Two box-fresh Dacias are in the bargain basement. We’ve bid farewell the Sandero Stepway. Will the Duster deliver?
Why are we running it:To find out if the best-value SUV on the market, now refreshed, still embodies Dacia’s ethos of affordability and functionality
Dacia Duster: A Dacia Duster is a Dacia Duster
It is diesel and costs around PS20,000. This might be the only car you’ll ever need
The Duster already does the familiar Dac Ia thing, which is to gobble up miles because it’s so convenient and economically efficient. The car has been in my possession for just two months, and the mileage has increased from 385 miles to just over 5000. Although I have one of those lives where you accumulate miles, I usually spread them out more over other cars.
Like its brothers, the Duster is easy to get into. It’s small, compact, fast, quiet, comfortable, and frugal. Add to that the Duster doesn’t make any statements about you when it takes you places (a bonus in our trade), and even rival designers can praise its chunky styling, and you have a very complete car. All this for just PS20,000
An early electronic glitch caused the power steering to stop working. A series of warnings flashed on the instrument display. The problem was temporary and most likely caused by operator error. After Dacia’s personnel had removed the car and checked it out, the car had re-set itself and was acting perfectly.
It happened again a few weeks later. I noticed that it had occurred after an extended bout traffic crawling. During which time I had developed the very undesirable habit of resting on my clutch while stationary. This prevented the stop-start system from working properly. My bad habit of resting my clog on the clutch while stationary was causing the electronics to go into failure mode. The car has been flawless for over 3500 miles.
The spec that we selected is still being negotiated. Our Comfort 4×4 is a step above the rest. There are two additional options, which could add up to PS1800 to our fully-built price (less towbar), of PS21.040. Comfort comes with a lot of equipment, including an Apple CarPlay reversing camera and a driver’s height adjuster. It also has 16in alloy wheels, which allow the car to ride quieter and better than 17-inch models.
I don’t feel guilty about using diesel because my trip computer average for 4600 miles sofar – 57.3mpg. This promises a 600- to 620-mile range. These are two very clear signs of efficiency, especially for a car equipped with standard 4×4 facilities. I consider the Duster’s 1.5-litre diesel engine to be an excellent choice. In any event, four-wheel drive is impossible without diesel in the Duster. I still pray for snow to test the 4WD traction. It looks like I will be disappointed living where I am.
I find the Duster gives a good account of itself as a motorway vehicle. The Duster can cruise in business-driver traffic with minimal din. Even on rough bitumen roads, there is less road noise than other roads. You still get at least 50mpg even if you cruise as fast and comfortably as possible.
Comfort is good for me. However, the Steering Committee does not like long trips without lumbar support. Rear room is good for children, but not so much for adults. Keep in mind that there is plenty of space for your boot.
I am looking forward to more smooth miles with this prince of all-rounders. Its greatest claim to fame is its ability to make motoring easy.
All-round capability This car shows a rare willingness and ability to do just about anything, even if it is not on track.
Back seat room Don’t expect large people to feel comfortable in their backs for too long. There is limited knee room.
Time to make a change
It was one those car-swap moments where you are unable to decide if you should be disappointed or excited.
Positively, the sun shone, and a new PS21,000 Dacia Duster DCi115 4×4 Comfort arrived in our driveway. It would be staying for the next few weeks.
It was a big downside that I was about to lose the Dacia Sandero Stepway 90 Prestige I had been running for seven months (during the course of which I’d run a practical, economical and always-busy 16,000 mile) We were close friends, and it was going to be hard to part.
The best part was that I would still be plugged into Dacia’s unique ethos, which I have come to appreciate greatly. While there are many brands that claim the same “everything you want and nothing you don’t” promise as Renault’s budget-oriented brand, Dacia is unique in this regard. It delivers at prices that no other company can match.
Do you want a good paint job and a perfect fit for your panels? The Dacia of today is as good or better than any Ford, Volkswagen, or Renault. My Stepway’s Sunset Orange metallic finish, an optional option for PS560 (now PS595) was a constant highlight. It was one of two factory options that could be added to my car. Another option was a full-size PS150 (now PS300), spare wheel. My only accessory was a towbar that had a removable goose neck (PS788 as it came), which I used occasionally to tow my motorbike trailer.
