Dacia’s SUV wannabe makes no sense

Stepway is a regular hatchback with taller springs but little else to make a difference

The Dacia Sandero Stepway: some stick-on plastic bits and taller springs do not a 4x4 make

Make: Dacia


Year: 2014

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: March 20, 2014

Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 01:00


Let us consider the very large. In the whole visible universe, or at least the bits of it that our Earthly telescopes have swept, the biggest single thing we’ve yet found is a star called NML Cygni. It is a red hyper-giant, a star so unbelievably massive that even Prof Brian Cox would baulk at having to describe it. It’s so big that light takes six hours to travel around it once. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, enormous.

Having considered the large, we now have the appropriate comparison to adequately consider the very small. Atoms were once reckoned to be the smallest thing, but then we started splitting them and a whole other universe of tiny things came tumbling out, giving yet more work to Cox. Nuclei, protons, neutrons, electrons and, tiniest and smallest of all, Quarks.

And somewhere down there, standing next to a Quark and craning its neck up to see the top is an object so small that even Cox would be hard pressed to come up with a simile for its smallness – it is the amount of sense that buying a Dacia Sandero Stepway makes.

We, the public, have a bit of a thing for 4x4s at the moment. SUVs, off-roaders, whatever you want to call them, we love them. We don’t love their running costs though, hence the recent trend for car makers to produce cars that look like 4x4s but are actually just family hatchbacks who’ve watched too much MacGyver . Further and further down the price charts have come 4x4-lookalikes (faux-by-fours) until we come to the bottom and the Dacia Sandero Stepway. It is the cheapest way to get a new car with a frisson of SUV-style ruggedness, but it’s as much
an SUV as I am an Olympic 100m sprinter. I own the Nikes, but . . .

So, the Stepway is a regular Sandero hatchback with taller springs to give it a smidgen of rough road ability and a lot of stick-on black and silver plastic bits to give it a sense of off-roader-ness.

It gets big bumpers with fog lights and lots of mesh grilles, extended wheel arch lips and a chunky-looking roof rack. It does not, you will note, get actual four-wheel drive nor any clever traction control system which might allow it to function on anything other than tarmac.

Fair enough, you might think. Many a car company makes cars like this now. Even mighty Land Rover and Jeep, the origins of the species, make front-wheel-drive cars that are more city pose than mountain peak. I have no problem with that in and of itself.

What I do have a problem with is the fact that the Stepway costs so much relative to the standard fare. The cheapest Stepway you can buy costs €12,290, which makes it €2,300 more than the cheapest Sandero hatchback. It’s a full €1,100 more than the Sandero with the same engine, the 900cc turbo triple petrol. Our test car, fitted with the 1.5 dCi diesel engine, clocked in at a whopping €15,690. For just €300 more you could have the vastly bigger Dacia Duster, which is an actual SUV. Compared to the regular celestial body of the Sandero, the Stepway’s price is bulkier even than that of NML Cygni.

It’s not even any different to the standard Sandero hatch to drive. It lopes along reasonably nicely, and does an excellent job of soaking up lumps, ruts and speed humps. The diesel engine is noisy, but there’s good mid-range punch there for overtaking or motorway merging.

The cabin is plain and simple, and merely needs decent seats to be called adequate. It’s claims to be a family-oriented car is severely weakened by the limited rear accommodation, but I guess for this price you can’t have everything and at least the boot is a decent size, though it still has to be opened with a key rather than an handle (could a basic handle really cost that much?)

On the downside, the steering is the only thing that’s more rubbery than the obstructive five-speed gearshift, it’s noisy and while it cruises just fine on main roads, it’s all at sea when you ask for anything approximating handling. All of which could equally be said of the standard Sandero. All of which could be equally said for as much as €2,300 less.

I understand what Dacia is doing, and in the case of the Duster and the Sandero (and to a slightly lesser extent, the Logan estate) I can find something good to say. Simple, uncomplicated, unpretentious transport for a bargain price. Which means there is no space, even in our vast cosmos, for the overpriced, under-talented Stepway.