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Dacia might not be a big player in the fleet market, but the brand's pragmatism makes for a compelling choice for those watching. The supermini Sandero and its Sandero Stepway crossover spin-off are completely new, built on the same Common Modular Family platform that also sees use under the Renault Clio and Nissan Juke. A choice of three engines and four trim levels across the two model lines covers the basics, with options limited to metallic paint and a full-sized spare wheel.
Now in its third incarnation, the Dacia Sandero has, until now, been quietly selling to retail customers drawn by its headline-grabbing low pricing. With the previous Sandero that did mean some compromises, chiefly around the fit and finish, which, along with Dacia's firm no discounts policy, were enough to put off the majority of fleet buyers.
With this all-new Sandero, Dacia has been busy upping the quality and adding equipment, all without bumping up the prices. There's talk of shutline tolerances, better quality interior materials and targeted use of soft-touch trim, and it's difficult not to be impressed by these when first getting in the Sandero, at least in the Comfort form tested here.
Dacia has a long-held position of being among the very cheapest cars to buy in the UK, and that remains the case today. A Sandero in its most basic, Access, trim will costs just £7,995, which is sub-city car pricing for a supermini-sized package. That Access is powered by a 65hp three-cylinder and does without painted bumpers, or things like a soft-touch steering wheel, and if you want air conditioning and paint on your bumpers, you'll need the Essential model for £1,000 more.
The reality is that the majority of buyers will go for Comfort trim, which comes with a level of specification that covers more than just the basic necessities, by adding niceties and conveniences too, including a soft-touch fabric dashboard, which lifts the interior ambience considerable. It also gains things like a rear-view parking camera, keyless entry, DAB, satnav and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while that three-cylinder engine gains a turbo for a 90hp output and a ratio in the standard manual transmission - it now having six-speeds. The bump in pricing isn't significant, either, with the Comfort costing £11,595, which is comfortably under all its supermini rivals.
Sating the demand for crossovers and SUVs, the Stepway ups the ride height of the Sandero by 39mm, adds some black plastic wheel arch cladding, chunkier bumpers with skid plate-aping sections and roof bars for the automotive equivalent of putting on your hiking boots and Gore-Tex jacket. Outdoorsy, then, and accounting for 60% of all Sandero sales. It starts with Essential trim, no Access here, followed by Comfort and topped by Prestige, which gets everything you could possibly need, and still for a not unreasonable £13,895 with a manual transmission, or £15,095 if you want the automatic.
Neither are going to set your pulses racing, but the fundamentals are right, which is all that really matters. The engines are smooth and refined, while the ride juggles comfort and control decently enough. The steering is light and lacking any real feel, but the new wider track does make both feel more stable in the corners, even in that slightly taller Stepway.
What's noteworthy is the lack of anything noteworthy, with the possible exception of a bit of wind noise around the mirrors at higher speeds. That's it, Dacia's new Sandero is commendably good everywhere, and excellent in relation to its pricing and residuals, too. CAP anticipates the new Sandero and Sandero Stepway will retain, on average, 53% over three years and 30,000 miles.
Retail remains its focus, but Dacia's head, Luke Broad, says it's growing in 'Fleetail' sales, with individuals buying using company money, attracted by the value package allied to the low P11D pricing and associated BIK advantages. With rivals costing much more and coming with less, the Sandero and Stepway have never looked better, and now, commendably, that's not just something based on pricing alone.