Remember the times when the ugly economic collapse took the world by storm? Those dreadful times also had their winners – and in the automotive world one of the highlights was the run of the basic, no frills Dacia brand.
Harsh economic times usually make people tighten the belt somewhat, without actually giving up their comfort – such as having a brand new vehicle on the driveway. We’re not going to rekindle those times anymore though – aside from showcasing how the Renault business case, having an entry-level marquee, proved more successful than they ever imagined. Today, with all the model lines new or already updated, there’s an introduction void. Dacia has been growing steadily still, but the pace of the overall market has advanced quicker.
As such, the strategists took a long, hard look at the models that weren’t spectacular in terms of sales and opted to spice things up a bit. Yep, the Dokker and Lodgy Stepway have been born out of necessity, not a market whim. There were even rumors back in the day the two lines would get the axe after they run their generational course, but those have since faded. That’s because for example the Dokker has grown as a good commercial opportunity with its van model catering for small businesses. And the Lodgy was never going to be a performer since the entire MPV segment is suffering from the offensive of crossovers – after all even the latest generation Espace can be treated as a crossover.
One of the main reasons the Dacia brand proved successful in Western Europe was the availability of the Sandero Stepway – a B-segment hatchback treated to crossover styling. The model version appeared back in 2009 and that actually makes it a tad older than the Nissan Juke, credited with sparking the subcompact crossover craze in Europe. Since the Stepway sells well even today, there was no reason not to try and deliver it on the more imposing Dokker and Lodgy.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
The Dokker has been modeled after the Renault Kangoo and bearing that in mind we shouldn’t actually be surprised of the Stepway’s apparition – after all there’s even a high-riding all-wheel drive Kangoo out there. With the Dokker catering for businesses in its van form or compromising on part time family/part time business ownership in the passenger version, the Stepway has added yet another dimension – leisure. This is actually in part why people are now buying crossovers and SUVs. They’re practical and spacious enough for families with children and can also indulge easily in outdoor activities. The Dokker adds the fact that its owner can still use the vehicle for small business duties. This is fine, since for example I have two kids and lots to carry around when going on trips and the trunk space is so humongous that I had no chance filling it. This means the owner can jump from work duties directly to family and leisure activities, even if the cargo space is still somewhat occupied.
The Dokker Stepway is easily distinguishable from the regular passenger version thanks to the added plastic body cladding, faux silver skid plates at the front and back an custom alloy wheels. I think anybody could have gone even without the silver accents – the best looking pieces are the black plastics and the smoked ally and mirror caps actually. Having more body protection is always great if you’re rolling at work or with a big family – city traffic is inherently bringing lots of scratches and small parking bumps. Additionally, the Stepway from the starters packs both rear sliding doors, making it a breeze to get in and out especially if you have to handle small kids. Overall, the Stepway interpretation is almost the same as in the Sandero hatch, which is great since many people consider that one a looker in its class.
Jumping in, things aren’t looking great anymore. Mind you, this is Renault’s accessible brand we’re talking about and the Dokker Stepway started life as a commercial vehicle creation – meaning double jeopardy when it comes to cutting costs and corners. The cabin is most obvious about both. While the brand has graduated from the 1980’s design of the dashboard seen in the first generation Sandero and Logan models, we’re still far away from the progress seen in other budget brands – such as Skoda. The money you pay for it is also not there yet, though, fortunately.
So, we have an all-black hard plastic dashboard with a very conventional instrument cluster and the only things of interest are the dark blue accents here and there. The climate controls and some other functional buttons are also placed very low down the driver’s sight-line, meaning you’ll have to get used to them and fiddle with them without looking if you value safety. The only modern touch is represented by the seven-inch MediaNav infotainment system – which boasts touchscreen controls and all the amenities you need today, save for smartphone and app integration. You do get GPS, USB and Aux, as well as Bluetooth, which means all the basics are covered. But still being based on the first generation R-Link system from Renault means the Dacia version still feels rather obsolete – both in terms of customization, ease of access to functions and responsiveness. Another trait inherited from the commercial van is the Dokker’s quirky driver position – if you ever went from a van to a passenger car you’ll know what I mean. Things aren’t bettered by the fact that you only get a height-adjustable steering wheel – but since you have a preposterous interior head height you can simply play with the seat and steering adjustments until you find a comfortable position. The front seats are comfortable for long drives and also remind you this is the Stepway version with the blue stitching and logo.
