Dacia Test Drive

After Paj got liberated and driven into a ditch, I started looking for new cars.

My requirements are really basic:

  1. Reliable
  2. Easy to self maintain
  3. Readily available parts
  4. Diesel – max 1.6L (this is malleable)
  5. Good MPG

So I have been looking on Carzone, Auto Trader and Done Deal. One brand that kept popping up in my price range was Dacia.

Now I had never heard of Dacia before. Initially I had thought it was some crazy Japanese or Russian brand, but it turns out that it is from Romania… And owned by Renault… Since 1999.

This is rather surprising, and further querying has told me that the brand has only been in Ireland since the start of the year.

Dacia are presenting themselves, in 2013, as Skoda did in the late 90’s and early 2000’s – as the budget brand for their parent manufacturer. As Skoda was the budget line for Volkswagen, Dacia is the budget line for Renault.

So far there are two Dacia models in Ireland – the Duster SUV, and the Sandero Supermini. Both of them are INCREDIBLY affordable, even the diesel models. How affordable is affordable? Well, I could get the basic diesel Sandero model for around €12,000 brand new and on the road – complete with 3 year warranty.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? It sounds too good to be true. Maybe it is.

So I requested a test drive on Dacia.ie with Michael Grant Renault down in Sandymount / Irishtown – basically the Landsdown Road area. They have both the Duster 2×4 (so not real 4 wheel drive) and the Sandero in diesel. The former is a 110 bhp 1.5L diesel and the latter is a 90bhp 1.5L diesel. Both engines are the same, and are in use in the Renault Megan (more on this in a later post), and the Nissan Qashqai, to name a few.

The reason for me wanting this engine is that it is both very reliable and very economical. Not as reliable as a Japanese engine from the 1990s, but those days are long gone.

For both the Duster and Sandero, there are two models. The budget “Alternative” and the higher specced “Signature”. The former has nice things like electric mirrors, alloy wheels, electric windows and cruise control (Sandero only). I only test drove the diesel signature models.



Dacia Sandero II

Dacia Sandero II (Photo credit: rozcestnik.sk)

This car is a supermini hatchback, around the size of a Ford Fiesta. It can comfortably fit 4 adults, although having the the front seats all the way back is a bit tight for adult rear passengers. It comes in both 1.5L diesel, 1.2L and 900cc petrol.

I liked the reliable feel of the car. It felt like I could batter and abuse the shite out of it, and it would keep working. The gearbox is a bit clunky, and she’s not the most nippiest around, but I’d have no doubt that she’d start on time, every time, for at least 10 years. Finding the bite point was a challenge, however, as it was very light – again surprising for a diesel.

The placement of the electric window switches is idiotic. They are in the central console between the driver and the front passenger. NO – they should be on the doors, with the driver able to lock the windows and open any he chooses. The lack of a driver’s vanity mirror in the sunvisor and no light in the glovebox is a bit annoying, but not as much as the window switches.

There is plenty of space in the boot, both with and without the rear seats folded down. You could easily do the monthly Tesco shop with the seats up and the occasional trip to IKEA with the seats folded. There’s a little lip (due to the seat hinges) preventing the back of the rear seats fitting flush with the boot area – that’s a niggly point as well. The back seats come with ISOFIX for child seats.

It does have the feeling of being slightly older – basically what’s in the back of the Renault parts bin. But unlike older Renaults, which were well known to be plagued by electrical problems, I have a feeling that the Dacia Sandero won’t present these issues.

The MPG is respectable, with real world usage reporting 50 to 55 MPG in diesel – very close to the manufacturer’s figure of 60 MPG.

There’s space under the boot flap for a full size wheel – something that’s always nice to see – as the Sandero does not come with a spare wheel as standard, only a shitty tyre inflation kit. A spare wheel as an extra or aftermarket is about €90.