Do you want climate control, LED headlights, or Apple CarPlay? No problem at all. When it comes to interior seat colour or trim material, there is only one option: a durable black fabric with light-coloured stitching. It is stylish and modern, and we were able to keep it unmarked for 16,000 miles. You only get one choice of wheel/tyre for most models – the one Dacia knows best. You can configure your Duster online in just one minute. Who would have thought that having your mind set for you could be so liberating? Article continues below advertisement.
One regret about Stepway’s departure is that I bragged in my early reports about a kink to the torque curve which caused an unsatisfying non-linear throttle response. This was due to my excessive use of the Eco setting button on the dash, which dullens throttle response. It disappears when you ignore that button (which I quickly learned to do). My total fuel mileage was 48.9mpg. This figure is actually lower than the on-board trip computer’s by only 0.6mpg. I have never used the Eco button ever again.
The new Duster is bigger than the Sandero at 4.3 meters instead of 4.1 metres. And the Comfort model that we chose is mid-spec Comfort. This Comfort is different from the Prestige in that it has no climate control and uses manual air-conditioning. This means that instead of the Prestige’s elegant 17in alloys with diamond cuts, 16s are made from all-silver and have taller tyres. As we’ll see, this is a good thing.
The Blue DCi 115 diesel engine was my choice. It produces a paltry 114 bhp, but it delivers a solid 192 lb ft of torque, more than any other Dacia engine. It was easy to make the diesel choice. For one, it is the only engine that has Dacia’s very convenient 4×4 system. This can be electrically configured with just one twist-knob and allows for three different driving modes: 2WD, on demand 4WD, and locked-in 4WD. Another reason was that the 1.5-litre diesel engine, which averages 55 mpg and has settled in rural life, would likely cause far less environmental damage than other cars on the road, diesel or petrol. It turned out to be a wise decision. Article continues below advertisementBack at the top
The Duster’s unique feature is that instead of having six ratios manually chosen so you can take off at stop lights first and cruise along the motorway in a long’ sixth, this 4×4 has a crawler first gear, which is intended for off-road use, possibly with permanent 4×4 and standard hill descent control. It will be so short that it will almost trip over itself in town. You’ll also find it very slow to get away from traffic lights, as the engine is revving at 20mph.
Normality is achieved by getting used to starting in second. (It takes some of us back to the legendary supercars with dogleg first-tosecond shifts). This is not a problem, as long as we remember. You won’t be disappointed by the engine’s smoothness and quietness. However, it has lots of low-end torque and fifth gearing is very relaxed.
Although the Duster looks great and has plenty of boot space and frontal space, its rear passengers have less legroom than the Sandero Stepway. This makes the Duster a good choice until your children reach their teens, but it will eventually feel cramped.
The 4×4’s incredible ride quality and light, but precise steering are my best discoveries. All Dusters are comfortable and have a sophisticated level of damping. Add to this the fact that the Diesel off-roader is about 30cm higher in ride height (therefore suspension travel), and the Comfort’s 16in wheels, which are relatively tall 215/65 Goodyear Vector S&S tyres with a handsome cross-cut tread pattern, and you get a machine that is quieter and more comfortable on hard surfaces than it should be.
So far, one strange glitch. One morning, the electric power steering quit working and dashboard warnings started to appear. The importers recovered the car, but it was back to normal by the time it got to their base. To the utter embarrassment and dismay of your servant, the Duster passed all inspections. As with the previous model’s, the mileage is increasing quickly and I am enjoying each one.
It was hard for me to ignore the rudiments of the Mk2 Duster I ran back in 2019. However, I find its appeal increases with every news story about an EV that thinks it is a smartphone. Steve’s Duster has an extra driven axle. I was impressed by the 4×2 (petrol and also manual) I tested recently.
