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Budget car champion Dacia aims to bring a sub-£20k electric car to UK showrooms in 2024 – and it's a good one

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Having introduced mainland Europe’s cheapest electric car in 2021, Dacia has now confirmed that it’ll look to follow suit and make the Dacia Spring Britain’s cheapest EV in 2024, when it launches the upcoming facelifted version in right-hand-drive form.

British consumers haven’t been offered a sub-£20,000 electric car since the UK government ended financial incentives for EV adoption in 2022 - but as of next year, this car could be on sale here from as little as £18,000.

The lab tests suggest the Spring will do better than 6mpkWh around town, for close to 170 miles of urban range, although the digital instrumentation is actually too simple to bother telling you as much. Can't help liking that quite a lot.

That should be a low enough showroom price to secure the standout status Dacia wants for this car, even with several competitors, both European and Chinese, preparing to launch direct competition for it. You’ll no doubt guess how that’s possible: because the Spring is built in China, as part of a joint venture between Dacia parent Renault, alliance partner Nissan and Dongfeng Motor Group. Whatever you might think about that, it certainly gives Dacia the chance to engage with the likes of BYD and MG Motor, in Europe, on more level terms than some of its competitors might enjoy - which the company is grabbing with both hands.

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The Spring has found 120,000 homes in Europe so far and is already a different car from the one Dacia launched in 2021. Having introduced it with a 44bhp electric motor, the company now offers a 64bhp version with not only higher power than the base car but also shorter reduction gearing (and therefore more torque at the driven front wheels) and much-improved performance (think 0-62mph in under 14sec rather than barely under 20sec).

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Both versions use a drive battery with just under 27kWh of usable capacity – slightly less than the Volkswagen e-Up and its relations went out of production with in 2022. But because the Spring weighs around 200kg less than that VW, it’s capable of broadly comparable electric range (up to 143 miles versus 161 miles for the VW).

Dacia brought a few left-hand-drive examples of the Spring to the UK earlier this month for an advance taste of what British owners are in for in 2024. We tested an upper-level, 64bhp variant in what will be Extreme model trim (leather-effect seats, touchscreen infotainment, reversing camera) - and it provided a cheery, simple, usable and broadly pleasant driving experience unencumbered by at least some of the limitations you might expect of it.

A five-door A-segment hatchback with chunky-looking wheel arches and a modestly hiked ride height, the Spring has a fair bit of the Fiat Panda about it to look at. Taller adults will struggle a little for second-row space (although growing kids will be fine) but that’s because the designers favoured boot space in the cabin dimensions, and duly delivered nearly 300 litres of the stuff, which is more than you’ll find in some full-sized superminis. 

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Up front, a fixed steering column and a driver’s seat that lacks for any adjustment beyond the bare minimum make finding a satisfactory driving position a little testing - but not impossible. Perceived cabin quality is one of the ways that Dacia plans to improve the car for the 2024 facelift, talking about a similar leap to the one the current-generation Sandero showed relative to its predecessor.

You can see why they might consider it a weak spot, although exceptionally low price positioning in any new car makes such criticisms feel a little mean. Even in the upper-level model, with its copper-coloured trim accents, the Spring’s fascia and door mouldings are quite hard and shiny, although they feel well enough secured. 

Will Dacia be able to do anything about the hollow, reverberant ping that the doors make as they close, or the gentle rattle of the rear window trim as the car zips along? You’d think it unlikely. However you dress it up, I suspect the Spring will always betray its bargain status somehow.

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Not that too many will hold it against a car that, on the road, has a breezy, agile and energetic way about it that speaks of its lightness and compactness more than many compact, affordable EVs have managed to. It’s got a pretty familiar city car dynamic character - although that electric motor makes it quicker than most ICE equivalents up to about 50mph, and a little slower and less assured thereafter. It's fast enough for both urban and inter-urban motoring, though, at least in the case of the upper-level model.

Powertrain refinement is good, the car’s heating and ventilation system being significantly louder, when running, than the drive motor, and while the car’s ride on its 14in steel wheels is a little noisy over coarse surfaces and lacks isolation over sharp edges, it’s comfortable, controlled and pleasant otherwise.

Get up a head of steam and the car handles naturally and quite keenly, with decent lateral grip and body control - avoiding the sense of lolling long-wave body movement and punitive weight that some compact EVs show. The steering is medium in its weighting and pace but intuitive enough to make the car easy to position.

The claimed 140-ish miles of battery range should translate to something between 90 and and 120 miles in mixed real-world driving. For a short-hopping, competitively priced city car, that should be more than enough (50kW DC rapid charging will come as standard). Something very similar has been enough for the Mini Electric these past four years, after all. The Spring’s little more than half the price of the Mini, which you might expect, but it’s also even more usable and, in its way, is actually similarly genial.

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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.