Although the Dacia Sandero’s pure Romanianness precludes it from featuring prominently in AROnline, it is a product – a marketing model – that I absolutely adore. In short, it’s cheap, cheerful and right for our straitened times. Since last week, I’ve been the custodian of this lovely Access model you see above – I’ll be running it long term for Honest John and, although I’ve yet to pass the 1000-mile mark in it, I’m mightily impressed with the little thing.
Don’t get me wrong, the Sandero doesn’t set any new dynamic benchmarks. Nor is it particularly fast nor economical. In these aspects, it’s what I’d describe as being adequate. 0-60mph comes up in about 14 seconds and maximum speed is on the shy side of 100mph. However, in the real world, you can drive it at rep speed on a fast-flowing motorway and it will produce fuel consumption figures north of 40mpg in these conditions. Beyond that, it rides well, with excellent pliancy in its damping, while the handling feels tenacious, within limits.
As for quality – well, it’s tightly screwed together and the paint is smooth and even, while all the important legislative safety kit is present.
I’m fascinated by its sheer lack of luxuries, though. In this car, you don’t get electric windows, central locking, a stereo or air conditioning (all of these are present on my so-called entry-level MINI First) and, because of this sheer paucity of standard equipment, driving the Sandero Access feels like a bit of a step back in time. For me, that’s no problem – I love classics, and have other cars at my disposal with toys – but I suspect that the average new car punter would not be able to bear this level of austerity, unless it genuinely was their first experience of motoring.
However – and this is a big deal – the Sandero Access comes in at £5995 on the road, making it Britain’s cheapest new car and by some margin. Yes, you probably could secure a Suzuki Alto or Nissan Pixo for similar money after haggling, but neither of these could be considered viable cars for those who a) need to carry people, or b) need to go any distance. Those are sub-A sector cars, with small engines, while the Sandero is a near-Focus-sized motor that really could be pressed into family duties. The point is – at this price, the Sandero can be forgiven for an awful lot of sins. And really, a basic equipment tally is no major biggie. In short, it’s good news!
Thirty years ago, this level of austerity would have had you heading to a Dacia, FSO, Lada, Skoda or Yugo dealer – and, as charming classics as they are now, they were dreadful new and (Yugo aside) were 20 years behind what was considered a pacesetting family car back then. Now the sacrifice you make is considerably less. At worst, you’d say the Sandero Access is a mere five years behind the pace.
So this is one laudible car – and, unsurprisingly, it’s winning a huge number of friends as a value proposition. Which is all the more frustrating, when you consider that MG Rover could have enjoyed its own Sandero moment in the sun way back in 2003-2004. When the Tata Indica/CityRover deal was announced, I was genuinely pleased for MG Rover. It had partnered one of the industry’s emerging giants and gained access to a supermini with genuine potential. Okay, it was a little further behind the times than the Sandero is now in relation to its rivals, but it looked neat, was roomy and was built by a company genuinely keen on making its collaboration with MG Rover work.
Unfortunately, as the launch date approached and it became clear that MG Rover was going to price the CityRover dangerously close to the R25, it looked like a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. And so it proved – the CR was went on sale with a list price that ranged between £6500 and an unbelievable £8900. Needless to say, it struggled on the market, hampered by the lack of a launch plan, and then a wave of negative publicity from across the media.
So why is this frustrating? Consider that the price Phoenix paid Tata for the ex-works CityRover started at a rumoured £900-1600, the company was sitting on the potential bargain of the decade. But here’s where greed is said to have come in: because these cars were then sold on to MG Rover for considerably more (did Phoenix pocket the difference?) which was then told to sell these cars at this price (set by the ever fragrant Kevin Howe). At a dealer conference he told salesmen that, ‘anyone who can’t sell the CityRover at this price is a c*nt’.
When the deal was initially struck with Tata in 2002-2003, the planning in the UK was for for the CityRover prices to start at £4995. This was the natural price point for a car that was clearly not up to European supermini standards of the time – and it would have meant that, yes, it was flawed, but forgivable thanks to a bargain-basement price. And just think – all of those Metro/100 drivers who’d been left without a homegrown product to buy would have been leaping for joy at the chance to buy a new supermini from their favourite family dealer.
But once again, we’re left pondering what might have been. And watching Dacia’s deserved success in the UK now is probably a reflection of what might have happened to MG Rover had they stuck to the original plan and sold you a new, stripped-out, CityRover for less than £5000.
I’ll let you know how the Sandero performs in the coming months. I suspect it’ll be flawless and rugged, and will earn my respect for its low-price, no-nonsense motoring. Thanks to Kevin Howe, we were denied this opportunity back in 2003.