What is it? The Dacia Sandero Stepway is an off-road styled crossover version of the budget brand’s supermini model.
Key features: Sub £9K starting price, off-road styling.
Our view: It won’t write any headlines for its road dynamics but the Dacia Sandero Stepway is good value for a low price – a better option than the standard Sandero.
Type of review: Taster test.
The Dacia Sandero Stepway is a typical example of the mantra that has guided the Romanian budget brand’s growth since owner Renault launched it onto the UK market four years ago. It offers as much as is practical for a rock-bottom budget price.
The Stepway arrived in 2013 with the Dacia brand, the concept behind the car being to appeal to the mushrooming crossover market by taking the Sandero supermini and jacking up the ground clearance. The car gained bolder, off-road styling, while not bothering with the complex and expensive all-wheel-drive powertrain that most crossover buyers don’t want anyway.
At the Paris Show in September 2016 Dacia unveiled mild updates across its range and the Sandero Stepway was included. The new models are just arriving on UK roads and the Stepway concept is expanding – next to be treated will be the big-sister Logan MCV.
Powertrain and styling
The Dacia Sandero Stepway costs £1,000 more than a standard Sandero, and to create it one starts with a stock car fitted with either the 898cc 90hp petrol engine, or the 1.5-litre diesel also with 90 horses on tap. Entry-level Sanderos with the 1.2 petrol engine of 75hp are not permitted the Stepway treatment.
Ground clearance is increased by 40mm and visual representations of protective skid plates are added under the redesigned front and rear bumpers.
The suspension is beefed up to cope with the unlikely concept of Stepway owners not always staying on the tarmac, and the car distinguished from its sister by adding wheelarch extensions and roof rails. Inside you’ll struggle to see any difference apart from some rubber floor mats.
As for the updates between the new and previous versions, well they are hardly headline generating. The usual formula of changes to the alloy wheel design and new exterior colours applies. But perhaps most significant are the first Daytime Running Lights fitted to any Dacia.
It’s an easy car to get into – the jacked-up stance ensures that. Once inside one views the basic, functional dash layout that characterises Dacia models. The rotary dials and push switches are looking increasingly dated in today’s market, but they work absolutely fine.
It is inside where most of the range updates have happened. The steering wheel has been redesigned, the seat upholstery updated. There are a couple more storage spaces and some chrome detailing that adds a welcome break to the quite dark finish.
More importantly, it’s easier to get comfortable. The driver’s seat is now adjustable for height, as is the steering wheel, and the front seatbelts.
On the road
Our test car is fitted with the petrol engine – both it and the diesel are proven Renault units. Both are allied to a five-speed manual gearbox, there is no auto option on the Stepway.
Combined cycle fuel economy on our model is quoted at 55mpg, with a 62mph sprint time of a shade over 11 seconds, so adequate for the supermini market. Adequate is also the best description of the refinement on offer – there are smoother models out there, with slicker gear shifts, but the Stepway is competent enough particularly considering how much one pays for it.
The ride quality is quite surprising – jacking up the Sandero seems actually to improve the chassis, and the Stepway bowls along in reasonable comfort, confidently smothering bumps. It does lean over a little in the corners but in a very controlled manner.
Choose a Stepway and you won’t be given the option of bargain-basement Access trim, which is no bad thing. Our test car is in the lower Ambiance trim level, and for £8,795 it includes a surprising level of equipment. Start-stop is fitted, and a the infotainment includes DAB radio and Bluetooth. Air conditioning is standard too.
Options? On our test car they extended to metallic paint and an emergency spare wheel in lieu of the usual tyre inflation kit. They add £595 to a selling price of just £8,795 – pretty much a bargain for a crossover-styled car as this is.
According to Dacia UK, however, only around half its customers are looking for the lowest budget option. The other half want all the bells and whistles while appreciating value for money, and so choose the range-topping Laureate.
To buy a Laureate one pays another £1200. This adds such niceties as a seven-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, an onboard computer, cruise control, rear parking sensors and electric rear windows.
That’s worthy of consideration, and perhaps equally so is the diesel. The drawback is a £1400 price hike over petrol Stepways, the advantage fuel economy that jumps by almost 20mpg, together with a dip in emissions under the magic 100g/km marker – not that this will be as important following the VED tax changes on 1st April (see here for more). The diesel is also likely to offer a more satisfying drive thanks to its greater mid-range torque.
Dacia makes no bones about offering budget cars – the brand bases its entire advertising on that premise. But within that budget range the Dacia Sandero Stepway is possibly one of the best options. Even those not necessarily looking for a crossover could benefit from choosing this over a standard Sandero.
Dacia Sandero Stepway – key specifications
Model tested: Dacia Sandero Stepway Ambiance TCe 90
Price: £9,390 (with options, stock OTR price £8,795)
On sale: December 2016
Engine: 898cc petrol, 90hp, 140Nm
0-62mph and max speed: 11.1sec, 104mph
Economy and emissions: 55.4mpg, 115g/km
Key rivals: Hyundai iX20, Kia Venga, Suzuki S-Cross
Test date: February 2017