The “smart buy” brand segment has known a tremendous development lately in Europe, mostly thanks to the success story of the Romanian brand Dacia and its initially very affordable and no-frills models – which are now classier than ever.
Getting perks such as a seven-inch display for the infotainment system, cruise control system with speed limiter or leather on the steering wheel, gearbox lever and the upholstery was something unimaginable years ago when the Renault group promised the 5,000 euro Dacia model. That promise was indeed never fulfilled – but the Romanian brand was nevertheless very close and showed the world that having a car that moves you from point A to point B in safety and comfort is still possible. In earnest, the Dacia Logan and Sandero in their first generation were nothing more than low cost vehicles that would be a viable solution for people not wanting or not able to spend much on a vehicle but still wanted all the perks of a brand new car. The second generation series Logan and Sandero, as well as the Duster SUV not only brought a huge advancement but also a believable transformation of the entire brand – from no-frills low cost option into what today we call “smart buy”. This is the same transformation that was so successful for VW’s Czech brand Skoda – and another win for the French Group.
Today, the Logan and Sandero series, as well as the Duster SUV have perks that are actually beyond imagination – we’re talking about automatic climate controls and automatic gearboxes. While today in its home country and other European markets Dacia has already launched the facelifted Logan and Sandero, we were unable to wait for a test drive model and jumped in to trial the pre-facelift Logan MCV fitted with the Easy-R, which is just another absolute first for the Mioveni brand that was established back in 1966 – some five decades, but never actually left local anonymity until 1999 when it was acquired by the Renault Group. Today, thanks to being part of a large automotive group, a no frills Logan MCV practical station wagon can have things like an automated gearbox or automatic climate controls. The Logan MCV we took out for a spin was actually in the flagship Prestige version, which is a build on something the French call “phases.” The Renault Group will eschew in its internal chatter things like model years or the facelift notion for phases – a generation change commences with Phase 1 and the refresh would be a Phase 2. But there are also intermediate steps – the Prestige for the Logan series was such a case, often called a Phase 1.5. It happened with the first generation Logan and it also happened here, though this time around changes were more noticeable – as the brand matured.
We’re not going to discuss the design in detail because it’s already old news with the arrival of the facelift – which again brought such firsts as LED daylight running lights. Anyways, spotting a Prestige among pre-facelift Logans is not something very hard to do – the headlights have a slightly altered design and the exterior mirror caps come with a satin grey finish. The alloy wheels also have their own design – the rest of the exterior does stay true to the practical form of the MCV. The Logan MCV is certainly not your best-looking subcompact station wagon but you’re not going to be embarrassed with it either – as it may have been the case with the hugely successful yet trifled first generation MCV. While the second generation MCV is certainly not the true heir to its predecessor (that’s the Lodgy MPV), the Logan wagon remains true to its main asset – practicality. Inside, the satin grey finish is mirrored by the door and dashboard trimming and compared to a regular Logan the Prestige brings a range of enhancements – some for the better, some for the inner question of anyone. For example, among the positive aspects we noticed the different design for the central air vents – or the use of an updated infotainment system layout (more on that in a bit). Also positive is at long last the relocation of the control buttons for the electric windows from the central stack to the door panels. The question-prone move is the fact that control buttons for the back windows remain in the old position – so you have to get used to operating the two sets of windows from two different locations. As we said, the Prestige (alongside other models in the Phase 1.5) gets a slightly updated infotainment system – still using the same 7 inch color touchscreen – but with updated colors and fonts, as well as certain system enhancements such as new shortcuts to facilitate operation. Because it’s designed to be inexpensive from the get go, the infotainment system is also among the simpler ones – so you can get used to it very fast. It does pack all the convenience features – satellite navigation, media playback from Bluetooth and USB, as well as telephone connection. Another important, dead giveaway that you’re in the flagship version of the Logan series is the presence of automatic climate controls. These have a very familiar layout – if you ever trialed the Clio or Captur models from Renault. I told you, being in a big group has its perks – including taking whole components and fitting them into your cars a lot cheaper. The Logan series is still a no frills option – the facelifted 2017 Logan MCV with the Easy-R auto and the same engine in the Prestige trim will set you back just 13,650 euros at home in Romania. And this grants access to a car that has all the perks of a modern vehicle – save for extravaganzas such as leather upholstery, for example.