Dacia Duster Blue DCi 115 4×4 Comfort specification
Specifics: Price New P20,145 Prices as tested P21,040 Options Metal paint PS595, spare tire PS300
Test Data: Engine 4 Cyls, Turbocharged, Diesel Power 113bhp @ 3750rpm Torque 191lb/ft at 1750-2750rpm Kerb Weight 1263kg Top speed of 108mph 0-62mph 10.2sec Fuel economy 53.3mpg CO2 135g/km Faults No Expenses None
A Sandero Stepway
The only option
Dacia’s “all you need and no thing you don’t” philosophy is so important to me that I tell my friends, even those who aren’t car-lovers, about it quite often. Do you know what works best with them? You will only be able to specify one option when you purchase a Sandero Stepway 90 Prestige. It is a full-size spare tire (replacing an tyre repair tool) for PS250. They love it.
Concerned about the difficulty of finding fuel, my journey to London was 190 miles. I did my best to conserve fuel and keep to schedule. Although efforts were made to reduce the speed limit of the M4 by 50 and 60 mph, the 75.8mpg result was still impressive. Later, it dropped to the 60s as we encountered strong headwinds.
Two reasons the Sandero continues to accumulate miles at an alarming rate are two. It is versatile enough to carry four adults and fit down small suburban streets, so it can be used in multiple roles. It’s also very economical and has a large petrol tank so it rarely needs to be refueled. This is particularly useful in these current circumstances.
A Sandero Stepway
I am starting to notice new-shape Sanderos everywhere – many of them in the bronze color of mine that suits it so well. Two types of people you might meet when you are in a Dacia are: those who value its immense value are respectful and those who are quick to get mad imagine that you will be able to hold them up. Or maybe they just want you to believe that it was worthwhile spending all that money.
This supermini, a value-brand brand, proves it can do-it all
For a few excellent reasons, the Sandero Stepway has been increasing its mileage. The first is that we are now more dependent on driving jobs in the country than day trips via Heathrow from Germany or France. This is a great development.
The second is the Stepway’s ability to do everything: It’s small enough for tight spaces and parking spaces that are only suitable for superminis. However, it’s large enough in the back (partly because its taller) for full-size adults with enough space to store their things.
You will always grab the Dacia, even if you have other cars nearby. Because of its cheerful and willing nature, it is always available. It has accumulated close to 7000 miles since its arrival in May. This progression is not slowing down.
My only problem is that the computer’s running fuel economy has not reached the 50mpg mark that I promised after my gentle treatment. It now shows 48.9mpg, which doesn’t change no matter what I do. This is a small number, however, as recent precise checks of fuel computer veracity have shown that it is exactly 1mpg optimistic. Therefore, the actual running figure for this vehicle is 47.9mpg.
It’s still a great car for what it’s capable of. I have used it for everything. Even to tow my motorbike trailer with an (admittedly lightweight) Douglas.
This ultra-affordable car has only two options: metallic paint or a full-size spare. It also features automatic lights and wipers as well as climate control and autowalk-away locking. There’s even an electric handbrake.
The Stepway’s success makes it easy to see why Dacia claims that it is Europe’s most-loved privately-owned (rather than business fleet) car. Perhaps business fleets should follow the program.
A Renault Clio with the same 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine as the Dacia was a recent episode. We also rode on the same platform to compare the differences. Given that it appears to have PS3000-ish extra value, the Stepway’s ride is a little more bumpy and makes more road noise. You have to wonder what came first: engine and platform refinements that make the Renault more quiet and smoother, or deliberate omissions from sound-deadening measures that make the Stepway seem a little less noticeable.
I find the only real fault with the Dacia, despite its excellent price, equipment, and decent quality, to be the lumpy engine response. This includes a huge flat spot at 2800rpm which you can’t really ‘drive around’. The Clio had the same problem, but it was much less evident. This made me wonder if my car’s electronics could be reprogrammed.
This issue has been raised by enough readers, either via test drives or ownership, to convince me it’s a real problem with the Sandero Stepway. Before I write again about it, I will lift the phone to see if there is a solution. If it doesn’t, it most likely should.
