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It might be the biggest bargain on the new car market, but is it a car worth having?

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For a great many buyers in general, and for Romanian budget car brand Dacia in particular, one Sandero supermini just isn't enough. Having risen meteoricially to second place among Europe's biggest-selling new cars, the third-generation Sandero has become the closest thing to a sales phenomenon that the European market has seen in recent years (among cars volume-selling cars fitted with combustion engines, at least); and this - the Dacia Sandero Stepway - is the regular hatchback's alter-ego-in-walking-boots.

The Stepway is exactly what it would seem to be: a Sandero with raised suspension, a marginally more convenient access position, and pumped-up bumpers that you're that little bit less likely to snag on kerbstones when parking. It was introduced in the UK in 2021, and in 2022 was given Dacia's new brand logo on the grille.

Our range-topping Prestige-specification Sandero Stepway comes with 16in alloy wheels as standard. Lower-spec models get regular steelies, or Dacia’s 15in ‘Flex’ steel wheels, which have been engineered to look like alloys

Dacia touched down on UK shores for the first time in 2013 with the second-generation Dacia Sandero, when the Romanian supermini immediately staked its claim to the title of ‘cheapest new car in Britain’. Prices for the bog-standard Access model started at £5995, for which you would get a car that had four wheels, an engine and not much else. Such was the absence of standard equipment that even the most conservatively minded Spartan would have felt right at home behind the wheel.

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Of course, despite the headline-grabbing price, not many people actually opted for the Austerity Special. Higher-spec variants offered a bit more in the way of creature comforts (namely air conditioning and a stereo) but still came with an intriguingly low sticker price. The formula proved to be a hit, and with a range bolstered by similarly cut-price offerings in the form of the Dacia Duster SUV and Dacia Logan MCV, Dacia sold its 100,000th UK car just three years after it first set up shop.

Fast forward to 2021, and the Renault-owned brand has sold 108,000 Sanderos in Britain alone. It’s the Romanian firm’s bread-and-butter model, was a big contributor to its ability to shift more than 500,000 cars annually in Europe before the pandemic, and has helped it grow at a staggering rate since; so that, in market share terms at least, Dacia is a bigger player in the UK market in 2023 than Renault itself was ten years earlier.

Now, the Sandero is back for a third generation. It may still be the cheapest new car on sale in Britain (prices now start at £7995) but, as we’ll go on to explore, this time around Dacia has made even more of an effort when it comes to bolstering equipment, and outright desirability, while trying to keep costs to the customer at levels that would see them mulling over it instead of a used car. That’s a tricky tightrope to walk. Let’s see how it gets on.

The Dacia Sandero line-up at a glance

The Sandero and slightly taller Dacia Sandero Stepway line-ups are all based around the same 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, which is available in a range of power outputs and with a series of transmissions.

The turbocharged TCe 90 and TCe 100 Bi-Fuel motors are available on both variants, but only the 90 unit can be paired with a CVT. Otherwise, both get six-speed manuals.

The trim walk is straightforward: the Sandero comes in Access, Essential and Comfort; the Stepway is available in Essential, Comfort and Prestige.



dacia sandero stepway road test review 2023 02 tracking rear

As before, the Sandero is offered in two bodystyles: there’s the regular supermini, which is built at the firm’s Tangier manufacturing plant; and the Romanian-built Dacia Sandero Stepway, which, being the most popular Sandero variant in the UK, is the one we’re testing here.

Being a more rugged take on the standard car, the Stepway is the slightly larger of the two. At 4099mm, it is 11mm longer than the regular Sandero, which is itself only 30mm longer than its immediate predecessor. It’s taller too, thanks to a lift in ride height, although both its front and rear tracks are slightly narrower.

The Sandero Stepway’s modular roof bars are patented, and can be reconfigured to act as a proper load-bearing roof rack. Set up as such, it can hold up to 80kg.

Dark plastic cladding around the bumpers, wheel arches and side skirts, along with a new grille design and prominent roof rails, also contribute to the Stepway’s comparatively buff stance. And while it isn’t likely to win any design awards, the new Sandero is undoubtedly a handsome-looking car, too. It’s far sleeker in appearance than the boxy second-generation model, with new features such as LED headlights and daytime running lights (standard on all Sandero models) lending the Dacia an appealingly contemporary look.

Beneath it all sits an adapted version of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance’s CMF-B modular architecture, which also underpins the excellent fifth-generation Renault Renault Clio supermini. The Sandero is the first Dacia to make use of this platform, which is not only stronger and more rigid than the previous B0 architecture (which dates back to the 1998 Clio 2), but is also compatible with modern driver assistance systems. Even entry-level models gain a radar-controlled emergency brake assist system.

