While the Logan is certainly the top selling model in its home country, Dacia’s breakthrough model is and always will be the Sandero line – also due to the wide success of the Stepway line.
The automotive industry has seen few success stories at the bottom line in the modern age – one example would be Skoda and the other Dacia – and we could also bring lots of examples from the other side, of affordable models that should have swept the world off its feet but failed – chief among them being the Tata Nano. Today both Skoda and Dacia are far gone off the mark – they evolved into globally well-positioned brands, though, arguably, the latter still has work to do. That would be in order to account for the time gap – the VW Group has been working with Skoda for many more years than Renault has with Romania brand Dacia. But the results are palpable for both – just look at the Skoda Octavia (even with its quirky split headlight design it still sales like hot cake) or the Sandero line. After the Logan proved a car can be done with less buckets of cash than before – and lots of corner cutting – Europe embraced the Dacia brand once the Logan MCV and most of all the first generation Sandero and Sandero Stepway arrived. There are numerous crossover-like conversions of subcompacts in Europe, but when the first generation Sandero Stepway appeared in 2009 there was little to no competition – though it did not kick off this particular niche, the initiator being the VW CrossPolo, based on the Polo Fun Mark IV. But today there is much more competition – Dacia showed this model, which is not a true crossover like the Renault Captur or Nissan Juke, can be very attractive and its entry also played well into the ongoing worldwide success story of the SUV segment, complete with all of its derivatives.
Nothing odd here – if coupe-SUVs are successful, while killing off back seat habitability and trunk practicability – it’s only logical that small, subcompact cars made to look rugged (hey, even the new Fiesta has a dedicated version) would appeal to young urbanites that also enjoy some weekend adventures without crossing the trial into off-road territory. It’s actually a more practical – from the economic standpoint – decision than going for a fully-fledged subcompact crossover in Dacia’s case. The Romanian brand already has a great offering in the segment – the Duster, which is a proper SUV – and no reason to cannibalize, or for that matter compete the Renault Captur, which is also – unlike the Nissan Juke – only offered as a front wheel drive model. While arguably the Stepway versions are the best-looking offerings in Dacia’s lineup, it’s not style over substance, because they’re just as practical – and more – as their counterparts. No wonder the brand expanded its offerings in the niche and now has next to the original Sandero Stepway the Dokker, Lodgy and Logan MCV Stepways. Yes, we’re seeing a pattern here – get the regular ones if you’re only looking for a “car” – or take home the Stepway versions if you need more, from living an active lifestyle to taking your family (almost) anywhere.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
Now in its second generation – which appeared way back in 2012 – the Sandero is fast approaching its end of life in this current iteration, with the 2017 model year facelift used as an eagerly-awaited mid lifecycle refresh. Let’s not forget the Dacia still carries the affordable tag – smart buy in company talk – so they take a bit longer with these refreshes to lower costs and also because they just about have no competition at this price point. You’ll see that in our comparison section there are models that go hand in hand specification wise, but you’ll have to take into account that even the highest priced Sandero Stepway won’t even reach the base price of the rivals. As far as styling goes, the angular cues of the second generation have now been enhanced through the modifications brought about by the facelift. The Stepway features the usual array of rigged enhancements – black plastic cladding up front, on the sides and wheel arches and at the back, which is given a stylish touch by the use of faux aluminum elements – the Prestige version tested here even has the satin silver on the mirror covers, which come with integrated turn signals for this version. We’ve seen the Stepway before and the facelift changes aren’t deep – just enhance its overall appearance. The refreshed Sandero is not bad looking at all on its own, but the Stepway’s adventurous feel is something that warrants the price premium you have to pay (along with other perks). In addition, the facelift has brought new bumpers, new fog lights and housings, as well as new lighting clusters. We have a mixed feeling about the taillights – which feature independent rectangles (to mirror the front signature) but no LED technology and all four of them are lighted by the same bulb – it’s the same for the Logan or regular Sandero and feels like another obvious cost cutting measure.