The Logan MCV is part of the subcompact class but at times it will feel it’s ready to compete with models from the compact roster – the space up front is not unlike other direct competitors but at the back the perception is you’re travelling in a much larger vehicle. Let’s discuss the front seats first, because it’s here there are actual problems – the driver’s position is easy to find with one exception – the steering wheel is still one-way adjustable. To make matters worse, the central tunnel is very low positioned and thus the gearshift lever will be harder to find without looking for it – we’re used in our modern car to have the lever a bit higher even when there’s no elbow pad. That being said, the Easy-R manual automatic (as Dacia calls it) is another easy thing to get accustomed to – it has the classic drive and reverse positions and even a manual gate. The only thing is the park position is absent here so you need to always remember to use the park brake or risk have the car slip away if sitting in a banked position. These are of course compromises triggered by the low cost entry point – the Easy-R can also be fitted to lesser trim versions, which are even cheaper than the Prestige. Moving to the back, three adults will have enough room – or you can fit one child restraint seat and still have room for two accompanying adults. The knee space is the only one denoting the subcompact dimensions – and this is because the Logan MCV is sitting at the top of its class in terms of length and wheelbase (4,5 meters and 2,63 meters, respectively). It will reward you with ample lateral and head space and an even ampler boot for all of your belongings. The Logan MCV trumps its most direct competitor – the Skoda Fabia Combi (4,25 meters and 2,47 meters) and actually trespass on Fiat Tipo territory, just to stay in the smart buy class, with the Italian compact coming in at 4,57 meters in length and having a 2,63 meters wheelbase. It even bests the Tipo in terms of boot space – 573 / 1680 liters compared to 550 liters for the compact and 530 / 1395 liters for its Czech rival. The Dacia Logan MCV Easy-R is also in a league of its own in terms of pricing – because a comparable Fabia with a 90 hp diesel and auto gearbox will use the seven-speed dual clutch from VAG.
Talking about the technical credentials, the best you can have for the Logan MCV is exactly this flagship configuration – 1.5 dCi with 90 horsepower in Prestige trim and with the Easy-R manual automated. Let’s explain – the Dacia brand has gained the auto option through another compromise as it uses electromechanical instead of hydraulic technology. This lowers the costs for both the company and end user, through reduced number of components and simpler servicing, as well as enhanced reliability. We’re not actually going to treat this decision as a negative here – since more upscale brands (let’s talk about Smart) have been using the solution and charge almost premium prices. Of note – though due to the low positioning of the lever is almost unusable – is the M (manual) gate which allows for motorsport changes with the “-” in front and the “+” towards the driver. One important novelty for the Dacia brand on a technical level is also the bundle of Stop&Start technology with the engine/transmission combo, which is going to further enhance the already remarkable fuel economy of the Renault dCi engine.
Given the nature of the automated gearbox, a reasonable amount of time is needed to get used to the way it changes gears – it’s certainly not as comfortable as having an automatic or even a dual-clutch. But if you time them correctly you can eschew the uneven feeling of gear changes with a slight pedal lift – but be warned that reaching a lower gear for kick-down will take an appreciable amount of time. In real world driving this means that a urban scenario is easily covered – stop and go traffic will be a breeze and you’ll probably never go back to a classic manual if you mostly use the car in the city. Out on the open road the gear changes are rather slow and the gearbox has an impact on the fuel economy meter, no matter what the automaker tells us. Fortunately, the start/stop feature saves the day again and having the car for mostly urban driving and occasional family field trips will certainly warrant the slightly higher consumption. Because of the lag between gear changes, passes on the motorway need to be planned and executed with care, but once you get used to the way it changes gears there won’t be a problem thanks to the 1.5 dCi engine. Speaking of which, the motor is a well-versed member of the Renault Group, thoroughly enhanced to meet the latest emissions levels and refined over the years of development. It will move the 1165 kg Logan MCV to 100 km/h in 12 seconds and on to a top speed of 172 km/h – which is a bit less than what the Fabia can: at 1210 kg it will sprint to 100 km/h in 11,3 seconds and max out at 184 km/h. I honestly think this has to do with the aerodynamics as well – aside from the fact that VW’s DSG of course changes gears faster. Theoretically, the Logan MCV bests the Fabia in terms of fuel consumption – with an average of 3,6 liters per 100 km instead of 3,8 liters – but in practice this will depend on the usage mix. In the city the difference might favor the Dacia but at highway speeds Fabia’s sleeker design will surely have the upper hand. In addition, the Logan MCV shows its utilitarian second nature in terms of driving dynamics – the model can easily be used as a hauling vehicle for a small enterprise or a family do it all. This means comfort is favored against sporty driving – which is obvious from the get go as any driver can’t miss the high center of gravity brought by the 1552 mm of height. In addition, the steering system is also geared for easy operation – under any condition – as engineers don’t envision a model that will be primarily used for goods or family transportation as having any sporty ideas.