The previous generation Renault Sandero was a bit of a dog, sorry Renault but I must be honest. But a few years later, and with the Renault parts bin to play with, Dacia – the Romanian brand that actually produces the Sandero before it gets badged a Renault – have a lot more to use when it comes to creating a budget vehicle.
The second generation Sandero still remains an ‘econobox’ vehicle – priced at R123 900 in its most basic trim and slightly more costly at R141 500 in our Dynamique trimmed test unit – but it now packs more than just a bargain price as a draw card for potential buyers.
The new design, with Renault’s family front end, looks rather good – not quite as fancy as the Clio upon whose chassis the Sandero is built, but a far cry from the bland looks that were bestowed upon us with the previous generation. The interior follows the understated exterior’s lead, built without much flair, but with a solid sense of purpose and an inoffensive nature. Whilst hard plastics dominated the cabin, the build quality was solid and non-abrasive for the most part, with only small details revealing the econobox nature, such as the hard plastic armrests on the doors.
Despite being cheap, the Sandero Dynamique was rather feature-filled, boasting a radio system with USB, auxiliary, and a CD drive, the latter of which is excluded in the Clio. Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming also formed part of the package, as did cruise control, hill-start assist, front fog lamps, side airbags, 15-inch alloy wheels, and electric windows all-round. The sound system was rather weak though, and gave away the Sandero’s budget-vehicle status all too quickly, but for R140 000 odd, the package seemed rather extensive and couldn’t be criticised too harshly.
Overall, it was rather all-encompassing, and when combined with a decent drive, the Sandero put forward a rather strong case for itself. The 898cc, 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, also borrowed from the Clio and the only available engine in the Sandero, provided 66kW and 135Nm; driving the front wheels via a 5-speed manual transmission. The long clutch was oddly weighted, but the take was even and traffic-filled situations were handled rather comfortably as such. The gearbox was a slightly weak point to the Sandero though, as the shifts were light and hollow, and lacked a solid feel that would’ve been appreciated. The 5-speed box did however provide plenty oomph in all gears, and revs were kept low enough as to prevent the engine being too noisy – it did seem to drone rather uncomfortably at high revs. The light weight of 1016Kg meant that the small-displacement engine worked effectively, providing adequate power, and light fuel economy, sipping just 5.7l/100km over 600km of travel.
Those 600km were dealt with rather swiftly, the cruise control performing an essential role in making long commutes a simple affair. Making the journey even simpler was the refined ride, which although nothing fancy, proved to be relatively comfortable. The soft suspension setup rode over poor surfaces with a calm demeanour, and the cabin was well enough insulated to mute a majority of the noise from the road, regardless of the quality of surface beneath.
The soft suspension, although pliant on poor road surfaces, was highly non-communicative. Steering feel mimicked the suspension strongly in its tight-lipped nature, and the steering wheel play off-centre became rather disconcerting at highway speeds where slight deviations of the steering wheel position provided no feedback, yet caused an unsteady ride with course corrections becoming a regular occurrence.
Inner-city travel however negated the suspension and steering problems, and the light, direct nature of the steering became a help rather than a hindrance. The gearing seemed perfect for urban travel, with 4th gear supplying enough urge and ample frugality to make the fuel-gauge magically remain unfazed. The city was where the Sandero was intended to be though, as an economy car that can handle narrow roads and bustling traffic, and that it did with aplomb.
The new Sandero isn’t a particularly exciting car, and it never encourages one to push it that little bit harder. It’s a rather complacent vehicle, happy to do what it does in a relaxed manner without much of a buzz. If the Sandero were to be a milkshake it would most definitely be a vanilla one, but it may just be one of the best vanilla milkshakes you’ll ever taste; and dare I say it, it provides a cheerful persona and 80% of the kit found in a more expensive Clio, with a better quality of drive, all for a shade under R150 000.
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66kW @ 5250RPM
135Nm @ 2500RPM
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Author: Roger Biermann