Meanwhile up front we have no such beefs – the entire family (Logan and Sandero) now has a corporate brand identity via the new grille design, which is actually in line with the Duster. This is great for building up confidence in terms of branding, because people can easily spot the Dacias due to the interesting grille pattern. And yes, Dacia has LEDs – it was only a matter of time, considering that over the years the brand has come to include things like cruise control, leather upholstery and even automatic air conditioning. We’re certain the brand identity will continue to be enhanced, and there’s no turning back to the days when the Romanian marque was using old Renault models as the baseplate. It still uses Renault elements – fret not – but these are thoroughly modern. This is how we’re arriving at the interior – where the Stepway is by far more conspicuous than on the outside. The Sandero and Stepway share most of the interior – save for the Stepway lettering on the steering wheel and the upholstery choice. This is again in the spirit of economy, but fortunately the brand has evolved a lot since its modern inception. The facelift for example brought things such as the new steering wheel with controls on its arms, the choice to finally position the front electric window controls on the door card (though for the driver’s access to the ones in the back you still have the old, unnatural position on the central stack). The Prestige version also comes with trim changes – a carbon-like pattern for some of the plastic bits as well as rectangular central vents. Remember we told you there are obvious Renault connections – the automatic air conditioning controls are taken directly from the Clio, which is not a bad thing, considering they actually integrate quite well into the general styling. The Media Nav infotainment system unfortunately is a custom solution developed by LG (if we’re not mistaken), which is great for its very low price but far from the power of the Renault system – mainly because it doesn’t feature any applications and is a bit slower in terms of responsiveness.
It’s only a minor nuisance though – it has an updated graphics interface and everything you need on the connectivity plain – USB, Bluetooth, navigation system, reversing camera. A bigger beef is an ongoing issue – Dacia still hasn’t decided to implement dual-axis steering wheel adjustment, so finding the right place for the driver is a matter of compromise sometimes – depending on your stature. As usual, the Sandero Stepway features truly crossover-like elevated driving position, which is courtesy of the seat placement and of the jacked-up suspension. The front seats offer little to no lateral support but they’re comfortable on long drives and large enough to accommodate persons of all sizes – a feat to appreciate in this segment, where sometimes automakers opt for shorter front seats to save space at the expense of user’s comfort. The rear is equally enticing – thanks to the generous exterior dimensions there’s enough room for three adults on very short trips, or two adults on longer trips with space to spare – especially in terms of width and head space, because the knee space is as you would expect in this segment. Time for the competition to present itself: we’ve selected close rivals in terms of general dimensions and powertrain – Citroen C3 (the regular one is about as capable as a Stepway now), the Fiat 500L Trekking and the Hyundai i20 Active. The Dacia is 4089 / 1733 / 1615 mm (length, width, height), with a 2589 mm wheelbase – the C3 is 3996 / 1749 / 1474 with 2540, the i20 Active is 4065 / 1760 / 1529 with 2570 and the 500L Trekking is 4270 / 1800 / 1679 with 2612 mm. The trunk can encompass 320 to 1200 liters of luggage, compared to the C3 with 300/922, the i20 with 326/1042 and the biggest of the bunch, the 500L’s 412/1480 liters. The Stepway doesn’t win the argument with the 500L Trekking, which is actually trespassing on compact car territory, but has the upper hand in its own class.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
The Sandero Stepway is not only the rugged offering in the Sandero line, but it’s also the flagship version. As such, all the very best powertrains have been selected and offered – meaning the gasoline 0.9 TCe turbo or the diesel 1.5 dCi, both with 90 hp and a choice of a manual five-speed gearbox or the new automated manual Easy-R (five gears for the gasoline and six for the diesel). We had the top specification – 90 hp diesel with the Easy-R automated manual transmission. Since the Sandero has always been a metropolitan car, perfect for the crammed spaces of today’s cities, we think the Easy R is the perfect choice for those using the Stepway mostly in urban scenarios. But the model also has an added perk for those looking to go for longer trips – unlike the manual version or the Easy-R on the gasoline engine it comes with six speeds, which is of use when travelling on the high-speed highways. As far as the engine goes, the 1.5 dCi feels as old as the Renault brand – though that’s not the case, of course. It’s a reliable small engine, which has proven its worth time and time again on various models within the group – and the best thing is it’s constantly being refined. Even on the Dacia models, which lack the same level of acoustic deadening of Renault models, it’s quiet and vibration-free up until you ask it to show its full power – it does display a typical diesel engine noise at higher rpm levels. With the Easy R though you won’t hit them unless you’re out for a pass, because the six-speed gearbox will keep it quiet (and low on the rpm scale) even when travelling at speed. The one thing to account for is the sizeable aerodynamic impact highway driving has on the Stepway – the Sandero was already boxy and the Stepway version is even less efficient due to its heightened suspension. So, wind noise is going to be way more intrusive than engine noise at around 130-140 km/h, thanks to the Easy-R’s real sixth gear (unlike other, modern gearboxes which have it just for show).
