Six months ago, I blogged about how the arrival of Dacia in the UK and the Sandero’s killer entry-level list price was going to prove, one way or another, that Rover’s decision to import the CityRover could have been the genius decision of the decade.
The budget Romanian brand, underpinned by an ambitious Renault and its Clio-based B-Zero platform has spun-out an interesting range of products – the Logan and the Sandero – sold almost exclusively in Western markets on their image for low-cost and ruggedness. In 2003, MG Rover could have found itself in the same position.
At the time of my original blog, the jury was still out – Dacia’s sales weren’t up to speed and I’d only just taken delivery of my £5995 Access, the most basic model, equipped with little more than four wheels, seats and a roof. As discussed in the original blog, MG Rover’s original plan for the CityRover looked remarkably Dacia-like, with a proposed entry-price of £4995 (about £5995 in today’s money), and the product itself was rugged, thanks to the needs of the Tata Indica’s home market.
However, as we know, that never happened – and the CityRover was given a mainstream price, which rightly raised buyers’ expectations. That, of course, inevitably meant failure…
That doesn’t, of course, quite answer the original question posed in July 2013 – does the Dacia Sandero prove that Rover missed a trick with the CityRover? Well, in my honest opinion, I think it does. Okay, so the UK’s economy wasn’t quite the issue on everyone’s lips that it is now and the reality of falling wages, lowering living standards and fewer workers’ rights had yet to come to the fore so maybe the idea of buying a car that celebrates its low list price might not have caught on in 2004 in quite the same way it would prove in 2013 – but one thing that never changes is that everyone loves a bargain. True now. True then.
That’s why, at the bargain price first touted, I’ve no doubts that the CityRover would have flown out of MG Rover’s showrooms. The 25 was getting on and the quality was constantly being removed from it, thanks to Project Drive, and something new and fresh, at a bargain price, might have re-engaged those ex-Rover 100 buyers, who didn’t fancy a 25. Ten years on, and consider this – in its first year since its re-launch in Janaury 2013, 17,000 Dacias found new homes in the UK.
You can read more about the Sandero itself, should you want to, at Honest John. However, consider this – after six months and a little more than 5000 miles of mixed motoring, I’m going to miss my Sandero and really wouldn’t have a problem recommending it to other people – in fact, I already have. It’s an honest, enjoyable hatchback that, in the six months it’s been in my care, hasn’t missed a beat.
Okay, so there may have been times during my ownership when I talked about the near-complete lack of equipment, but rarely did I moan – that’s because, ultimately, what you get is a full-sized family hatchback for £5995. Do you think it would have been in the same a decade ago, forgiving the CityRover for its lousy seat trim or exploding hubcaps, given a suitably marked down price? I think I probably would have – in fact, I am sure many other buyers would have done so, too.
Without getting too sentimental about my gutsy little Sandero, it’s easy to conclude that what we have here is a Citroen 2CV or Renault 4 for our times – a car with minimal power and performance, but which makes the absolute most of it. In comparison, my memories of the CityRovers I drove when they were still new were that it had plenty of performance, but sounded rough and unwilling. The potential was there but, my goodness, not at the same money as a base-level Fiesta.
A final thought: it’s interesting to see now that MG Motor UK’s new baby, the MG3, has adopted a great real-world pricing strategy and, ironically, is now one of the top-level Sandero’s sternest rivals for the hearts and minds of budget buyers. This time around, it seems that those in Longbridge have learned some important lessons about pricing – but did they learn them, I wonder, from the CityRover or the Sandero?