There’s a trick in car sales that’s as old as the concept of commercial transactions itself.
Tempt a punter in with a ludicrously cheap deal then gently guide them from that initial offering into something a little more attractive and, of course, a little more expensive.
It’s the way everyone works, including Dacia which, despite making a big deal about selling the UK’s cheapest new car, manages to shift far more of its more expensive stablemates.
In fact, while the base Sandero dangles the prospect of a family hatchback for just £10,000, it is the pricier Sandero Stepway -starting from around £12k - which is consistently the brand’s best-selling model.
That may be because the Stepway offers a few more creature comforts than the very basic Sandero, or it might be that buyers are willing to pay a bit extra for the slightly more interesting SUV-inspired styling of the Stepway.
Whatever it is, over recent years it’s been enough to make the Sandero Stepway a fairly common sight on our roads, and now there’s a brand new version here to tempt buyers looking for a new car on a budget.
Built on the Renault Alliance’s CMF platform that also underpins the Clio and Captur, the new Sandero and Sandero Stepway are the same length as the previous model but wider and lower with sharper, more modern styling.
The Stepway sits higher than the standard Sandero, with black body cladding and metal skid plates to give it a crossover appearance, although it’s resolutely a two-wheel-drive model. New modular roof bars add to the effect and can be quickly converted from roof rails to a roof rack to carry loads of up to 80kg.
All models come with LED lights and higher-spec cars get actual alloy wheels rather than steels, and the option of metallic paint.
The previous generation Stepway’s interior was a clear indicator of the car’s budget nature, with a basic layout, equipment and materials. The new one is a significant step forward. Some savings have still been made in materials and design terms but it is neat, simple and modern, with a marked improvement in quality. There are even a couple of touches - such as the ventilation controls - borrowed for sister brand Renault. All models get a stylish fabric finish to the dashboard and the Stepway adds an orange highlight to the fabric on the seats, doors and to the air vents.
Our Prestige-spec car also boasted an eight-inch touchscreen dominating the dash. As with many budget cars, the system itself is pretty basic but features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
Against competition such as the Ford Fiesta Active, the Citroen C3 Aircross and the Fiat Panda Cross, the Sandero Stepway more than holds its own in terms of passenger space and comfort, with what Dacia says is class-leading rear legroom and a decent 328-litre boot.
Where it’s not quite so hot is beneath the bonnet. Although the Sandero’s new platform allows for new engines, they come from the bottom end of the Renault group’s collection. The Stepway gets the better deal, with a turbocharged three-cylinder offering 89bhp but it is still a fairly coarse and noisy setup, not helped by our test car’s optional CVT automatic gearbox.
Acceleration is a glacial 14 seconds to 62mph, with economy pegged at 45.6mpg. It’s not a match for the more refined and powerful units offered by Ford, Citroen and others, but they are several thousand pounds more expensive.
The Stepway claws back some credibility thanks to a comfortable ride. Soft suspension and its raised ride height make for well-composed handling of rough surfaces, although they also mean a fair bit of lean in corners.
The Sandero Stepway starts at £12,245 and even our top-spec Prestige trim comes in at just over £16,000. For comparison’s sake, a C3 Aircross starts at more than £18,000 and a Fiesta Active is £20,000+. They bring with them the option of some more high-end equipment but the Sandero Stepway has most of the toys you’d want day-to-day, including that nav-equipped touchscreen, reversing camera, automatic air conditioning, and keyless entry.
That makes it a pretty compelling option for buyers looking for a straightforward high-value car who can forgive it some of its rougher edges.
Dacia Sandero Stepway Prestige
Price: £15,495 (£16,340 as tested); Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 89bhp; Torque: 105lb ft; Transmission: CVT automatic; Top speed: 101mph; 0-62mph: 14.2 seconds; Economy: 45.6mpg; CO2 emissions: 139-140g/km