Day 1: The entirely straightforward Dacia Sandero has been given the Audi Allroad treatment. Although since it’s a small hatchback and still only front-wheel drive, you’d more accurately say it’s been Rover Streetwised. The chunky wheelarches suit it. Less promisingly, it has writing on the doors that says STEPWAY. This sounds like something Thora Hird would have used to help her water the hanging baskets. It’s written the seats too. Driving home, I can’t help feeling that people in other cars are smirking at me.
Day 2: The Stepway’s suspension has been jacked up by 40mm over the normal Sandero. Unless you live in a country with really crappy roads, in which case your normal Sanderos already sit 26mm higher than ours. Quite why Britain doesn’t get the shit road suspension pack I don’t know. Anyway, when I was on holiday in the French countryside over the summer their bumpy roads seemed to be crawling with Stepways. I bet that’s because of the jacked-up suspension, I thought. I bet there’s a car that rides superbly. Turns out it’s not quite superb but it is pretty good.Day 3: I have to stay at home today. I have no use for the Stepway but I find myself staring at it through the window and conclude one thing: With its chunky roof rails and its shiny bumper inserts and that idiotic writing on the doors, this car is trying too hard. I still like the black wheel arch extensions. They should offer those on normal Sanderos. They could call them The Paris Parking Kit.
Day 4: No need for the Stepway today. The hanging baskets are well watered. Also, I’m going into central London to do some radio interviews to promote The Top Gear Guide To Britain, a handy and informative celebration of the fourth best country in the world, on sale on all good book shops now, priced just £14.99. Why not give a friend or family member this excellent publication for Christmas?
Day 5: Right, time to drive this bitch. Even with the suspension lift, the handling is okay I suppose. Likewise, the gearchange and the level of gruntiness from the diesel engine. It’s easy to get into a nice easy, momentum-conserving rhythm with the car, in that traditional French style.
Day 6: Today I had cause to drive the Stepway and then, shortly afterwards, my Fiat 500 Twinair. The 500, not the most sophisticated or polished of cars, felt like a generation or two ahead of the Stepway. The Dacia is based on the old-shape Clio so I suppose that’s not surprising. It does feel a bit old skool. I can’t think of another modern diesel wheel the steering wheel visibly jitters at idle. Still, if you fondly remember the early-to-mid ’90s you’ll like this car.
Day 7: Stuck in traffic this morning I started looking for ways in which Dacia has saved money. Some of them are quite canny, like the rear electric window switches between the front seat backs so they serve people in the front and the rear, saving on cabling and switches and whathaveyou. Some just feel like they’ve been cheapskates, which is why the door handles feel thin and the Bluetooth music player randomly drops out, as if all your favourite songs have been re-recorded by Norman Collier.
Goodbye: The Stepway has gone. It’s not bad, as long as you accept that you can see and feel the ways they’ve cut corners to make it cheap. The same is true of the standard Sandero but you can have one of those for £5995 so it’s more forgiveable, and the standard Sandero just looks like a car rather than something that’s trying to make a statement. If I wanted a faux off roady Dacia, I’d buy a Duster. And if I wanted a Sandero, I’d save some money and buy the normal one.
The car talked about here is a Dacia Sandero Stepway Laureate dCi 90. It has a 1.5-litre turbo diesel engine making 89bhp. It can go from 0-62 in 11.8 seconds and on to 104mph. This model costs £10,795.