However, as we’ll come to later, this hasn’t necessarily helped it much in the eyes of crash testing agencies that have scored it lowly and would rather it had a camera to assist (Dacia thinks its customers wouldn’t want to pay the extra money that would entail).


dacia sandero stepway road test review 2023 05 dash

Does the law of diminishing returns apply anywhere more greatly than it does with car interiors?

Spend a third of a million pounds on a car and it will keep the cabin at a pleasant temperature while linking with your smartphone to play some music and tell you where you’re going. For less than £9000, a Dacia Sandero will do the same thing. Perhaps the existence of cars like the Sandero is precisely what drives ‘premium’ manufacturers to offer infinitely variable ambient light settings.

Power socket and USB outlet live beneath some of the tidiest and clearest HVAC controls you’ll find on any car. Couldn’t be simpler.

Obviously, it is not so well finished. Hard plastics abound – there aren’t really any soft ones – but there is a pleasing fabric finish around the edge of the dashboard and some brighter highlights on the air vents.

The seats are large and flat, the steering wheel is big, reach and rake are adjustable, and the pedals are pleasingly spaced. It’s a really sound driving position, with two clear dials ahead of you and, on this version, a relatively simple touchscreen plus a very neat phone holder, and easy integration between the two. Ergonomically, it’s pretty sound all around, partly as a result of its basicness. The heating and ventilation controls are big clear dials and, on lower versions, the handbrake is a conventional lever.

It’s spacious in the front and as big as you’d hope for a supermini-sized car in the rear, too. Adults can sit behind adults without trouble – even six-footers will find they have knee room – with good interior spaciousness for a car of just over four metres in length.

With 328 litres of space, the Sandero also has a bigger boot than most superminis. The minimum width of the boot opening is a generous 930mm, and at its widest it’s 1290mm. The rear seats split and fold easily, too, giving a load length of more than 1400mm. Beneath the boot floor is an optional spacesaver spare wheel, pleasingly; which, if you specify the Bi-Fuel version that can run on both petrol and LPG, gives way to make room for the additional LPG fuel tank.

Dacia Sandero Stepway infotainment and sat-nav

The base Sandero doesn’t have much in the way of an infotainment system but does get a phone holder (with a 12V USB socket behind it just as on this higher-spec car) that rotates freely and allows you to use features such as linking to the audio system.

Things get (a little) more serious higher up the range, with a central touchscreen mounted alongside that phone holder, which has a set of reasonably basic functions up to and including satellite navigation on this model. They all work easily and sensibly enough – better than more complex touchscreens, in fact, because there’s only so much you can do while on the road and you’re meant to be driving, after all. There’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring, if you’d rather use that than the car’s systems. Only the USB behind the phone mount links to the infotainment – not the one by the gearlever.

There are remote controls for the audio behind the steering wheel; an old Renault system that’s easy to use.


21 Dacia Sandero Stepway 2021 RT engine

You don’t come to this kind of car looking for stellar performance and, perhaps obviously, you don’t find it. Dacia’s tweaking of the same basic triple-cylinder engine is one of the ways it keeps costs down, but even though this is a car with a two-digit power output, we doubt the Dacia Sandero Stepway will disappoint anyone with the way it goes down the road.

Let’s deal with the bald stats first: in a straight line, from a standing start the Stepway wants 11.9sec to reach 60mph from rest, marginally slower than most 1.0-litre rivals but they don’t have the Stepway’s tallness, and it’s not like this translates to the Dacia feeling particularly lacklustre in daily driving. It’s really no bother to keep up with traffic, and if you do want to make more brisk progress, you don’t have to work fiendishly hard to find it. Peak torque of 118lb ft arrives from as little as 2100rpm thanks to the turbocharger, and hangs around until 3750rpm.

This is a car that no one will buy for B-road blats, but for one priced, set up and shaped as it is, the Stepway does what’s asked of it competently and with no lack of comfort.

Choosing to hold onto revs for longer and working the engine and gears harder instead, if you really need to make progress on a motorway acceleration lane, is no great trouble. The gearshift, relatively long of throw and light as it is, is positive, and the engine is very smooth and unobtrusive.

There’s nothing wrong with the way it physically stops, either. Slam on the anchors from 60mph and within three seconds you’ll be at rest. When we repeated a stop from 70mph twice in a row, we elicited a warm smell from the pads, which wouldn’t be a issue in daily driving, and while the Sandero doesn’t have a particularly high towing limit anyway (540kg unbraked, 980kg braked), it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re about to make a long descent with something on the back in hot weather.


dacia sandero stepway road test review 2023 03 panning

This is a well-balanced car in terms of its handling. Buyers won’t expect too much excitement but what they will find, if they look for it, is a car that handles competently, with good stability and even a little enjoyment.

The steering is light – as is appropriate for the market, if too light for our personal tastes – but with reasonable self-centring and accuracy. At 3.2 turns between locks, and with a tight 10.4-metre turning circle, it is geared pleasingly, too. Pedal feel is sound all around (some manufacturers give into the temptation to make those too light, but Dacia has not), which means braking is easy to modulate.

