Sandero Luminoso: Dacia’s 2021 Debutants

Is the real-world automotive success of the 21st century the ingenious and ubiquitous Dacia family? DTW’s Sandero-driving Dacia-agnostic analyses the all-new Sandero and Logan. Can they sustain the irresistible rise of the Franco-Romanian phenomenon?

Image: Automobile Dacia S.A

Have eight years really passed since Dacia launched the second generation Sandero at the Paris Mondial in 2012? It must be so. My calendar still has the show dates marked in, a vain act of hope in The Year That Was Cancelled.

In 2012 we not only saw the new Sandero, but also an unannounced and unexpected New Logan, effectively a Sandero with a 45mm wheelbase stretch and a capacious boot. The Logan made rational sense but had none of the original’s characterful presentation. Eight years on some Dacia assembly locations still build the first series.

How the revolution started Image: L’Argus

For the 2021 model year Dacia have repeated their 2012 trick but the previously self-effacing Dacia staples have assumed a muscular broad-beamed stance, and the Sandero has a SEAT Ibiza-like profile. The new boss at Groupe Renault will be flattered…

Dacia claim that the new-series cars have kept the same external dimensions. In this they are being somewhat économique avec la vérité.

The Sandero and Logan are 31mm and 49mm longer respectively, and the wheelbase of both has grown by 15mm. The big change has been in girth – another 115mm on a car which was already generously wide by class standards. Tracks increase by rather less: 36mm at the front, and 54mm at the rear.

The reason behind the expansion is that Dacia have adopted one of the Alliance’s Common Modular Family platforms for the first time, in this case the CMF-B, first seen in 2019 on the latest Clio, Captur and Puke. The extra space will always be welcome, although the outgoing cars were hardly deficient in this matter.

Image: Automobile Dacia S.A

It is to be hoped that the new chassis will deliver a far better driving experience. I’ve run up thousands of Sandero miles over the last two years and the inert dynamics are a constant disappointment in a car which otherwise has a lot to like. Renault claim that the new cars will have “more effective shock absorption and better steering, improved anti-roll capacity, and better cornering stability“. These sound like the words of someone accustomed to the outgoing version.

The engine narrative is only lightly edited, the changes driven by Euro 6D-Full standard compliance. Entry level (for the non-Stepway Sandero only) is the SCe65 naturally aspirated 1.0 litre triple, replacing the SCe75. The new designation indicates a drop in power. To be avoided – the old 73bhp one wasn’t up to the job.

De facto base engine is the TCe90, a turbocharged triple with a capacity increase to a full litre from 898cc. For the moment at least, hybrids do not feature, and diesels went over the side some time ago.

The alternative fuel option is the bi-fuel ECO-G100, a petrol / LPG fuelled turbocharged 1 litre triple. A similarly configured engine was offered on the previous series. This one is claimed to provide a 1300km range on its combined 90 litre fuel capacity.

A new six-speed gearbox arrives with the new generation, but only for the turbocharged engines. The big transmission news is the availability of the Alliance CVT, on the TCe 90 only. This replaces the Easy’R, an automated manual ‘jerk-o-matic’ not offered in many Dacia markets. The new CVT is a far more seriously intentioned effort, claimed to reduce fuel consumption and also lower CO2 emissions by 11%.

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I’ll largely reserve judgement on the styling other than to say that the changes seem to favour the regular Sandero rather than the Stepway. The opposite was true of the last series where the SUV-themed garnishing mitigated the blandness of the base hatchback. The buying public were won over. 65% of Sandero sales to date have been Stepways, with more than 1.3 million produced.

Image: Automobile Dacia S.A

These figures are impressive, as is the Sandero’s seventh place in the European sales charts in 2019. Dacia are not going to let up in their ambitions. The new cars’ technology roster is breathtaking: Automated stop-start, Emergency brake assist, Blind spot warning, Park assist, Hill start assist, Automated headlamps and wipers, Active cruise control, and an assortment of media and navigation options.

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Not all of these will be in available in all sales territories, but in sophisticated markets, where NCAP ratings are a major factor in purchasing decisions, most safety-related features will be standard from the base model upwards.