Love it: Outrageous value
Although this sector is expected to have many alternatives, you won’t find a car with the same level of capability for as much money.
Loathe It: Engine Response
At 2800 rpm, the engine can trip over itself. The engine is smooth, efficient, and powerful, but it needs to be watched as it moves through the range.
A Sandero Stepway
To see the progress it has made, we compare old and current Stepways
We road-tested Dacia Sandero Stepway in March. The verdict was so positive (not the best car, but better than you would expect for your money), that we began to wonder how much the up-step had been to the all-new model built on the modern Renault Clio platform.
Dacia was not shy about helping us quantify its improvements. They happily sent a Stepway from the past for evaluation, similar to our TCe90 but on an outmoded platform. It was immediately obvious that the car had less rear leg room and more comfortable ingress/egress than our TCe 90, even though there were only millimetres difference in overall package.
It was particularly fascinating to see the old-versus-new distinction when we created a paper list of all the features that each car has. They look remarkably alike. The only difference is in the execution. The new car looks more sophisticated and modern. It has a more prominent, more well-sculpted body section that gives it more presence.
The fact that no one who doesn’t understand car brand hierarchy sees any difference between the latest Dacia and the Volkswagen Polo is proof that the Stepway is just as appealing as any supermini is proof that it is attractive. The Stepway before it was more designed to fit into its pigeonhole.
These differences extend to the cabin. The latest Stepway has a knurled steel gearknob. This is an attack on sellers of more expensive cars. The clever use of fabric-covered hardplastic softens it for the eyes of the beholder while also saving money. The central screen looks as professional and well-executed as the one found in many superminis.
The steering is well-designed and proportioned. It also requires very little effort. This makes it a good choice for better cars, as its predecessor was quite vague. You will only notice the flaws after many miles. Sometimes, the vehicle will wander off-road and do some tramlining.
The old Dacia is less stable but more manageable on our favorite B-road. The new Dacia is easier to handle, and corners more neutrally in long bends. These differences are also evident in the ride quality. Although the new car feels smoother and more controlled than its predecessor, there are still moments when it feels like it needs more wheel travel and greater control at the extremities. Both the 1.0-litre turbo three pots and the new car are extremely smooth. However, there is a noticeable reduction in noise intrusion and footwell vibration.
These differences will not matter to everyone. These differences are not important to the majority of people who value price above all else. For those who have an Autocar-led list of priorities, the new edition is a significant step up in driver appeal. It’s always enjoyable to drive.
The core of the matter is much more important. The previous Stepway was happy to sub-cut superminis and be content with that. However, the new Stepway offers at least the exact same price advantage while being ready to compete with its superiors. This gives the car an enduring appeal.
It’s a great idea Lots of presence
Dacia’s designers found ways to make the Stepway more modern and rugged.
Loathe It: Flat spots
The engine is smooth and powerful. However, the engine’s inconsistent mid-range response can cause some discomfort.
Three cylinders with a litre and 89 bhp. What more could you ask for?
The new Sandero Stepway’s 1.0-litre turbo engine, which produces a modest 89bhp, is a lasting fascination. With a good amount of torque left for emergencies, you can cruise along motorways as fast as others and can even whizz by in traffic.
Gear-changing is what you pay for. Top gear is much more comfortable than a car with a 1.5-litre engine.
Sixth gear is capable of achieving speeds exceeding 28 mph per 1000 rpm. This means that you don’t select it until you are doing 50 mph or more. Third, fourth, and fifth are the most used. This is because you believe it will reduce your fuel consumption. It doesn’t. We are averaging just a touch under 50mpg and I am using the revs more often than ever. Why doesn’t the Tacho have a redline, though?
My problem with engine flat spots is still there, but you can drive around it with experience. Bottom line, I enjoy the car. Every day I enjoy comparing the car’s modest price and quality with its exceptional all-round performance. It is easy to see why Sandero is so popular with private buyers.
One of the key features
The Stepway’s Key Card is turning out to be a great boon. It’s so easy to forget to lock your car when you pay at filling stations. Although I was initially concerned about losing my card, it was not a major problem if I kept it in my wallet.
