I’m not really sure what sort of perverse globule of self-doubt must burn in my very core, like some sort of used, store-brand pulsar to make me like the way I am, but whatever it is, it causes me to have a strange, lurid fascination with really cheap, basic cars. I don’t think this is news to anyone, but I still feel it deserves a bit of a reminder when I do things like what I’m about to do: attempt to make all of you focus on and appreciate the cheapest Dacia one can buy in Europe, the Sandero Access.
If you’re somehow and sadly unaware, Dacia is a Romanian carmaker started in 1966 to build Renaults under license. It started with the rear-engined Renault 8, then moved to the FWD Renault 12, which became one of their most popular cars as the Dacia 1300.
Now, in our bold modern era of collapsable lawn chairs and spy cameras in sunglasses endorsed by a noted urine-drinker Dacia, now owned by Renault, has secured a place for itself as a maker of very inexpensive but surprisingly good cars. This new Sandero, the new version of which was just introduced in 2020, seems to be keeping this concept going.
Dacias are not sold in America, so I haven’t had a chance to drive the new Sandero yet, but I happened to see some pictures of the low-spec Access version and was just smitten with the boldness of its poverty specitude.
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I mean, look at it:
Oh, yeah, look at that! The steelies, the unpainted black plastic bumpers, mirrors, and door handles! The fleet-buyer white paint! All of the hallmarks of base-spec magic.
But there’s some surprises here, too — those headlights! They look shockingly stylish for a bottom-of-the-barrel model.
Same go for the taillights: there’s a sort of chevron design theme going on here, matching the front, and feeling much more upscale than the rest of the car would suggest.
Overall, the Sandero looks pretty good! It’s a usable four-door hatch/almost wagon design, with good proportions and a pleasingly crisp, unfussy look.
The inside seems to be a sea of charcoal gray plastics and materials, but it looks comfortable enough. It’s reasonably well-featured for a cheap-spec car, too:
I mean, sure, they’re having to reach a bit to populate this grid of features, like crowing about such decadent luxuries as this:
A manual handbrake, you say? Well, well, well, who was on the focus group for this thing, an emperor?
Look back at that pic, though — a manual transmission, five-speeds, even. In its lowest spec, mated to a 1-liter inline-three making a respectable (to me, at least) 65 horsepower and 95 pound-feet of torque. Plus, fuel economy seems to be pretty great — 53.3 combined mpg, but that number is Imperial gallons, so that’s a still excellent 44.4 mpg in Freedom Gallons.
I love some of these other details that are called out as features, too:
A front seat unhindered with the burden of height adjustment? Yes, please! I can sit on an old pillow! Manual rear windows! A steering wheel crafted from the finest foam! And, best of all, a normal door key!
I know it sounds like I’m taking the piss from this base Sandero, but I assure you I’m not here to mock — I’m here to celebrate.
A refreshingly basic car like this genuinely thrills me — this thing seems very appealing and satisfying. Plus, keep in mind this sells for €8,690, which comes to $10,343 in U.S. dollars — that’s well over $3,000 cheaper than the cheapest car you can buy here, a $13,790 manual Chevy Spark.
I love that the modern car-website 360 degree-view features are available for this cheapest of Dacias, because when you look around the inside you can get such thrilling views as this:
You can also get a nice close-up of those steelies, which I’m quite fond of:
Man, the shamelessly basic straightforwardness of this thing is just wonderful. The American market really needs at least one dirt-cheap, zero-bullshit car option like this. A $10,000 Sandero — perhaps sold as a Nissan here, since it is partners with Renault — I think would prove surprisingly popular on the market.
I know the thinking is that car companies can’t make money on cheap cars, but I think there’s a huge sleeping market for reliable basic, useful transport, especially with used car prices rising.
I guess it’d have to offer an automatic here, but as long as it kept the manual around for that super-low entry price and strange austere enthusiasts, I’d be okay with that.
Of course, this is about as likely to happen as my dog is likely to start defecating small chapbooks with short prose works from J.D. Salinger.
But I can dream, dream of cheap-ass Romanian manual hatchbacks that only come in white.