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I’ve only mentioned to Logan in passing. Some North-West European markets will not see the sedan. It’s certainly less ‘generic three box bucket’ than the outgoing model, and follows the pattern of hatchback-derived  three-volume variants created by many major carmakers for the developing world.

Dacia are committed to maintaining their unassailed modern, reliable, ultra-affordable tenets, yet by trying to be all things to all people, they run the risk of ‘Škodafication’ moving upmarket from challenger to mainstream and  undermining the parent alliance’s established brands. Has Louis Schweitzer and Gérard Detourbet’s bold and noble vision been diluted? Does it matter?

Image: Automobile Dacia S.A

It will be interesting to see if the low prices can be held, and whether the driving experience will genuinely be improved. If the new platform delivers, an even bigger share of the global market awaits Dacia.

35 thoughts on “Sandero Luminoso: Dacia’s 2021 Debutants”

  1. Good morning Robertas, and thanks for your insightful review of the new Dacias. The design of both the Sandero and Logan now looks thoroughly mainstream, in other words, heavily detailed with many of the currently fashionable tropes. I’m sure they will both represent an improvement over their predecessors, but I regret the loss of the functional plainness that distinguished the early models. The U.N. white, unpainted grey bumpers and steel wheels seem unlikely to feature on the base specifications anymore:

    Pricing will, of course, be critical: if the differential between the Dacia models and their equivalent Renaults begin to close, then Dacia will start to lose its most important USP.

    It seems a long time ago now, but the first VW-era Octavia was a pleasingly austere looking thing in base spec:

    That was long before the VRs sporting models and Laurin and Klement luxury variants appeared. The other thing that positively distinguished Škoda in the early days was exceptionally good customer service. You may have been buying a cheap car, but the dealer back-up was excellent. I wonder how Dacia is in this regard?

    1. In my locale all the Dacia outlets are enclaves within Renault dealerships. I’ve yet to encounter a solus UK Dacia franchise, but such a thing may exist.

      The approach is a complete opposite from VAG, who separated even VW and Audi by the early ’90s, and favoured small family-run dealerships for SEAT and Škoda. The strategy served then well, but that type of dealership is becoming near-extinct as the big multi-franchise dealer chains swallow them up.

      Returning to Dacia, in the UK at least, the parent company are keeping strict limits on what Dacia offers. No Logan sedan, Dokker van or LAV, nor the Lodgy.

      Are they passing up opportunities? The Logan could fill the space in the taxi market vacated by the VAG Rapedo, and the Lodgy, though visually unappealing, offers affordable three row seating. The smarter looking Dokker is uncomfortably close to the Kangoo. In some Alliance territories it IS the Kangoo.

  2. For the first time a Dacia now has a thoroughly modern platform – although the lack of hybrid power options shows that the latest technology is still being held back.

    This new Sandero appears like a Clio with around 15% less design sophistication. I simply cannot find anything to be excited about here. In some markets (such as South America) these cars are sold as Renaults, and in somewhere like Brazil with long distances and variable roads, they make sense.

    Personally, for the same money I’d just buy a lightly used but better car. As hybrids become more mainstream, and the lower running costs of a plug in model become more apparent, Dacia may find its cost-conscious customers shopping elsewhere.

  3. I think they’ve done a nice job on the Sandero (and Logan) – the design is sharper, but not too fussy. The previous generation was a bit plain and had a few large radius, soft curves, which made it look a bit insubstantial / cheap from some angles.

    I see that the new model has a version of Thor’s Hammer headlights; I wonder what Volvo will think.

    The bonnet shutline struck me as interesting and in the video, below, Dacia make a point of showing designers discussing panel gaps – ‘DTW has influence at last, shock?’

    Two things I immediately don’t like – the black triangle in the rear side widow (I assumed it was a door handle, until I saw the real one, below), and the cut-out in the bumper for lifting the hatch – that’s asking for scratches from rings.

    If the outside looks a bit like a Clio – especially the rear haunches – then the interior has Peugeot-like elements, to my eyes – especially the steering wheel and instrument binnacle relationship. I think the instruments and graphics in the binnacle look very smart – like real care has been taken. In fact, I could say that about the car in general.

