The UK continues to embrace the Dacia brand's budget credentials, and the Renault-owned Romanian manufacturer's line-up is expanding to capitalise. The SUV-themed Sandero Stepway is one of the products of this growth.

Based on the standard big-value Sandero supermini, the Dacia Sandero Stepway is a great-value alternative to the Nissan Juke and Fiat Panda Trekking thanks to SUV looks that are achieved by a raised suspension and SUV style body cladding.

Like the regular supermini, the Sandero Stepway is very reasonably priced. It starts at a little over £8,000 for the entry-level Ambiance model and it includes electric front windows, chrome interior detailing, MP3 connectivity, stability control, ABS and a gear-shift indicator.

Dacia, then, has clearly not forgotten its budget principles. The top-spec Laureate model costs almost £11,000 and for that, it gets big-car technology such as a touchscreen multimedia system, air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter and satellite navigation.

Dacia fits the Sandero Stepway with a choice of two engines. On both the Ambiance and Laureate models buyers can choose from a 0.9-litre turbocharged TCe petrol engine, or a 1.5-litre diesel unit - both of which have been sourced from parent company Renault.

Our choice: Sandero Stepway 1.5 DCi Ambiance

Styling

The standard Dacia Sandero supermini is a relatively rugged looking, unfussy car so the SUV-inspired makeover works and, in fact, it looks pretty good.

Dacia has bulked up the Sandero Stepway with plastic cladding for the wheel arches and sills, chrome roof bars and a ride height that has been increased by 40mm. All of these mods make it stand out from the basic Sandero hatch, and overall, it has a more upmarket feel.

Unlike the regular Sandero, there's no bargain basement Access version with unpainted bumpers and steel wheels. Given the only models in the Sandero Stepway range are the Ambiance and the Laureate, they both benefit from body-coloured door mirrors and bumpers plus stylish plastic wheel covers that can easily be mistaken for a set of alloys.

Despite the exterior differences, the Sandero Stepway is pretty much standard Sandero. It gets the same logical dashboard layout as the hatchback, lots of hard plastics and plenty of Renault-sourced switchgear. It all feels robustly built, and the driving position is also very comfortable.

Driving

The Dacia Sandero Stepway shares its underpinnings with the standard hatchback. This car in turn, is based on the previous generation Renault Clio and as you would expect, it feels a bit outdated on the move.

However, it's far from outclassed as the heightened suspension soaks up the bumps, and while there's plenty of body roll in corners, the Sandero Stepway has good amounts of grip. Other plus points are that the raised ride height provides an improved view of the road and Dacia has positioned the pedals well.

It's not all good news, though, as the electronically assisted steering is heavy at low speeds and provides the driver with little in the way of feedback. What's more, despite its tough looks, the Sandero Stepway provides little in the way of off-road ability. The all-season tyres give a little extra grip in tricky conditions and the raised suspension delivers extra ground clearance but that’s it.

Reliability

The Sandero Stepway should prove reliable, despite being relatively new to the UK market having arrived in 2012.

Its 900cc petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engines are, along with the five-speed manual box, shared with the latest Renault Clio and the rest of the tech is lifted from the Clio before that.

Like the Sandero hatch, Dacia gives the Sandero Stepway a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which includes roadside recovery. For around £400, this can be extended to five years/60,000 miles, or you can pay about £850 for seven years/100,000 miles.

Despite its budget roots, the Sandero Stepway comes with a respectable haul of safety kit. All versions get four airbags, ABS, stability control and Isofix child seat fittings.

However, Euro NCAP awarded the standard Sandero a four-star crash test score, which isn't the best when the maximum five-star score is the general standard for most modern superminis. The Sandero Stepway hasn't been tested yet, but expect it to achieve the same.

Practicality

The Dacia Sandero Stepway is a pretty bulky car and it'd be right to assume it's rather practical inside as a result.

Like the Sandero hatch, the Stepway has a 320-litre boot and when its rear seats are folded flat, this improves to 1,200-litres. This makes it one of the biggest boots in the supermini class.

Elsewhere, the Dacia’s cabin features family-friendly touches, including decent-sized door bins, while the Laureate also gets map pockets on the back of the front seats.

For around £250, an optional 'Touring Pack' adds transverse bars for the standard roof rails, floor mats and a centre armrest for the front seats.

Running Costs

Dacia's budget principles and a strong range of Renault engines have ensured that the Sandero Stepway is wallet friendly.

The 0.9-litre TCe will manage 52.3mpg and emit 124g/km of CO2. The 1.5-litre diesel unit is the most economic runner in the range, thanks to a 70.4mpg and 105g/km of CO2.

Dacia also offers a servicing pack worth around £500 that takes care of mechanical maintenance for three years and 36,000 miles.

Surprisingly, unlike other Dacias, the Sandero Stepway also has relatively weak residual values – experts predict the Laureate 1.5 dCi will retain only 38.9 per cent of its new value after three years.

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