Review: 2014 Dacia Sandero Access 1.2 75

20140522_130749 Last year I was overcome by waves of delirious excitement when the opportunity arose to test the entry level Dacia Duster, the cheapest quasi-SUV available on the UK market. It lived up to every one of my expectations and my verdict fizzed with superlatives. And you know what, this time I’m even more excited. I’ve just driven the Dacia Sandero. Good news! And even better; the one I spent time in was the 1.2 litre “Access” model. In other words, the cheapest new car British money can buy. Take the jump to ascertain the ratio of cheap and / or cheerful. 20140522_130715 The headline figure for the Sandero Access is £5995. That kind of price tag is pretty rare when you’re car shopping; there’s usually a 1 or a 2 printed before that 5. But not here. Although that sum of money is usually what you find on your receipt after having your Burger King made large, or perhaps after a late-night cab ride, in this case that six grand is the quantity of cash Dacia are asking for this entire car. That’s no money at all. That’s the kind of figure that gets rounded down to nothing. If you were buying a £200,000 house and the final bill of sale was £205,995, in your mind it would still be two hundred grand. Ironically for somebody who’s just denied that six thousand quid is even a valid numerical value, I haven’t actually got any money at all. The idea of dropping 6K on a car exists only in my wildest fantasies. But I have to put my own bizarre circumstances aside and align my mindset with somebody who’s cross-shopping the Dacia with, er, well, whatever else you can get for this much cash. 20140522_130736 As far as I can see, there are no direct rivals for the Sandero Access- there are cars which are within a spit of it price-wise, but they’re all much smaller and so aren’t really in contention. Used cars, too, can be had (I’ve heard) for around six thousand quid, but let’s rule them out because they’re not new. As far as I can see, the biggest competition against the Sandero Access is the Sandero Laureate from further up the ladder, which in turn has loads more rivals to pit itself against. But we’re now looking at £8000. The question now is whether the £2000 saving (that’s a quarter!1!!11) comes at a the cost of making your life completely miserable. When I assess this car I’m going to do so from the perspective of somebody who was just about to buy a Sandero Laureate but has realised that they could save £2k by choosing the Access model. What compromises have to be made to achieve this level of frugality? 20140522_130650 Well, the first bit of good news is that the safety of your family is in no greater peril than in any other Dacia. Metal spikes and rabies would have been cheaper to install than airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners, but Dacia have still opted for the latter. Further surprise comes from stability control being a standard-fit item; you’d have assumed that people spending this little money were obliged to expect their car to topple over and fly off the road without a moment’s notice. But nope. It seems that your survival is as important to Dacia when you spend six grand as if you paid a more generous amount. Very benevolent. Of course, there’s no other standard-fit equipment in here at all. You name it, it ain’t here. Lovers of fresh air will find the need to use those shoulder and elbow muscles that have been wasting away for years to crank the glass up and down. You can stare in wonderment at the four blanking plugs in the centre console, reminding you of the features that you haven’t got. Those buttons might as well for forcefield, anti-gravity, missile lock and turbo boost because their absence makes the very thought of them a ludicrous flight of fantasy. Anyhow, life without them really isn’t so bad. 20140522_130151 Presenting some people with a car that doesn’t have air conditioning would be like giving them a sandwich with no bread; they’d probably send it back to the kitchen and ask them to try again. I too have become accustomed to its infallible coolness-on-demand (life with a ’97 Rover 800 does this to you) but, in the interests of science I tried driving home recently with the aircon switched off. You know what? It was OK. I lived to tell the tale. At one point when I was in slow traffic it started to look a bit dicey and I came close to aborting the whole undertaking, but instead I wound the windows down (electrically, because I’m nouveau riche) and cool air from outside blew in naturally. This was quite nice; I could hear the birds singing. For a few seconds I felt like I was part of the world rather than just looking at it through glass. I might try it again soon. So, in England, you don’t need air conditioning. It’s a damn good idea, but life without it is bearable. What you DO need, on a journey