Cheap, cheerful

Dacia with SUV feel

Dacia Sandero Stepway, front action
Dacia Sandero Stepway, front static
Dacia Sandero Stepway, side action
Dacia Sandero Stepway, rear seats
Dacia Sandero Stepway, front seats
Dacia Sandero Stepway, dashboard
Dacia Sandero Stepway, rear action
Dacia Sandero Stepway, boot

THERE are two common approaches to building budget priced cars - make lots of them and use old designs to save money.

Combine both methods and you'll have something that's certainly cheap but is unlikely to be cheerful too.

Probably better to buy a secondhand version of something that started out better in the first place.

So good on you Dacia, the Romanian arm of Renault for offering a car that's as modern under the surface as its gently stylish exterior is above. And for loads less money than you might imagine.

And yes, it really is a cheapie. The most you can pay for a version of the Dacia Sandero is £11,395. That brings you a top spec model of the Stepway, a mildly SUV-reworking of the basic Sandero which costs a neatly precise £1,000 less.

The extra grand brings those SUV touches, from a 40mm raised ride height and some extra underbody protection to black plastic wheelarch extensions and satin chrome roof bars.

The latest Sanderos have modestly revised exteriors (LED daytime running lights the standout feature) and, inside, satin-look chrome details, smarter upholstery and a new steering wheel.

So not much has changed, then. Luckily, little needed to in a car that delivers much more than the basic motoring its price may suggest.

Dacias are often badged as Renaults in other parts of the world, hinting how building them in their millions helps keep the price down. Sanderos destined for the UK are built in Morocco, which must help too.

Keeping choices simple is another way to save money and the Stepway comes in just two trim levels, Ambiance and Laureate and with two engines to choose from, a turbocharged 1.0 litre petrol or 1.5 litre diesel, both producing 90 horsepower.

There's a similar pared down feel to the options list with only metallic paint (£495) and a spacesaver spare wheel (£100) offered on lower priced Ambiance trim level cars, which start at £8,795 for a car with a 1.0 litre petrol engine.

And it's a cracker, a three-cylinder unit lifted from the current Renault Clio and capable of better than basic performance, with an unburstable thrummy soundtrack as a bonus.

It provides an official average fuel consumption of 55.4mpg, 115g/km CO2, 104mph stop speed and 0-62mph in 11.1 seconds. They are the sort of figures expected of a dearer car and make the Sandero an undemanding machine to drive.

Choose the 1.5-litre diesel and it adds £1,400 to the bill (from £10,195) but ups the economy to 74.3mpg, cuts the CO2 to 98g/km and has no impact on top speed and almost none on acceleration, adding an insignificant 0.6 second to the time.

Every Stepway has air conditioning, electric front windows, remote central locking, DAB radio and Bluetooth - and sensible steel wheels that look convincingly alloy without their wallet denting potential.

Take the top Ambiance level and you'll add an on-board trip computer, satellite navigation, cruise control, rear parking sensors, electric rear windows and a soft feel steering wheel. You may need to pinch yourself when you discover all this comes for £9,995 if you choose the nippy little petrol engine.

It makes a convincing case for itself, sharing the same reasonably roomy interior and big boot space of the diesel version yet saving the significant £1,400 already mentioned.

You won't approach the 55mpg Dacia has to quote as an average consumption but a figure comfortably in the 40s is within easy reach. And if you fancy saving more, there's always the non-Stepway version to look at, knocking off another grand.

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