The budget end of the UK new car market used to be the stronghold of brands like Kia, Hyundai and Skoda.
But their aspirations have seen them move upmarket, leaving a void at the bottom – one that Dacia has slotted into.
The Romanian brand has already proved a hit across mainland Europe, and has made an encouraging start in the UK since its launch at the beginning of the year.
Owned by Renault, Dacia has retail outlets in each of its parent company’s 130 UK dealerships, as well as three standalone showrooms in London, Belfast and Kidwelly in Wales.
It has four types of showroom: a Dacia corner in a Renault dealership, two types of Renault/Dacia shared space – one with a dedicated salesman and wall separating the two brands – and standalone buildings on Renault dealer land.
In the first three months of this year Dacia has registered 1,978 cars (see page 13 for full SMMT sales figures), and expects to sell a total of 20,000 cars over the 12 months.
This includes the Sandero supermini and Duster SUV, which are both on sale now, as well as the Sandero Stepway B-segment crossover and Logan MCV estate, which will be launched next month and July respectively.
Although Renault says it may lose some new car registrations to Dacia, the vast majority of its sales will come from customers who would otherwise buy a used car.
The Sandero is certainly a lot of car for the money, with Dacia promoting it as offering the space and practicality of a five-door supermini for the price of a city car.
It certainly lives up to this billing, as with a starting price of £5,995 for the entry-level 1.2 Access and with more boot space (320 litres) than a Ford Fiesta (276) or Vauxhall Corsa (285), it’s sure to find many buyers for this reason alone.
But the Sandero’s other qualities also help make a case for its consideration.
Access trim is available only with the 1.2-litre petrol engine, and its sparse equipment level includes power steering, daytime running lights and a split-folding rear seat.
It is expected to account for just 8% of UK sales.
Mid-range Ambiance adds Bluetooth, radio/CD audio system, electric front windows, remote central locking, an aux socket and USB port. It should make up 28% of registrations.
Top-of-the-range Laureate trim is expected to account for 64% of sales. It adds air-conditioning, electric windows and a trip computer.
All models come with ABS and electronic stability control, plus four airbags in the cabin.
Sandero is available with three engines with the 1.2-litre petrol engine expected to take 50% of sales.
The remainder will be equally shared between the 0.9 TCe and
1.5 dCi engines.
In Ambiance trim, the 1.5 dCi engine is the cheapest car with
sub-100g/km of CO2 emissions on the market at £8,795.
Chunky styling does a good job of disguising the car’s budget roots, but there are obvious signs that this is where the Sandero is positioned: the doors shut with an unsatisfying clang, there is plenty of hard plastic in the cabin and the steering wheel adjusts for height only.
Its road manners cannot compete with the majority of supermini rivals either, but it does provide a comfortable ride and its light steering means the Sandero is at home in urban areas.
Value is also at the heart of Dacia’s Duster, with a starting price of £8,995 (£10,995 for the four-wheel drive version) making it the cheapest SUV available in the UK.
Like the Sandero, it is also available in three trim levels: Access, Ambiance and Laureate.
Access level is available only with a 1.6-litre petrol engine, and comes with front and side airbags, electric front windows, ABS with EBD and Emergency Brake Assist.
This is expected to make up 18% of UK registrations.
Ambiance will contribute 25% of sales and adds a four-speaker sound system, Bluetooth, split-folding rear seat backs, front fog lights and driver’s seat height adjustment.
Top-of-the-range Laureate trim, which is expected to account for a 57% share, adds 16-inch alloys, electric rear windows, air conditioning and trip computer.
Both Ambiance and Laureate are available only with a 1.5 dCi diesel engine which produces 107bhp in the two-wheel drive models and 109bhp in the four-wheel drive versions.
Both the petrol and diesel powertrains offer smooth power delivery, although on the road the 1.5 dCi engine noise was intrusive at cruis-ing speeds.
There is plenty of body roll around corners, even at low speed, but otherwise the Duster soaks up bumps competently and rides well.
It also offers a spacious interior, although the mix of hard, textured plastics reflect its price tag.