by Renault since 1999 and the new Sandero shares the Renault Clio’s CMF modular platform and as a knock on effect gets the advantage of sharing the bits from the French supermini with the Romanian subsidiary that was founded in 1966. For 2021 the Stepway features new external LED headlights and rear lights. Improvements are evident with new door handles that feels less frangible and the addition of an electric tailgate. Buyers considering the previous generation Stepway grappled with the exterior’s bargain basement design and bare trim. Put frankly, the car looked exactly like the retail price Dacia was offering.

Design and performance

Not so the 2021 Stepway. As designs go it confidently holds its own as a small crossover SUV that looks as cheeky as anything in the segment, only it costs far less than the rivals from Citroen or SEAT.

Three engines are offered. An entry 1.0 lite, three cylinder SCe 65 with a five-speed manual gearbox that is available only in the Sandero hatch.

There is a TCe 90 1.0 litre, three cylinder engine with a CVT automatic and the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel 1.0 litre, three cylinder with a six-speed gearbox. There is no diesel offered and the petrol engines I tested were as undemanding and generally refined as you’d expect at this price.

The LPG option is unusual and seems like an answer to a feature that no buyer has asked for. Dacia claims that using the LPG fuel reduces CO2 emissions by 11pc and can drive over 800 miles using both tanks. If you live near the 60 Irish LPG outlets in Ireland you can try it for yourself. But the LPG inclusion is a clear distraction from the obvious question as to why Dacia is not offering some form of smart electric hybrid version.

The five speed gearbox’s action was crisp much like any small Renault and never baulked or proved imprecise, engaging fully every time. Less so the clutch pedal which felt mushy on my test at the first millimeter of progress but remained the only real disappointment as precious little else irritated or felt like it should from a car on such a tight budget.

Refinement is improved and this is due in part to the improved rigidity of engine mount and a efforts by Dacia to tackle noise, vibration and harshness, usually the bugbear of cheaper new cars.

I tested both the entry level SCe 65 and TCe Bi-Fuel engines and either are fine for city driving. Venture onto a motorway and you will notice the lack of low down power when exiting down an on-ramp and need to accelerate quickly to keep pace with other traffic. If you use motorways frequently on your daily commute you should drive either Sandero model first before applying pen to paper.

In the last generation Sandero you and your passengers could easily work out how Dacia made the car so cheaply. It was so-so inside and looked quite basic outside. For 2021 the Stepway is far more the premium mainstream small car and while any Volkwagen Polo feels more refined the German supermini is nudging at a €20,000 price tag. If you pulled the Dacia badge off the Sandero and replaced it with a Renault or Citroen emblem you’d probably be none the wiser. That’s the advancement that’s been achieved here.

Interior

Interior of 2021 Dacia Sandero.

The Stepway’s new cabin is a different stratosphere for layout, equipment and overall solidity when compared with the old car. Points are scored for the simplicity of the controls that includes an 8 inch touchscreen with sufficient menus and decent connectively to work primary settings.

In the Sandero hatch there is no touchscreen and you make do with a Smartphone holder where you mount the device into it at the center top of the dashboard. Connection is via the Dacia’s Media Control app and you work connectivity commands through that. It’s rudimentary and may stretch the necessity of DIY connectivity for some buyers.

The Sandero hatch gets improved rear legroom by 42mm and the folding rear seats offer a capacity of 328/1,108 litres split.

Safety should always be a priority but the Sandero twins were awarded a disappointing two-stars by the stringent New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP). The 2021 Sandero was marked down with 70pc adult occupant and 42pc Safety Assist result.

Dacia should still be applauded by significantly improving the Sandero for 2021. The five door hatch offers unbelievable Irish new car value at €12,990. The true star of the Sandero range is the new €15,990 Stepway compact crossover SUV.

For the price it’s a cleverly packaged car that shames the more expensive brands without feeling like a bargain basement product. Whether it’s the five-door hatch or Stepway, the Dacia Sandero’s time in a post-Covid world has come.

You’ll like: Astonishing Sandero hatch price. A hero car for buyers wanting a new small SUV at a city car price. Comfy and unpretentious the Stepway is a recommended buy.

You’ll grumble: Poor Two-Star NCAP safety rating. Having to explain LPG to people.

Published: 26 May 2021