Welcome to the cheap seats Romania drives a hard bargain
Engine: 1.2 litres, four cylinders, normally aspirated
Power: 75bhp @5500rpm
Torque: 79lb ft @4250rpm
Transmission: five-speed, front-wheel drive
Top Speed: 97mph
“That’ll get ’em writing,” said the editor of you, his trusty readership, when I told him I planned to write about a Romanian hatchback that wouldn’t know a decent road from a traffic jam in downtown Chennai, where it is built.
And maybe it will. This is not the kind of car that traditionally graces these pages. I’ll even admit to having no plans to write about it here until I drove it. But then I did and realised that it would be arrogant and out of touch to ignore it — and for one very simple reason.
The Dacia Sandero is a perfectly acceptable means of transport. For almost any other car this faintest of praise could rightly be construed as grounds to turn the page. For the Sandero, however, it is a notable achievement. The reason? At £5995, it is the cheapest new car you can buy.
I come from an era when cheap cars were Eastern Bloc escapees with names like FSO, Wartburg, Yugo and Zastava. Even then, to all bar the least discerning of European palates they were nowhere near acceptable: all were rarely less than ghastly and we knew it at the time.
By contrast there is not a single thing that is ghastly about the Sandero. It looks like the ‘white good’ it is. The base-spec Access model (the only one anyone should buy) has so little equipment that even the radio is extra, but if you go and sit on a motorway at the same 75-80mph as everyone else for the vast majority of your journey, the fact you’re in the cheapest car on sale will have next to no bearing on your progress. Refinement’s not great, but if you have that radio (which will also play your iPod and talk to your telephone) a little extra wind noise is easily mitigated. It rides very well at speed and although it’s powered by nothing more than a 1.2-litre petrol engine, it will keep up with the traffic without conspicuous effort.
In short it covers the basics with a little space to spare.
That might be all that could be expected of such a car, but it actually goes a little further. As with all massproduced cars these days, ABS is standard.., but so too are traction control, power steering, airbags and even a split rear seat. There’s room in the back for a couple of adults and the boot is vast. It even handles after a fashion, not least because it weighs less than a tonne. Nor is it likely to fall to pieces: Dacia may be Romanian, but it’s owned by Renault and all its significant mechanical components come from either Renault, Nissan or both.
I don’t want to come across all evangelical here: price aside there is no compelling reason to rush out and buy a Sandero. But sometimes a car only needs one trick up its sleeve, and right now being the cheapest new car on sale would seem to be trumps. Dacia is selling them as fast as it can get them into showrooms. Having driven it, I’d call that success thoroughly deserved.
You can start writing now.
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