There is doom, gloom and then there is Dacia, writes Robin Roberts.
The Renault subsidiary and Romanian made models are the quiet success story in a year that has ruffled feathers of some peacock producers who’ve made a lot of noise about Brexit and dire warnings of impending disaster.
Meanwhile, Dacia and its delighted 154 UK dealers – including eight in Wales – have ratcheted up sales over 5% in the first six months when the market share was down closer to 10%. Ironically, the Dacia increase was matched by a near identical decrease in sales by its Renault parent, so you wonder how many buyers are simply trading across while remaining with their familiar dealer?
The Dacia brand is not big in range or numbers in the UK but two-thirds are met with the Sandero hatch and Stepway SUV and it’s the latter which is gaining ground in a market that is slowly moving away from saloons and even some hatchbacks in the family sector.
Despite its looks, the Stepway SUV is front wheel drive only and comes in three trim levels with 75 and 90 hp petrol and a 90hp diesel. Earlier this year they were facelifted and updated inside with a better quality sound system and less austere trim, but I think there is still room for improving the tactile appearance and feel.
The higher power turbo-petrol engine provided respectable performance from rest and through the gears but it let you know how hard it was working.
It was at its best cruising main roads but if you needed to use the gears the clutch action was pleasantly progressive, the gearshift short and it responded quickly through mid-range. Our overall fuel consumption reflected the fact it had a five-speed gearbox and was not particularly economical, and with a load aboard it was obviously working hard.
I would have liked more feedback through the steering although its turning circle was good and it did not suffer from kick-back vibration while the brakes were well up to their job at any speed and the parking brake securely held on our regular test slope.
The ride is probably the most satisfying side to the Dacia Stepway.
You might expect a car at this price to be hard or bumpy, but it absorbed road shocks and poor surfaces with scarcely a second impression being felt inside and then the big, well padded and supporting seats did a good job.
It is not a sporting SUV so the handling is not dynamic but it does a good job of turning into bends, staying firmly on the road and did not exhibit any real vices, but it could be improved in the steering feel.
The Stepway is a roomy car with good access and egress, leg and headroom; low waistline, big wipers and adequate lights mean it offers safe visibility.
Oddments room was modest and could be improved, but there was no complaint about the bootspace which quadrupled from a little over 300 litres, was easy to use and sensibly shaped. That engine noise at higher revs in the intermediate gears, the every present road rumbles and suspension noises were intrusive while wind noise was surprisingly low, or seemed to be.
I am sure successive models in the Stepway series will take on the issues I have highlighted because at the end of the day it is a good value car with a reassuring warranty and offers low running costs and that’s a good base upon which to build and stand out amid doom and gloom.
|Fast facts||Dacia Sandero Stepway Ambiance TCe90 SUV|
|Price: £8,995 ( inc. met paint and full spare £9,590) Insurance Group: 8E|
|Mechanical: 90hp 3-cyl 900cc turbo-petrol, 5 sp|
|C02 emissions 115gkm||Combined MPG: 36 mpg|
|Bik rating: 22%, £140FY, £140SR||Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles|
|Sizes: L 4.09m, W 1.74m, H 1.62m Weight: 1023kg Boot: 320 to 1200 litres|
|For: Comfortable, good boot-space, cheap to buy and run, good vision and light controls.|
Against: Lots of road and engine noise when extended, dated instruments and abundance of plastic trim.