The Renault Sandero can trace its roots back to Romanian brand Dacia, which started out in the mid-1960s, producing various Renault-based models under licence from the French automaker.
Renault eventually acquired Dacia, and the first-generation Dacia Sandero, featuring modern engineering and Renault technology, became a champion of affordable motoring in Europe because of its accessible pricing, high safety standards and decent comfort and convenience features.
For its South African debut in 2009, the Sandero ditched its Dacia badge for a Renault diamond, and was assembled by Alliance partner Nissan at the Nissan SA plant in Rosslyn. The Sandero soon found a ready market among budget-conscious motorists seeking a reliable, affordable and modern hatchback that was also safe and economical.
But let’s face it: the Sandero wasn’t the sexiest or most advanced hatchback around, especially when compared to more modern offerings, including Renault’s own Clio.
Enter the second-generation Sandero, launched only a few weeks ago, and now fully imported. If you were expecting a revolution as far as style and appearance are concerned, you may be disappointed. But this is a car worth taking a second look at, because all is not what it seems.
Thus, the all-new Sandero might have proportions similar to those of the outgoing model, but that’s where the resemblance ends: the second-gen car is edgier and more contemporary. It’s still not as visually arresting as the latest Clio it is based on (not too many current hatchbacks are), but it has an attractive, no-nonsense character.
Perhaps most apparent is how much smoother and more refined the Sandero’s shape has become. In silhouette, the lines flow more easily from the profiled bonnet, seamlessly meeting the A-pillar and following the tapered roofline to the tailgate.
Some welcome aggression is provided by the emphasised wheel arches, and the pronounced haunches, further accentuated by the bold tail light clusters. In line with current trends, the front focuses on the Sandero’s Renault identity, with an XL-sized example of the French marque’s diamond brand mark taking pride of place in the centre of the blacked-out grille.
If anything, the overall impression is of a well-finished, if slightly inoffensive design that may err on the safe side of conservative, but should appeal to a broader audience as a result. It certainly won’t polarise opinion, nor is it likely to offend.
Importantly, the Sandero’s no-nonsense styling approach imparts a sense of robustness that South Africans will find attractive, if only for the promise of longevity it implies: after all, we need our cars to cope with increasingly deteriorating roads, and to last at least as long as the seven years it takes to pay them off.
Fortunately, that impression of toughness is supported by an interior that looks and feels very solidly screwed together. It’s also spacious enough to create a big-car impression. You won’t squeeze five Super Rugby lock forwards in here, but for us normal folk, there’s plenty of head and legroom front and rear.
Ergonomically, the broad-beamed front seats could do with more support, and the steering wheel feels big and slightly ponderous. But the instrument array is good, with clear, round analogue dials, while the switchgear layout places most the key controls within reach, if not always where you’d expect them to be.
Soft-touch finishes and metallic detailing add to an execution that’s smart without resorting to blingy effect, while the list of standard equipment is impressive to say the least, considering the Sandero’s budget car status.
A multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, a speed limiter, electric windows and mirrors, a sound system with integrated Bluetooth offering hands-free telephony and audio streaming, remote central locking, air-conditioning – everything’s included. Not too long ago, such an array of kit would have been the preserve of premium cars.
Even more surprising is the extensive list of safety gear, which includes no less than four airbags, ABS brakes with EBD, Hill Start Assistance, and electronic stability control.
On test here is the full-house Dynamique version, but even the cheaper Expression derivative isn’t short of features. For R17,600 less it gets two versus four airbags, steel wheels versus alloys, and makes do without cruise control, and the electric adjustment for the mirrors and rear windows. But the package is still pretty comprehensive.
Open the bonnet, and another surprise awaits. Instead of the usual four-cylinder mill you’d expect, the Sandero is powered by the very same, high-tech three-cylinder turbo engine also featured in the very latest, very advanced Renault Clio.
You’d be forgiven for considering a three-cylinder, 900-cc capacity just too meagre to propel a C-segment hatchback. But you’d be wrong.
Rated at 66kW and 135Nm, the all-aluminium unit is willing and able, pulling strongly from the word go, and never letting up until it starts running out of breath at around 5,000 rpm. And because it’s turbocharged, the usual 18% power loss at altitude doesn’t apply.
With forced induction allowing the engine to punch above its weight, the Sandero’s responses are eager, allowing brisk acceleration and decent open-road cruising, while overtaking isn’t the nail-biting affair you’d expect, either.
There is some initial, low-down lag, but the car soon builds up head of steam, and midrange tractability is actually impressive. Renault credits the Sandero with an 11.1-seconds zero to 100km/h sprint time, while top speed comes to 175km/h.
The slightly shorter ratios of the five-speed manual gearbox’s first three gears help to keep the engine on the boil when it matters most, but fourth and fifth favour open-road cruising, allowing the three-potter’s frugal talents to come to the fore.
Renault claims a combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of 5.2 litres/100km, but realistically, that might only be achievable in constant-speed, open-road cruising conditions, and with only a light load on board.
Factor in more varied driving, with some stop-start traffic and the occasional bit of hard acceleration thrown in for good measure, and you’re likely to end up in the six-to-seven litres/100km bracket – which isn’t half bad. With a full 50-litre tank of unleaded, that will still provide an operating range of more than 700km.
The Sandero is best described as mild-mannered as far as handling is concerned. The suspension is forgiving, aided by the flex of the unusually high-profile tyres, and the body lean is noticeable, but not the point of compromising the car’s balance.
The steering displays a remoteness that mitigates against any accurate dissection of twists and turns, but at least it has some heft and feedback, and doesn’t feel as emasculated as the electrically assisted systems that have become the norm.
Push into a corner with too much enthusiasm, and the Sandero’s nose will plough wide in classic understeer, but it’s a benign rather than terminal trait, and coming off the loud pedal should tighten the line enough to restore a measure of equilibrium.
The new Sandero offers a lot of car for the money. It’s built to very high standards, is peppy and economical, and provides a safe and spacious cabin. The amount of tech is impressive, given that many budget cars rely on older-generation technology.
All of this conspires to ensure exceptional value –and that’s perhaps the Sandero’s most persuasive talent of all. DM
Renault Sandero Turbo Dynamique
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