One thing that is annoying, compared to the UK spec, is that there is no option to fit reversing sensors. Grant Renault said that they would be able to fit one for me, at a cost of about €300 all in, without voiding the warranty. Fitting them myself wouldn’t void the warranty, provided I “didn’t fuck with the electrics too much”. I, honestly, believe they mean that, but given how the Sandero is new to the Irish and UK markets, I wouldn’t want to mess with the electrics in the event of having the Renault electrics issues.

Would I buy this car? Probably. The crossover Sandero Stepway should be hitting Irish shores in the near future so I’d have to try those first before committing to buying it.



Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi

Dacia Duster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She feels a bit sluggish driving, and you have to jump from 1st to 2nd gear fairly quickly after take off – thankfully the Duster had a 6 speed gearbox, although it is rather clunky (even by SUV standards). Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to max her out, but she’d happily do 100kph without a bother and still be fairly quiet – surprisingly quiet for a diesel.

Unlike the Sandero, the Duster has sane window button placement. This is offset, however, by having NO storage for a spare wheel… Again, the shitty tyre inflation kit is provided. As I found out, only the 4wd version (which I could not test drive as they didn’t have it in stock) has space for a full tyre.

This is really surprising, as you’d expect either a spare wheel mounted on the back door (like in most SUVs) or an emergency wheel hidden in the boot. Looking underneath the boot, there is space to mount one using some sort of external carrier on the chassis  but the dealer wasn’t able to confirm is this was an optional extra on the Duster… I, like most people, value a spare wheel (fullsize or not).

Another down point for the Duster was the lack of cruise control. I’ve driven the 200km from Galway to Dublin far too many times to realise that, in those circumstances, cruise control is really a leg and life saver.

Even in the proper 4×4 version, you only get normal gears – no 4wd low or high. This is why you need to change from first to second gear fairly sharpish during normal road driving.

The drivers seat height adjustment is – frankly – a joke. You get about an inch in height going from lowest to highest. It would have been better to leave it off.

There is plenty of space in the back. With the front seats fully back, there was oodles of room for the back passengers. You’d be able to squeeze 3 people in the back with very little effort and even had an accessory socket for their electronics.

The boot space with the seats up is more than ample –  slightly smaller than an estate. The back seats also have that damn lip when folding down. I could easily fit myself lying down (yes I did this) in the boot with the seats down – you’d easily get an IKEA desk in the back with them down. The seats also have ISOFIX, for the babies.

The MPG is about the same as the Sandero, 45-50 MPG. Again, a very real spec compared to the 55MPG touted by Dacia. The 3 month lead time for delivery didn’t help either, as the Dusters are made in India compared to Romania for the Sandero – which I was told could be done to my spec and be in Ireland in 3 weeks. I’d be worried about problems arising from a rush build at the plant to meet demand. Another side note is that all optional extras are fitted by the dealers on arrival, and not at the plant.


The entire range is priced to sell – with the main market being people who have always bought second hand. That being said, there is little room to haggle on price.

A five year warranty is available which sets you back €369 for the Sandero and €549 for the Duster. I would imagine you can get them for €300 and €500 respectively. The only real wiggle room is with the optional extras such as boot liners, parking sensors, transverse roof bars, etc.

On both the Duster and Sandero, metallic paint is a €500 option. If you don’t go for that, you get boy racer white – not really an issue if you ask me, unless you are a stickler for colours.

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed in the Duster. Perhaps I had set my hopes too high, as I rather SUVs personally, but it just didn’t wow me.

That said, for the €15k price range, you wouldn’t do wrong with her. I can imagine it being a workhorse on the roads and I really got that feel from her.

What would I buy?

The Duster, even with the lack of spare wheel.  It feels like a strong family car, that would do you proud for a long time.

The black on the Sandero really does look nice, and in the Signature range this is offset with chrome highlights on the front grille – something that looks sexy.

I’d be worried about the resale value of these cars, I’d imagine they would plummet fairly rapidly – but it’s far too early to tell as the cars only came here in 2013 (5 months at time of writing).