11:44 Friday 18 October 2013

Living with Britain's cheapest new car - Day One

Written byGARETH BUTTERFIELD

GREAT news! The Dacia Sandero has arrived. On a grotty and miserable Friday morning the bright white of the £5,995 five-door hatch back stands out. It's hampered by the contrasting black bumpers but that's a cost-cutting measure which will be a theme of this test, mark my words.

The thing is, to ensure the nation's cheapest car becomes the nation's cheapest car in the first place they've had to strip the Dacia Sandero back to the very essence of a car.

What you have here is the simple template all manufacturers begin with before they start adding expensive luxuries. Things like metallic paint and body-coloured bumpers add expense to the final price so they're done away with.

They can be added if you like, at a cost, but to ensure the sub-£6,000 Access model I'm testing is as cheap as it can possibly be it has hardly any of life's little luxuries.

Manual window winders, for example. Remember those? I've got to spend a week with four of them. Central locking, for another example. The Sandero doesn't have this and although I've only sat in the thing for five minutes I really miss it already.

Remembering to acrobatically swirl around the interior locking doors every time I exit the car will be a challenge this week. In fact, when I left it parked up after moving it from the drop off point, I managed to clout myself in the face with the Sandero's back door while trying to lock the driver's side. Observation number one: The Sandero has large back doors. And my cheek hurts.

Actually, my first observation was that the steering wheel is a little high up for my liking. It won't bother everyone, but I'm pretty sure I can't adjust it, which is a shame.

I say I'm 'pretty sure' because there appears to be a cavity behind the wheel for an adjustment lever but I can't find the lever. Just some rough plastic and metal that I assume is the steering column. I'll investigate further tomorrow.

I've also noticed that, although the dash layout is far from unattractive and actually looks rather functional, it is spoiled a bit by a very aftermarket stereo which sticks out like a sore thumb.

It's as if somone at Renault, the firm distributing Dacias in the UK, has popped to Halfords and picked one off the shelf. It's not a bad stereo, to be fair. It's a Kenwood model with USB and Auxillary sockets but it does look out of place.

Flicking through the press guff that came with the car I've noticed this stereo is a £250 option which would hike the price up to £6,245.

That's fine but, rather than tick that box, order the car without a stereo and pop online where I'm convinced you'll find the same model for less money and still have change left over to pay someone to fit it.

Providing that doesn't screw up your warranty of course which, I've noticed on this car has been extended. Five years costs £395 and seven years costs £850.

It also has an emergency spare wheel which costs £95. I actually think that's a bit naughty considering these are 15" steel wheels and probably cost Dacia 38p to buy in - but it's something to budget for nevertheless.

So it is possible, at least in theory, to buy a car for less than £6,000. And I love that about the Sandero. That's why I was so keen to test the base model and why I've been looking forward to this car more than I was looking forward to the £30,000 Mercedes I've just given back.

It reminds me of my first car but it's new and it has airbags, Isofix seats and emergency brake assistance.

It's going to be fascinating to sample back-to-basics motoring. A bit like sleeping in a tent in the grounds of a hotel you know full well you could hire a suite in if you asked nicely.

Tomorrow the Sandero, my wife and I are heading to York to stay with some friends for the weekend. Will I think differently after a 100 mile journey? I'll keep you posted.

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