    This second video (PlaneteGT) shows the interior in detail and I like the way a phone can be easily integrated in to the dash to act as an infotainment control. The video is in French, but I think it’s still clear what’s being communicated, even if you have little or no French.

    Interesting news re the auto transmission – I‘d be interested in seeing the buyer demographics for the car.

    Overall, although they have gone a bit upmarket, I don’t think they’ve overdone it, and there is stylish restraint in much of its design. It looks as though cost control and creative thinking has benefited it.

    That said, they need to be careful about price and lack of power train options, as I suspect that The Chinese Are Coming.

    1. Hi Charles. I agree about that black triangle. Needing a fillet like that to finish of the DLO is a design fail in my book. At least they resisted the temptation to put a ‘hidden’ door handle there, which would be incompatible with the brand’s perceived functional simplicity. The original Sandero, with its high-level tail lights, really was rather nicely executed:

    2. I would guess the black triangle in the C pillar allows the Sandero to use body pressings very similar to the Clio, but without the expense of a piece of glass. Even if it isn’t actually any cheaper, it looks it, helping to preserve the perception gap to the Renault branded car…

  4. hi all, let´s talk about the western European market, Dacia has so far focused on the price, with this new Sandero they seem to be aiming upwards with the addition of frills (matching exterior mirrors, matching bumpers…), the led headlights have now become the base for all cars? are they the cheapest variant that one can have? even the chrome on the grille are pure decoration. You really have to see how the price will become.

    Translated with (free version)

    1. Hello Marco – yes, for example I believe that an electric handbrake is available. That’s fine, but it means that they’re moving in to a different market, where competition is stiffer, unless they can really keep their prices down (and the point of optional extras is to get the price up, of course).

      I’d love to know the extent to which buyers come in to a dealer for a cheap car, and leave with a much more expensive one.

      Still, to my eyes, the overall design is pretty good and shames some other brands.

      In order to explain some recent design trends, I’ve been wondering whether having a big disaster in a company is reflected in its products – do miserable / distracted / fearful people produce under par products? Probably. By contrast, Dacia’s design suggests a confident company.

    2. Hi Charles, I agree with you, I really like the second generation sandero, it has a simple design, the rear lights for example. Personally rather than take a Dacia I would go towards a used one with a few km.

    3. Hello Marco – yes, generally speaking, I’d go for a used vehicle, as they’re better value.

    1. Brieuc – I thought I’d got away with that one! They do seem to have been a right nasty bunch when they were in their pomp…

  5. I wonder how much profit, if any, Dacia makes on the entry trims, or are they mostly a loss-leader? I reckon a two-pedal option in the UK will be quite appealing; credit also to them for being the only manufacturer to offer LPG engines, stepping into the territory vacated by Proton. I think all Dacia dealers here are also Renault dealers, so the experience will be mostly the same – unlike Renault, Dacias can be bought online, and the list price seems to be fixed.

    It is not completely representative, and probably not interesting, but current vehicles for sale on Autotrader suggest pricier variants of the Sandero were more popular:

    Sandero 481, Sandero Stepway 712 (60%)
    Specification (Sandero) –
    Access 4%
    Ambience/Ambience Prime/Essential 70%
    Laureate/Laureate Prime/Comfort 23%

    Specification (Stepway) –
    Access 0, not offered
    Ambience/Essential 44%
    Laureate/Comfort 53%

    It appears that 31% are a Stepway in Laureate or Comfort trim, the top available, while just 1.6% are the basic Sandero Access. A few short-run special-editions have been excluded and some cars may not have had trim listed in the advert. Includes cars up to 2019 only, to ingore adverts for new cars that may be speculative rather than built.

    Logan MCV is similar: two thirds of cars on Autotrader are top spec and currently none are Access. Of Dusters, only 1.7% available are Access specification, while 13% are 4WD. (0.6% are Access and 4WD; even rarer is the Duster panel-van version, with just one for sale)

    1. Those short-run specials are well worth looking out for.
      A friend got a really well-specced Dacia which would have cost oodles more (many thousands) in the nearest Renault clothing.

