Southern Spain is a truly beautiful place. Just minutes from the overcrowded sprawl of the Costa del Sol, you’ll find majestic sierras that tower over rolling countryside filled with olive groves and orange trees. It’s peaceful, remote and, in early December, presents a welcome respite from the rain, sleet and snow back here in Blightly. It was also the location for one of the most anticipated launches of 2012 – the Dacia Sandero. Otherwise known as Britain’s cheapest new car.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the launch and you can read my ramblings over on MSN Cars. But for the benefit of PetrolBlog, let me give you a potted review of the car.
In short, it’s cheap but it’s by no means nasty. Anyone looking for cutting edge styling or an interior laden with soft touch plastics should look away now. Move away from the Sandero, nothing to see here. But if you’re in the market for a no frills hatchback that offers more space than a standard supermini and isn’t going to impress the neighbours, you could do a lot worse than take a look at Dacia’s money saving expert.
The exterior styling isn’t going to set too many pulses racing, but because Dacia hasn’t tried to pretend the Sandero is anything other than a budget car, it just seems to work. As a result, things like the 1980s style ‘sticky-out’ boot lock become rather charming. You shop in Lidl because you expect to save money, so you’re not going to spend more on fancy packaging. It’s the same with the Sandero – you expect it to be cheap, so you accept compromises.
The biggest compromises need to be made on the inside, but perhaps not to same level that you might expect. The plastics aren’t offensive and the only real signs of cost cutting come when you use one of the switches or dials. The air conditioning button on the top spec Lauréate model is vague and has the feeling that it could break at any time. The dials for the heating and ventilation also feel like they’ve come straight from a really cheap hifi system. From the 1980s. But it doesn’t matter, or at least it doesn’t matter on the basic Sandero. More on this later. Besides, I get the impression that the interior will take a lot of stick.
The way in which Dacia saves money is actually rather clever. By doing away with spring-loaded grab handles, they save money. By deleting the covers from the mirrors on the sunvisors, they save money. They don’t even bother printing a cigarette logo on the lighter. These little things help to keep build costs down and as such, make the car cheaper to buy. But it’s not just the small things. The glass used on the Sandero’s doors are the same as you’d find on any other model in the Dacia range. And because of this, every car in the Dacia range is cheaper to manufacture. Common sense really, isn’t it?
The Sandero is offered with three engines. Choose from the ageing Renault 1.2-litre 16v unit or the new 900cc 3-cylinder petrol or 1.5-litre dCi diesel. In common with the new Clio tested on PetrolBlog a few weeks back, it’s the 3-cylinder that’s most appealing. For a start it’s a lighter, more compact engine, so the Sandero feels spritelier as a result. It’s also the best allrounder, offering a good level of torque and excellent motorway manners. The diesel may be more economical and efficient (74.3mpg and 99g/km CO2), but the 3-cylinder is £1,000 cheaper to buy. And at Sandero prices, that’s a significant amount.
And on the amount of miles I’d expect the average Sandero driver to do, the petrol may work out cheaper. Besides, it will still offer 54.3mpg and the CO2 figure of 116g/km means an annual tax bill of £30. Just give up a few of those high street takeaway coffees and you’ll soon have that covered. The other thing about the 3-cylinder Sandero is that it actually feels more refined than the diesel. Dacia has added extra soundproofing on the bulkhead which just about eliminates any engine noise on the petrol-engined Sandero. But on the diesel, the noise is still there, but much worse is the harsh vibration that comes through the pedals, steering wheel and dashboard under hard acceleration. It can become rather tiresome and is a good enough reason alone to opt for the 3-cylinder.
In fact, I would only really recommend the 3-cylinder Sandero, which presents a problem. To take advantage of the £5,995 price tag, you need the basic Access trim level and this only comes fitted with the 1.2-litre engine. To get your hands on the 3-cylinder you need to upgrade to the Ambiance trip and spend a further £1,400. Fancy a diesel Sandero Access? Not a chance, you’ll need to spend £8,395 on the Ambiance trim. Ouch.
How about pushing the boat out further and choosing the top spec Lauréate model? Enjoy luxuries such as air conditioning, heated mirrors, cruise control and electric rear windows for £7,995 with the 1.2-litre petrol rising to £9,795 for the diesel. Choose the additional option packs and you could find yourself spending nearly double the price of the headline grabbing Access model. Double ouch.
Of course, adding more toys to the Sandero and increasing the price doesn’t suddenly make it a bad car. In fact, it’s a rather charming little car that rides well, offers lots of space and will be cheap to run. It’s just that the further you move away from the sub-£6k price point, the more you start looking at the competition. Some will offer better interiors, some will improve on the Sandero’s standard 3-year warranty (which can be increased for a fee). Others will offer a better image, but perhaps most crucially, others will promise a EuroNCAP 5-star safety rating, as opposed to the Sandero’s expected three. Faced with a decision on where to place your much loved family, it will take a brave man not to order a 5-star car. It’s a fact of life.
Then there’s also the thought that a two year old VW Polo or Ford Fiesta is ultimately going to be a better buy than a new Sandero. I’m not totally convinced by this argument as if you’re of the mindset to buy new, then secondhand cars won’t come into the equation. But it remains a factor given the Sandero’s price point.
I like the Sandero, I really do. It was a pleasant car to take around the traffic-free roads of Andalucia. I also discovered a plethora of Shathbacks and interesting metal, of which you can expect more in a future update.
I kind of want to take a Glacier White Sandero Access and vinyl wrap it in Tesco Value branded livery. Perhaps with a giant barcode on the roof. A two-fingered message to over indulgence, needless gadgets and excess.
But perhaps that’s just me.
Full details of the scoring can be found here.
All images © Dacia