of any real length, is a source of entertainment, and that’s something that the Dacia, in £6k Access flavour doesn’t bring you. You get some speakers and some lengths of wire, along with a gap in the dashboard to accommodate some stereo of your own choice after you’ve had a chance to save up for it, and in some ways that’s a good idea. In my test car that gap had been filled with a disgusting looking Kenwood system from the depths of hell which had Bluetooth and WMA/MP3 written all over it; and it probably sounded wonderful too but was so hideous I refused to even try it. Instead I decided to hum to myself, and it was Papua New Guinea by The Future Sound Of London, which is a killer tune and one I’ve not heard for ages. Sometimes humming is just better than the radio. Just don’t hum absolute rubbish like you hear on Heart FM and you’ll be all right. 20140522_130137 To qualify for the low, low asking price you have to sign up for the 1.2 litre petrol engine, which is absolutely not a technically advanced power plant. What it is, though, is absolutely adequate to get the job done. It has sixteen valves, which was quite futuristic in 1986, and is Euro 5 compliant, so the air it breathes out shouldn’t be all black and horrible. 75 horsepower are yours, all yours. You can be doing 62 mph in less than 15 seconds and it’ll keep on going until just shy of a hundred miles per hour. Given time and depending on your patience it’s possible to be just as illegal in the Sandero Access as with many pricier cars. If they had thought about it, they could have called this the Sandero Club Sport or Superleggera, or Rallye, or some other name denoting a car which has been been stripped to the bone; the kerbweight here is just 941kg so the car never feels desperately low on power. Spend all your time doing workaday, A-to-B activities and you need never be pained by any lack of grunt. It’s set up in such a way as you’re not likely to be tempted to try anything unseemly anyway, and if you do buy one of these with a view towards frequent standing-start drag launches then you’re plainly an idiot and deserve everything you get. 20140522_130807 I quite enjoyed it, actually. It seemed an honest engine; not providing breathtaking dynamics and responses, but being willing enough and making a wholesome, mechanical noise while doing so. It basically felt like there was an engine doing stuff at the front of the car, which was reassuring. It was also very much in keeping with the way the rest of the car behaves when driven. I’m not being deliberately obtuse here, but you turn the wheel left to go that way, to the right to go the other. The £6k Sandero Access doesn’t behave in a radically different way to any other car of any price. OK, absolute precision is notably absence and initial turn-in is hinted at rather than documented, but there’s nothing weird, funky or dangerous about the way the steering works. Nor the way the car stops or holds the road, which all feel notably removed from the state-of-the-art, but are perfectly acceptable. In fact, knowing that the outright limits of grip and response have their limitations, working with the Sandero to make swift cross-country progress is quite a rewarding experience, like the long, drawn out process of teaching your gran’s cockatiel its first swear word. 20140522_130729 But the defining characteristic of the Sandero Access is the way it looks. The Sandero is, in essence a perfectly acceptable looking small car. There’s nothing bizarre about its proportions; the styling doesn’t live in any kind of time warp and some of the detailing is actually quite nice; there’s nothing gawky or offensive about it. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Sandero Access is a more appealing looking machine than any of the other Sanderos. From head on the black grille and front bumper looks a bit like a moustache and beard combination, which adds a certain distinction. The “Gobbi” wheels, too, are the best looking in the entire range; they’re just simple, unadulterated wheelness, wrapped with businesslike Continental tyres, with no pretentious plastic wheel cover, just a good old fashioned hubcap. Depending on your point of view, or possibly your insecurities, the Access either singles you out as a cheapskate gutter-dwelling skinflint, or celebrates the fact that you’ve got your priorities exactly right. You want a cheap, simple, new small car which has absolutely nothing to apologise for? Get one of these. And start humming. (Disclosure: Dacia UK gave me the keys and let me get on with it. They didn’t enforce any dress code:- I was smart casual. Nice to make an effort, though I felt a little overdressed for the car) (Images copyright 2014 Chris Haining and Hooniverse)

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

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