  6. Tom – interesting results there. Another £2-3,000 is a big uplift on a £6000 car, but it gets the buyer a lot of kit. When modern Dacia arrived in the UK there were dark mutterings about the trade not accepting them as part-exchanges. This has been talked about before with other “challenger brands”. Move on eight years and Sanderos and Dusters are seen as a popular and canny used buy. I was surprised that the strong prices of 4-5 year old Sanderos given how cheap they were when new, and also that the new prices have only marginally increased. The discontinued diesel is particularly sought-after.

    Charles – on the automatic buying demographic, don’t assume it will just be the older end. Digital natives seem to favour autos too – perhaps they see it as an app which changes gears. There’s no price as yet for the CVT option but given that 11% CO2 reduction, Dacia may offer the option cheaply to play their part in bringing down the group’s emissions numbers. Their other weapon is the Chinese-made Renault City K-ZE, rebadged as the Dacia Spring.

    Jacomo – hybrids will come along in good time, when legislation and corporate emissions totals mean Dacia can do no other. In the meantime the modestly (c.£1000) priced dual-fuel petrol/LPG option has far more real-world worth. Many Dacia-ists are high mileage drivers on low incomes who welcome the chance to have a very acceptable new car with a good warranty. The LPG option is the icing on their cake.

    1. What are CVT automatics like these days? It’s a long time since I drove one (a new 2005 Ford Fusion) and it was a horrible whiney thing. I imagine they have improved, but what degree?

    2. Will wait for the hybrid, as LPG is forbidden on Eurotunnel, which the dog insists we take.

  7. The last non-hybrid CVT I drove was in a Micra K12, and it didn’t commend itself to me. Nor did the car.

    The Prius and Yaris were fine, but felt ‘laggy’.

    CVTs ought to be the perfect automatic transmission, but nobody’s ever made them convincingly better that the other types. DCTs have proliferated as CVTs have declined, torque convertor / epicyclic transmissions continue to evolve, and most tellingly, automated manuals are favoured at the low end, which CVTs should have to themselves.

    1. Robertas, I have to take issue with you about automatic preferences. DCTs are falling out of favour in some markets, not least because of the issues with Ford and (to a lesser extent) VW’s examples. The outgoing Focus became a disaster in North America because of its DCT and VW have had expensive recalls of their dry clutch DSG. Automated manuals are becoming extinct (for cars, not trucks where they are becoming near universal) in many markets. The last one I can think of that I could buy was the Suzuki Ignis and that’s just switched to a CVT.

  8. DP – I don’t favour any particular type of automatic transmission, but I’m astonished at the rise of DCTs. VAG had a -self inflicted – terrible time with DCTs in China. Others would have dropped the idea, but VAG, through arrogance, determination, or just possibly belief persisted, and others followed. I’d still be wary of putting my own money the DCT way, based on close at hand experiences of others.

    The automated manual is still very much alive in China and India. PSA were the major jerk-o-matic proponents in Europe, but that’s faded since the tie-in with Aisin to produce the EAT6 and EAT 8 gearboxes in Valenciennes.

    1. I’m interested in your descriptions of AMTs as jerk-o-matics, because that’s not been my experience! I’ve got a Smart Roadster which has one (the clutch can be jerky when moving off which is oddly cured by turning the ignition on and off before actually starting the car) and I’ve hired quite a variety back in the day when they were still a thing – several C3s, a C3 Picasso, a Peugeot 107 and a Fiat 500 (and now that I think of it these last two are I think still made thus equipped). All were fine. I’ve been in many buses with AMTs and they were all just fine too. The buses in particular are almost indistinguishable from torque converter automatics as they creep and it’s easier to change gear smoothly with an engine that doesn’t change its speed too easily. As I understand it commercial vehicle AMTs carry out many of their gearchanges without the aid of the clutch relying solely on matching the revs.

  9. Robertas – if Dacia does make money on the entry-level cars, though perhaps unlikely, then that would make the higher-specification ones extremely profitable, given that the component cost difference is unlikely to be close to the customer price difference. I was surprised (and disappointed!) at how well they retain their value when used. I suspect that my search yielded so few Access models because demand for them is probably quite strong – particularly the Duster and Logan, which will make good tradesmans’ vans. Possibly the Access models were also more likely to have been bought outright by people who intend to run them as long as possible.