The dCi on the Sandero Stepway (total weight 1165 kg) comes with 90 hp and 220 Nm for a 11,7 seconds’ sprint to 100 km/h, a maximum speed of 167 km/h and an average fuel economy of 3.8 liters per 100 km. That compares to the C3 (1165 kg) with 99 hp and 254 Nm for 10.6 / 185 / 3.7 figures; the i20 Active (1250 kg) with 90 hp and 240 Nm for 12.3 / 170 / 4.3 figures or the 500L Trekking (1390 kg) with 95 hp and 200 Nm for 14.3 / 166 / 4.2 figures. As we can clearly see, the weight has a sizeable impact on performance and fuel economy – with the Sandero also paying tribute in terms of performance to the poor aerodynamics. In addition, the Sandero – or any other Dacia for that part – has never been renowned for stellar driving performance. Things are being done in that area – slowly but constantly – such as the suspension featuring way lower NVH (noise, vibration harshness) levels after the facelift, with no squeaks or creaks on either large or small bumps. The Stepway is a comfortable ride thus – including in terms of handling – we have a relaxed setup for the steering wheel, and an even more relaxed setup for the gear change process and damping setup. You won’t feel or hear the bumps too much but if you’re in a hurry better prepare for some boat-like action, with lots of reeling. It’s safe though – the Dacias now have standard electronic stability control, as well as things like Hill Assist to make sure you never lose your footing. The Stepway is enjoyable both in the city and on long, open roads – less so on winding mountain roads, where the chassis – still a derivative of the first generation one – truly shows its age. But the brand is enhancing its rides with each passing iteration – so we’re actually pretty sure the next generation will become even better.
Pro: The Sandero Stepway is the most adventurous and distinctive version, with lots of interior space and most of today’s modern tech amenities. Ride has been enhanced and the Easy-R automated manual is a must on this flagship trim.
Against: Quality of materials hasn’t improved much after the facelift, and it was in general at the bottom of the segment. Handling needs improvements, as does the chassis.
Starting Price – Dacia Sandero Acces 1.0 75 hp – 7,150 EUR
Starting Price tested version – Dacia Sandero Stepway 0.9 TCe 90 hp – 11,200 EUR
Tested Version – Dacia Sandero Stepway Prestige 1.5 dCi 90 hp Easy-R – 13,600 EUR
Engine: 1.5L four cylinder, diesel, turbo, direct injection commonrail, intercooler, S/S (1461 cc)
Power: 90 HP (66 kW) / 4000 rpm
Torque: 220 Nm / 1750 rpm
Transmission: 6 speed manual automated, FWD
Dimensions: length – 4,089 mm, width – 1,733 mm, height – 1,615 mm, wheelbase – 2,589 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 50L
Weight: 1165 kg
Trunk Capacity: 320/ 1200 liters
0 – 100 km/h: 11.7 s
Top Speed: 167 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 3,8L/100 km, highway – 3,8L/100 km, average – 3,8L/100 km
Rating: 3.4 / 5