Whether you pronounce it ‘Dacier’, or ‘Datcher’, Dacia is an automotive gift
Every industry needs its ‘Poundstretcher’, its entry-level to whichever, to gain market traction and to provide a perception of good value, where none may exist, and Iain Robertson believes that the Renault sub-plot is as good a starter brand as any.
At various stages in the motor industry’s illustrious history a smattering of brands has held a ‘best value’ crown, however tarnished it might be. Italian brand, Fiat, is renowned for establishing its politically expedient makes and models, like Seat (in Generalissimo Franco’s Spain), or FSO Polonez (Poland), it has even exercised Autobianchi in its domestic market. Yet, it is not alone, as General Motors worked its Saturn brand in North America to some degree of success (now dropped) and sometime GM charge, Daewoo (South Korea), established vehicle production facilities in a number of developing markets, while energising the UK market, albeit briefly, with its ‘no hassle, no quibble’ proposition.
Although many of these brands now exist in a fresher form, such as Seat becoming a VW Group charge and Spanish value equivalent to Czech Skoda, others, such as Yugo (from, unsurprisingly, the former Yugoslavia), which became the consummate ‘students’ car’ in the US, has now disappeared forever. Tata (India) used to produce its Indica (sub-compact) model as Austin-Rover’s Cityrover and even sold its Sahara 4×4 in the UK, prior to becoming central to and owner of the Jaguar-Land-Rover brand. Its trucks and buses divisions continue to operate most successfully.
Of them all, Daewoo had possibly the greatest impact in the UK. Established on a premise of fixed prices, inclusive servicing and leading on a three years’, unlimited mileage warranty platform, the South Korean brand changed the face of car retailing in the UK, with its non-franchisee company-owned outlets. Bear in mind that most new cars carried just 12 months/12,000-miles warranty maximum at the time. Today, there is scarcely a manufacturer providing less than three years consumer support. Yet, the project was short-lived; introduced in the mid-1990s, it was declared bankrupt just four years later.
Renault’s ownership of Dacia was punctuated by the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu but, following his demise, by 1999, the French carmaker had taken over the Romanian manufacturer totally. Its stated early plans did not include exports to western Europe but, with Skoda shedding its bargain basement prices, the opportunity was not one to be overlooked. Gradually, Dacia started to appear all over Europe, epitomised by its Logan model range, which has always appeared to provide added value to what was still previous generation Renault technology.
However, the company’s growth rate has been unprecedented and cars are now manufactured via its ‘Complete Knock-down kits’ (CKD) process in Morocco, Russia, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Iran and India. The list prices may be low but Dacia produces very healthy profits for its French parent.
The precepts for the brand are well-established and owe a lot to the Daewoo business model. Its least expensive Stepway model retails in its latest and more upmarket SE Twenty guise for just £11,295, promises a low-cost ‘9E’ insurance rating, attains 44.3mpg and a 142g/km CO2 rating (£170 first year road tax), while delivering 0-60mph in a reasonable 10.8s, from its choice of 87bhp petrol, or 92bhp turbo-diesel Renault power units, driving through 5-speed manual gearboxes.
Its specification, which is enhanced over the Comfort trim by the addition of decorative side strips, gloss black door mirror caps, rear-view camera, air-con, sat-nav, improved connectivity, parking sensors, cruise control and blue highlights to the otherwise bleak grey dashboard and the seat upholstery, is comprehensive. Of course, Renault can afford to plump-up its Dacia offering, as ‘discount’ is not a word uttered in its dealerships and each model sold can represent a maximum ROI, as long as trade-in allowances are not too generous.
The introduction of the SE Twenty trim level amounts to an increase of around £400 on the already low list prices of Sandero Stepway, Logan MCV Stepway and Duster models, UK deliveries of which are said to commence in March 2020. Yet, while the Logan version has immense appeal to the private hire/taxi sector, it is the higher priced Duster (starts from £15,645) that has become the darling of the SUV set seeking exceptional value for money and a modestly acceptable package.
To be frank, there is an element of ‘oh well, it’s cheap’ to Duster’s driving experience, a factor that can lower expectations, while enhancing unusually the ownership proposition. Consumers can be very forgiving at this level. The cutesy model name and loftier driving position (four-wheel drive is an option and both diesel and petrol variants also gain a 6-speed manual transmission) follow the stock SUV pattern but it is also quite a handsome contender. To be fair to it, a solid reputation for reliability is supported by the model’s inherent build integrity and the Duster is highly tolerant of abuse from all quarters.
In its latest iteration, it is significantly more refined and offers an options list that can spec it up to all of its potential rivals and beyond. Yet, the plasticky interior detailing is difficult to overcome and, while there is an adequate amount of passenger space, the driver (especially of taller proportions) will feel cramped and hemmed in. The upmarket touchscreen in the dash centre does help to lift an otherwise rudimentary cabin. A decent boot space (445-litres, expandable to 1,623-litres, when the back seats are folded) is mid-class but useful. Its performance is adequate (0-60mph in 10.8s, 119mph top speed, 43.3mpg, 153g/km CO2) in 2WD form.
While taking a defined lead on the pricing front, which it heralds unashamedly in its advertising, you still need to ask yourself how living with a Dacia might affect your social standing. A very good taxi driving friend in Scotland swears by his Logan estate car, suggesting that it is considerably better than the Vauxhall Insignia he used to operate, especially with its lower running costs. Yet, his personal transport is a BMW X5, so it is truly a case of ‘horses for courses’.
Value for money price-tagging certainly has a role to play. Whether Renault will continue to provide it via Dacia, or adopt the Skoda approach in years to come, remains to be witnessed. In the meantime, I would defy you to sample a genuine entry-level model in today’s Dacia line-up, because 99.9% of them are sold in higher trim forms.