    CVT seems to be regarded as long-lasting, even if journalists seem to dislike them. A good fit for Dacia, I would suggest. When Honda switched from CVT to AMT in the Jazz, its customers complained about the move and Honda changed back to CVT. Why is CVT not used for heavy vehicles, out of interest?

    1. Tom, the reasons I can think of why you wouldn’t use a CVT on a commercial vehicle are several – I don’t think the belt and pulley system usually employed can cope with a couple of thousand Nm of torque, the mechanical efficiency isn’t great especially the further you go from a 1:1 ratio and I think that the ratio spread isn’t sufficient for a vehicle that may need a very low starting ratio to get going with a heavy load and uphill. There are unusual exceptions, namely locomotives and really large dump trucks, which use (or usually use in the case of dumpers) electric drive which provides a non mechanical CVT. This has the advantage of coping well with very high torque but the disadvantage of relatively poor efficiency, something which is usually just accepted. Interestingly multiple unit trains, the ones that aren’t hauled by a loco but rely on distributed power, usually forego diesel electric drive and use either multiple torque converters or nowadays conventional automatic gearboxes.

    2. A CVT relies on friction for power/torque transfer and therefore has very limited torque capacity.
      When Audi still used CVTs the related engines were artificially restricted in torque to save the gearbox, making them rev-hungry lame ducks.
      The conical disc/steel chain mechanism isn’t overly efficient and a lot of power is also lost in the high pressure oil pump needed to press the discs together. In their second generation CVTs Audi used an electronically regulated oil pump to improve efficiency. Their calculation was that the gearbox itself would be less efficient than a manual one but by being able to always keep the engine in an efficient rev range the whole combination would work. Whether this worked is a matter of taste, the CVT cars being about ten percent slower than the manual ones with the same fuel consumption. Audi’s (LUK developed and supplied) CVTs were notiously short lived and it always was a question of when rather than if they would fail.

  10. On the subject of higher spec models and optional extras, one of the most outrageously expensive has to be alloy wheels. To upgrade from the standard 15″ items to 17″ cost us around £1,100 on our Mini. The cost of upgrading a Porsche Boxster from the standard 18″ wheels to the cheapest 19″ wheels is currently around £1,300.

    Larger wheels aren’t, of course, an ‘extra’ but a replacement for the standard wheels and tyres, and the differential in manufacturing cost might be, at a guess, £200.

    This may be an urban myth, but I’ve heard that on some cars equipped with a touch-screen, but without sat-nav as standard, the software for the sat-nav is already installed, but is disabled unless you pay for it as an extra. ‘Installation’ is simply a matter of activating the sat-nav software, which takes moments! That’ll be £1,000, thank you!

    1. Hi Daniel,
      I doubt very much that’s an urban myth – on the contrary, allowing features to be enabled/disabled depending on a configuration is very much the way all software deployment is going. If you think about it, it’s much more efficient to do things this way – no long wait or sequence of steps to while software is downloaded and deployed.
      Unfortunately we will probably soon see features available on a licence rather than a outright purchase basis – if you stop paying the subscription, bang! you’re right back with the basic infotainment package…

    2. Hi Michael. That’s interesting to hear. My Boxster doesn’t have sat-nav as standard. Out of curiosity, I asked Porsche how much to ‘retro-fit’ it (not that I actually need it). The answer? Nearly £4k. 😲

    3. Purchasing prices for hardware delivered by suppliers are incredibly low. Tyre manufacturers are delivering their goods at a loss in the hope that once the tyres need replacement the customer chooses the same tyres as were fitted from new and that’s the moment they make some profit. A set of four tyres doesn’t earn the supplier much more than 100 EUR regardless of size of speed range and rim manufacturers don’t get much more. Therefore the estimated £200 are more than enough to pay for the larger tyres.
      Audi is currently developing a concept of on-demand extras that can be rented for a certain time and are switched on and off over the air. Then you could pay a fee for heated seats on your winter trip to the Alps for a couple of weeks.
      Audi already has something they call ‘ownership protection’ which allows them to switch off features in your car you use but didn’t pay for. Any retrofit sat-nav then would be deactivated until a dealer has updated your data set in Audi’s central IT.