Welcome to the Sandero fleet
It was quite a big change, I must admit. It was a big step for a car buyer to go from a Bentley Bentayga at PS200,000 with many expensive options, to a Dacia Sandero Prestige at PS14,605 which includes the only two extras, metallic paint at PS560, and a PS150 spare tire. It was something I really looked forward to.
Our road testers already knew that the Dacia was a decent car, according to the ‘fitness-for-purpose’ criteria that guides all well-founded verdicts. Dacia’s European sales experience has made the Sandero the most popular retail car. Back to top
But I don’t think I’m really slumming, even in Dacia terms. The Stepway Prestige is at the top of Sandero’s pole. The cheapest Sandero hatchback is priced at just PS8000. Even the more expensive, better-equipped Stepway entry-level model costs only PS11,500.
Our Prestige model is loaded with options, including an 8.0-inch touchscreen, LED headlights and a reversing camera. There are also keyless entry and electronic parking brake. It saves money and also takes the hassle out of understanding complex ranges and filling out complicated forms when your choices are wrong. Dacia takes care of the job.
The Stepway has delivered from the beginning. The Stepway’s PS560 paint in vibrant Desert Orange has been applied with a quality that could distinguish a Ford or Volkswagen panel. It’s a good job. It is modern, well-designed and very eye-catching. Many people don’t recognize Dacia as a brand that is valued. They assume the Stepway costs a lot more than it actually does. You will soon be able to appreciate this car, and wonder why so many people are willing to spend so much money on it.
We received the Stepway with 1400 miles on it already. It felt quite tight, even though its turbo triple engine is naturally free revving. It was getting 46mpg at that point, which is praiseworthy, but the engine and gearbox are much more reliable now. We’re used to seeing 50mpg, sometimes a little more. The car is easy to drive 350 miles and costs less than PS45. These are heart-warming numbers, regardless of your wealth.
Although the idea of driving behind an 89bhp, 996cc engine for a large part of my life was not exciting at first, it has been surprisingly easy to do. It pulls at lower speeds surprisingly well, but it spins so smooth into the 5000s that such use has become routine. It is also routine for another reason.
The main problem with our car is its uneven torque delivery at lower speeds. The car promises lots of torque from 2000rpm. However, there is a annoying flat spot at 2500rpm. This means that you may get too little one minute, but you are getting too much the next. It’s possible to get around this by increasing the rev range (there is almost no noise penalty, and the 6-speed gearchange makes it fun), but a more linear power distribution would be welcomed and could deliver better economy. If there is time and the car has more mileage, I may consult the service personnel to determine if it makes sense for the ECU to be reprogrammed.
The Stepway is performing well on all counts. It is well-built (I have cured the dashboard buzz), and I am now used to the niceties such as the reverse screen and Apple CarPlay. The seats are very comfortable, and the price is right. The fascia is admired by many people, but it only uses durable fabric to cover hard plastic. Dacia’s innovative approach to life is reflected in this fascia. We can’t afford to buy expensive stuff so we make it affordable and work hard to support our family. So far, I don’t see any durability penalty.
Three Stepway features are my favorite. The first is the ability to remove and reattach the standard roof rails from the car in order to create a roof rack. This feature would not be available on any other vehicle. The Range Rover’s keyless locking and unlocking system is second. This feature is considered luxurious. The third and most important feature is the perfectly executed knurling on the gearlever knob. This is a particularly amusing feature because my previous Bentley claimed that knurling was an emblem of quality.
This small metal detail is a symbol of the car’s whole. It will eat other manufacturers’ lunches. It is designed to reward buyers who don’t care about brands. The benefits are real. As the miles roll by, I am already familiar with the Dacia philosophy and feel a close bond with the Stepway.
The Cropley Dacia was a great car. I enjoyed my day there. It’s easy to get along with, and thanks to the quiet drivetrain and the natty fabric trim, it’s not too expensive. I can’t recall any throttle hesitation in other Sanderos that I have tried.