Now, going into the back is like discovering you’re inside the family living room. Since the doors slide they’re very upright and the interior dimensions are simply off the chart, considering we’re dealing with a compact class model. Three adults will have no problems going for long trips in the Dokker Stepway, or you can easily seat two children in their respective special seats and still have an adult sit there with them. This is among the few cars in the class able to do so, meaning the family aspect of the equation is well covered. There are also numerous storage compartments back and front – meaning you can store (or lose) lots of small things. The cargo space is also something you’ll brag about in front of your friends driving compact cars – even if those are station wagons or SUVs. Just imagine, there’s 800 liters of space in the back and if you fold the rear bench you’ll get 3,000 liters – two people could actually camp inside without issues.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
Under the hood of the Dokker Stepway, depending on market, can be found a smallish but modern 1.2 TCe turbocharged unit boasting 115 hp or the ubiquitous 1.5 dCI diesel with two power levels: 75 and 90 hp. We had the latter one and we fully recommend it because it has the same average consumption as the smaller unit and feels livelier thanks to the small hp and torque boost. Those will come in handy especially when the Dokker is fully loaded, because at that point you actually feel the need for the feistier 1.6 dCI unit found under the Renault hoods. Unfortunately for now the Dacia brand only gets the older, sturdier 1.5 dCI – which has been constantly refined to the point you’ll forget the Dokker Stepway is actually a commercial vehicle at heart. If there’s one aspect Dacia doesn’t feel cheap it’s here – the ride comfort and interior NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels rival any other offering in the segment from established competitors.
The suspension setting makes a good compromise between the need to offer a stable ride – we have here a vehicle 1814 mm tall – and its capacity to load up weighted stuff. The steering input is also good – the Dokker feels as nimble as a Sandero Stepway and also drives exactly like one. One thing we’re hoping Dacia will change with its next generation is the old Renault gearbox – it has short inputs but also a tendency to rasp the gears – especially if you’re in a hurry to back up. Don’t expect the Dokker to feel like a compact hatchback – it’s clearly a van that will treat you like you’re in a yacht when approaching bends too fast. Another important aspect to note, safety is not in the cheap league – you have four airbags, ABS+EBD, ESP and Hill Assist and even a tire pressure monitoring system. Since we’re dealing with a family oriented model, the Isofix child restraint system is also here.
Performance isn’t something to write home about, with a dry weight of 1,300 kg and just 90 hp and 200 Nm of maximum torque: the sprint to 62 mph (100 km/h) will take more than 13 seconds and the maximum speed is of just a tad over 100 miles per hour (163 km/h). The tested model didn’t have it yet, but the Start/Stop technology is also coming to the Dacia brand and to the Dokker Stepway in particular. Until then, the city mileage figures aren’t spectacular – the model has a big front end so aerodynamics aren’t its strength. While Dacia boasts a 4,2 liter average fuel consumption we were nowhere near, even after a major ride out of town. With a five-speed manual gearbox, you’re going to post even worse mileage if you go at highway speeds – though at least the model comes standard with a speed control/limiter function.
Pro: exterior design – the Dokker Stepway stands out among the other models in the segment. The interior space is great for the dimensions, five persons will enjoy comfortable long rides. The trunk is also humongous. The trialed and tested diesel engine is very silent and delivers according to its credentials.
Against: Dacia is a low cost brand and that’s obvious inside the cabin – hard black plastics and the infotainment system is rather dated. Five speed manual does what it can but doesn’t favor fuel consumption when long-hauling.
Starting price – Dacia Dokker Stepway 1.2 TCe 115 – 13,050 EUR
Tested Version – Dacia Dokker Stepway 1.5 dCI 90 – 13,950 EUR
Engine: 1.5L four cylinder, diesel, direct injection, turbo, intercooler (1461 cc)
Power: 90 HP (66 kW) at 3750 rpm
Torque: 200 Nm at 1,750 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual / 4×2
Dimensions: length – 4,388 mm, width – 1,767 mm, height – 1,814 mm, wheelbase – 2,810 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 50 L
Trunk Capacity: 800 / 3000 liters
Weight: 1302 kg