The Stepway looks very different to the car it is based on, the Sandero hatchback. With its raised ride height, extra bodykit (front and rear scuff plates and black wheelarch extensions) and roof rails, it’s effectively a crossover version of the hatchback. Those few differences have a profound effect on the looks of the car and, to our eyes at least, the Stepway is a much more distinctive vehicle than the regular hatchback.
Unlike the exterior, the interior of the Stepway is identical to the regular Sandero’s. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s smart and reasonably modern – but it doesn’t have any sense of the more rugged look of the exterior. On the other hand, because the Stepway comes only in higher trim levels, its interior is smarter than the more basic versions of the Sandero. It’s true that the materials don’t have the same feeling of quality that you would find in most other similarly sized cars, but for the price, it’s more than adequate.
The Stepway may be based on a supermini, but you’d never guess that from the amount of space on offer. There’s head- and legroom to spare in the front seats – even if the driver is six-foot tall – and you’d easily get another couple of adults in the back seats (three at a push). Access, too, is very easy, thanks to large rear doors, while the boot is also an impressive size and shape, measuring 320 litres with the rear seats up and 1,200 when they’re folded. Those seats, however, don’t fold flat and the relatively high load-lip may make it difficult to get heavy items in and out. For those reasons, plus a few others, the Stepway isn’t quite as versatile as other small SUVs.
Ride and handling
Compared with the regular Sandero hatchback, the Stepway sits a little higher on its suspension, and the extra travel that allows in the springs gives the Stepway a softer feel. True, it still can’t smother the worst lumps and bumps, but it copes well with most of the challenges the road can throw at it. And, although bends do cause some body roll, it’s not too off-putting. The only reservation we have is with the steering, which lacks feel and is vague around the straight-ahead position. On the other hand, the lightness does make the car easy to manoeuvre in town.
We haven’t yet driven a Stepway with the 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol engine, but we have driven one with the 1.5-litre diesel. It has a relatively modest 89bhp, but thanks to its 162lb-ft of torque developed below 2000rpm, it performs more strongly than the on-paper figures suggest. In the real world, it’s the ready pull from low revs that characterises its performance: it’s easy to keep up with traffic and cruise on the motorway with no great effort. That said, the diesel engine is very noisy and it also sends too many vibrations through to the cabin.
Naturally, it’s the purchase price that grabs all the headlines – and rightly so. This is the UK’s cheapest crossover – and cheapest by some way – but that’s only half of the story. Such low purchase prices mean depreciation is not a huge issue; even if you throw the car away when you’ve finished with it, you won’t lose all that much. Meanwhile, the engines both promise good fuel economy: 52mpg from the petrol unit and almost 20mpg more from the diesel, plus all Stepways have an Eco button to improve day-to-day economy.
Dacia may be a relatively unknown brand in the UK, but its cars are based on proven Renault technology. What’s more, in 2011, the brand was voted the most reliable in Europe in a poll of some 30,000 drivers. In short, we don’t expect any problems from the Stepway, but for anyone who doesn’t share our faith, longer warranties are available.
Our rating: 5
The Sandero (on which the Stepway is based) was not expected to score more than three stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, so its four-star rating comes as a very pleasant surprise. The testers said that the passenger compartment remained stable in the frontal impact and it was only in the more severe side pole test that protection for any part of the dummy was ‘weak’. For the price, its standard kit is not too bad, including stability control, as well as twin front and side airbags, but curtain airbags are not available, even as options.
Despite what you might expect, given the car’s low price, the equipment levels are not overly spartan. All models come with the extra body kit and roof rails, and even the more basic Ambiance models come with Bluetooth, metallic paint and electric front windows. Stepping up to the top Laureate trim adds air-con, a chrome front grille and all-round electric windows, as well as a touch-screen sat-nav system with aux and USB inputs, cruise control and rear parking sensors. To cap it all, even the options are affordable: the Touring Pack gives you a luggage net, transverse roof bars and a centre armrest, while leather upholstery is reasonably priced.
The Sandero Stepway is a car that you might expect us to recommend solely on price; and, while the price is a huge attraction, there’s a lot more to it than that. In its own right, it’s a smart-looking, spacious and comfortable car, but when you see how little you have to spend to get so much, it’s an astonishing package.