If you’re out on the road with a heavily laden car, inclines might need you to drop a gear or two.

And the steering itself takes on a little extra weight as speeds and lateral forces rise. That makes for a car that’s both easy to drive and yet doesn’t fall apart or fail to offer some kind of interaction if you want to enjoy a decent road. The ESP and ABS are well judged, too. And, ultimately, the Sandero’s handling balance is, as it should be, towards progressive understeer.

When you drive the Sandero on the road – whether this Sandero Stepway or the regular version – you think that it’s probably not the kind of car that will bear up to the scrutiny of a hill route test. The best you should hope for, you figure, is that it will just telegraph the fact that it’s safe quite well.

The truth is, it does rather better than that. It resists understeer convincingly and has neither an excessive amount of roll nor an alarming roll rate. For a taller car than a regular supermini, and one set up pliantly, that’s a decent achievement.

Dacia has clearly resisted the temptation to go too high or too soft on the suspension, which would see it wallow and flop. Instead, it feels willing and able, with sufficient body control, and a gradual increase of steering weight so you have something to lean against. A pleasant surprise. Plus, it’s also trustworthy and handles safely, just as we had set out to find.

Comfort and isolation

If you are looking for areas where money unspent has consequences, perhaps you’ll find it here. The Sandero’s seats and driving position are great, no problem at all, and its engine quiet. But there is a slight pay-off in terms of cabin isolation.

Not a lot. Just enough, if you try a few different cars in this class, to know that there’s a touch more wind and road noise than in most rivals. But not to an extent that it’s uncouth or in any way unacceptable. You could still easily drive one all day. Drive one even for a moment, though, and you’ll note that the Sandero is relatively softly set up, without the control of something like a Ford Fiesta – still a benchmark for ride and handling in the class for us.

It’s hard to argue, though, that this is anything other than it should be – body control is still good. The handling doesn’t become unenjoyable as a result. While, say, Citroën makes its cars too floppy and vague in the name of comfort, Dacia has pitched the Sandero in a much better spot.


dacia sandero stepway road test review 2023 01 tracking front

Coming in at £13,895 (£14,605 after options), our range-topping Prestige-spec Stepway isn’t quite the best example of just how affordable the Sandero can be.

Sure, it gets niceties such as built-in satellite navigation, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors and proper alloy wheels as standard, but the entry-level Stepway Essential isn’t completely bare. The £11,495 model still gets air conditioning, a smartphone holder, USB connectivity, DAB radio and remote central locking as standard. Provided you’ve got a generous enough data plan for your mobile, that’s arguably all you need.

The cut-price Sandero is set to hold a higher percentage of its original value than both the Skoda Fabia and Hyundai i10

The regular Sandero is even cheaper, with the basic Access model priced from £7995 (though you don’t get air conditioning); and the better-equipped Essential and Comfort models starting at £8995 and £11,595 respectively.

How do they do it so cheaply? By leaving some things off, which includes the camera that would help the Sandero’s emergency braking system see cyclists and pedestrians, and not just cars (as its radar system sees). The way Euro NCAP now scores things, that means the Sandero achieves just two stars as a safety rating.

Whether that bothers you or not is ultimately your call. In terms of passive safety, the Sandero scored 70% for adult occupant protection and 72% for child occupant protection, both four-star results.

NCAP highlighted the absence of a forward-facing camera on the Sandero, but if its price means people choose one over a poorly maintained six-year-old car that doesn’t stop very well and won’t have any kind of emergency braking system, the Dacia will look after its own occupants and other road users better than that alternative.

As for fuel consumption, we averaged 45mpg during our time with the car, which translates to a theoretical range of just under 500 miles on a tank of petrol. Touring economy was 54.1mpg, which makes for a maximum theoretical range of 595 miles.



dacia sandero stepway road test review 2023 19 static

Here we find ourselves in a Suzuki Jimny situation – it’s a car that we like and admire a great deal but which safety agencies do not rate highly. The less specialist the vehicle (we don’t suppose NCAP would think much of a motorcycle or a Caterham either, but we’d have no problem recommending both), the bigger the problem this becomes. And the Sandero is not a specialist vehicle.

Or is it? Its purpose is to offer people the cheapest way into a good new car possible. The fact that it does so while being objectively preferable to many of its more expensive alternatives is impressive. With that greater quality and improvements elsewhere, the Sandero has evolved into something much more than simply being Britain’s cheapest car (cheap being the operative word) – and with that inevitably comes an increased focus on such a safety rating.

Cut-price crossover is compromised in surprisingly few areas

Judged on its other merits – comfort, equipment, enjoyment and refinement – the Dacia Sandero is a solid performer that stands great scrutiny against both new and used alternatives.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Dacia Sandero Stepway First drives