  11. Like this?

    It’s a way for the manufacturer to extract money from used cars – until someone leaks how to get it for free, perhaps. If a safety-related function such as adaptive cruise control are included, what does that mean for insurance, which is based on the car’s ‘specification when new’. Does switching a safety-type feature on count as a modification – or will insurance companies require that such features be active where the hardware is fitted, which pushes the owner to have to pay?

    Then again, Dacia has form here too – the Access models do not have a stereo, but the wiring and speakers are already in the car!

    Cue the jokes about some BMW drivers forgetting to subscribe to the turning-signals option…

    1. Proving that there’s nothing new under the sun, my 1993 E30 generation BMW 325i convertible came, like the Dacia, pre-wired for a stereo. Ergo, it was the Dacia Sandero Access of its day!

    2. I like the joke, Tom, but the insurance problems look less humorous.
      Few drivers will have explored their exact status at any particular time.

  12. Nissan uses CVTs extensively in North America, made by their subsidiary (or partner company or whatever) JATCO. They had a terrible reputation for failing outright, a decade to five years ago, although they seem to have gradually managed to make them quite a bit better since then — luckily for Renault and Dacia. Unsurprisingly, the Honda own-design CVT seems much better in all regards, and the Aisin CVT (Toyota’s subsidiary) stuck in the Corolla here now, finally got over its low speed engine droning by adding a separate bottom gear before cutting in the CVT – it lessens the need for a big sloppy torque converter ahead of the gubbins. The ratio spread wasn’t wide enough according to Toyota and a separate actual bottom gear allows a lightweight CVT to do the rest of the job. Subaru’s CVT has been generally okay in reliability but it uses Schaeffler parts not unlike Audi’s CVT which was a “feature” of FWD Audis a decade and more ago; however, its presence prevented me buying a Subaru last year having sampled it in a WRX, whose manual gearchange is execrable. The CVT was worse. I suppose doddering around in a Nissan tin box with CVT satisfies some people, but their sales are off here big time since the Ghosn row. CVTs require a fair amount of engine power to supply the hydraulic pump that keeps the conical faces of the driving and driven cones tight for the belt, so don’t seem like an energy-efficient solution considering that EVs are about to hit the big time, at least in Europe.

    DCTs I never got, because countershaft gearboxes are always bigger than needs be for their torque ratings to avoid structural distortion, and thereby wasteful of raw materials. Planetary gearboxes are far more efficient in that regard, but the poliferation of eight, nine and ten speed automatic versions seems over the top, mostly to get better results on these far from real life fuel and CO2 test regimes carried out in labs all over the world. Six speeds seems to be the sweet spot to me. Next up in the total energy tomfoolery stakes — hydrogen made from natural gas to power fuel cell vehicles.

    It’s worthwhile to remember that the electric gearbox in Toyota hybrid vehicles is not a CVT in the conventional sense – no whirring cones, belts and pumps whatsoever, merely the most rational hybrid drive anyone has yet invented, and not by a little bit. Ford in the USA uses its version of that in hybrids following an agreement on Toyota’s patents back around 2008.

  13. Another sign of the times, from the LCV world.

    Renault have introduced a new Kangoo, in cargo, passenger, and before long, Mercedes forms:

    Below this is a new offering, the Express, a name first used on the Supercinq van. The keen-eyed will recognise it as a Dacia Dokker. The plan – to be confirmed in detail in early 2021 – is that the Tangier-built Dokker will be dropped in most markets in Europe, to be replaced by the same vehicle, made in the same factory but with Renault branding.

    The Mauberge, Hauts-de-France-built Kangoo is aimed at “the needs of dynamic families and tribes with a redesigned look, more comfort and equipment and new driving aids and retains all its clever modular features, which are also popular with professional customers (administrations, local authorities and associations).”

    The Express is aimed at “entrepreneurs for mixed use (professional and family) but also at craftsmen and tradesmen.”

    So now we know…

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