The Sandero Stepway is Dacia's attempt at making a fashionable, jacked-up, crossover-esque city car. AOL Cars takes it for a spin
What is it?
Dacia's lineup already includes both a supermini and an SUV – the Sandero and the Duster. The Sandero Stepway is the Romanian brand's way of splitting the difference. It adds SUV styling and details onto a supermini body, giving you the fashionable rugged aesthetic but in a reassuringly compact and great-value package. Alternatively, you could look on it as a Sandero with some extra plastic cladding.
Stepway guise means a 4cm increase in ride height over the standard car, making it slightly easier to clamber into and out of. It also means a modicum of improvement when it comes to performing on rough roads – though it's still only front-wheel drive, and definitely no mud-plugger.
Beefy plastic wheel arches meet front and rear skid plates, which protect the underside of the car and help mask car park dings.
To finish off the 'lifestyle' image, the Sandero Stepway gains roof bars and two-tone bumpers with integrated foglights.
What's under the bonnet?
Our car was fitted with Renault's ubiquitous 1.5-litre diesel – one of just two engine choices. The standard Sandero's 1.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol isn't quite up to the Stepway's bulk, leaving just the 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol or the aforementioned diesel.
The torquey power unit is a remarkably good fit for the Sandero, and despite the lack of sound deadening it's smooth and refined. It's also massively efficient, with a claimed 74.3mpg possible.
There's no automatic option, and so both engines are mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. The ratios are spaced a bit too close together to make the most of the diesel engine's torque, though.
What's it like to drive?
The Sandero's underpinnings are relatively primitive, as they're inherited from some very old Renault models. It's therefore not too surprising that the Sandero isn't exactly sporty and dynamic. It is, however, very comfortable indeed – with a few caveats.
The soft suspension soaks up potholes and jagged tarmac with ease, while big chunky tyres with thick sidewalls help further. Inner-city speed bumps seem to disappear under the Stepway's wheels.
Speed up, though, and the roly-poly handling makes for jarring progress while you slide around in the flat, unsupportive seats. The steering is mixed, too. It's nicely weighty, but that makes it overly heavy while parking.
How does it look?
Dacia's styling department has done its best with what it's given, and the result is smart, inoffensive and recognisable as a Dacia. Very few people are going to desire the Sandero Stepway if they see it on the street, but they won't recoil in horror either.
The black plastic cladding actually adds some visual interest to the Sandero, and the rugged aesthetic helps to lift it above the crowds of generic superminis.
Generous standard equipment helps, too – as all Stepways get chunky alloy wheels, front folights, roof bars, LED daytime running lights and tinted rear windows. Premium touches for a bargain hatchback.
What's it like inside?
It's very easy to see where Dacia has cut costs once you step inside the Sandero. Flick open the old-fashioned door handle, settle into a flat and unsupportive seat and grab the cheaply-finished plastic steering wheel, and you'll be able to feast your eyes on a sea of grey plastic shrouded in unconvincing chrome.
Despite the bargain materials, it does feel well made in here. The cabin lacks the squeaks and rattles you might find in an equivalently priced used car. It's also very roomy, with space for four adults and a massive boot – though the lack of an external release becomes very irritating, very quickly.
What's the spec like?
Entry-level Ambiance comes as standard with air-conditioning, front electric windows and a height-adjustable driver's seat, but misses out on kit you'll find on other superminis. We can't complain about the lack of a standard touchscreen infotainment system, given the low purchase price, but manually adjustable side mirrors are a stingy step too far.
Step up to Laureate and those mirrors become electrically adjustable, while cruise control, electric rear windows and a touchscreen infotainment system also feature.
Dacia's no-nonsense approach to bargain motoring is well appreciated, and backed up by strong sales of all its models. As far as the Stepway goes, however, we're not totally convinced it's the best value available in the range. Though £11,190 for the car tested here sounds cheap, if you lost the Stepway goodies it would buy you the equivalent Sandero hatchback in a higher trim level – or, more convincingly, a very well-specified used rival. If you really must have a rugged Dacia, buy the Duster – otherwise, the standard Sandero should be good enough.
Model as tested: Dacia Sandero Stepway Ambiance dCi 90
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel
Torque (Nm): 220Nm
Max speed (mph): 104mph
Emissions (g/km): 98g/km