Dacia's refreshingly simple, sale-rail offering
FIRST DRIVE:When Renault’s budget brand, Dacia, launched itself into the Irish market last summer, it did so with just 10 dealers and a single model, the Duster SUV.
Except it didn’t really even have a single model, as right-hand-drive production of the Duster didn’t begin until just last week, so all Dacia could do in Ireland was show potential customers some left-hand-drive demos, with an older design of cabin than would be arriving from the factory when Irish cars rolled off the line.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but with that astonishingly low €15,995 price tag (about €10,000 less than most direct competitors) the Duster has already been a success; it’s sold out until April, with 500 orders just starting to be filled. Just goes to show what you can do with a headline-grabbing price.
Of course, price isn’t everything and Dacia has come in for much criticism since the Duster’s launch for its attitude to safety equipment. Many reviewers were upset to notice the Duster (an obvious family car, don’t forget) doesn’t come with standard electronic stability control (ESP), and the Lodgy MPV (only available in Europe) was severely marked down by crash test experts EuroNCAP.
So with the arrival of this, the second-generation Sandero small car (the first generation was never built with right-hand drive), Dacia has to prove that it can expand beyond the niche appeal of the Duster and take on the big (small) boys such as the Fiesta, Polo and Yaris.
Thankfully, a quick glance at the spec sheet reveals that the Sandero does indeed come with ESP as standard, as are ABS and brake assist. Why the standard ESP on a smaller car when the Duster continues to do without? According to Dacia, it’s because the Sandero sits on an all-new platform, so under EU regulations, has to have ESP as standard. The Duster, based on the original 2004 Dacia Logan, can get away for a while without it.
For a basic price of €9,990 (about €5,000-€6,000 less than most of the competition) the Sandero comes with four airbags, daytime running lights, height adjustable headrests, 60/40 split folding rear seat, electric front windows and radio with CD, MP3, USB and Bluetooth phone connection alongside its standard safety toys, which seems pretty generous. Step up a level to the Signature trim and you get alloys, air conditioning, a trip computer and more.
That basic model comes with an old Renault 1.2-litre petrol engine developing 75bhp, which looks alluringly priced but whose Co2 emissions of 135g/km will set you back €280 a year in motor tax. You could go for the 90bhp 1.5 dCi diesel engine, but we reckon you’re much better to upgrade yourself to the 895cc turbo three-cylinder TCe 90 engine. It’s not only cutting edge (a first for a Dacia, which usually just sticks with older Renault technology) which cuts your Co2 emissions to 116g/km and your tax bill to €200.
Quite apart from which, it’s a terrific engine, pulling cleanly from low revolutions per minute and proving both entertainingly muscular and really very refined. It would be an outstanding engine in any car, but in an €11,090 Dacia (€13,090 if you want it in the ritzier Signature grade), it’s close to amazing.