x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

2010 Renault Sandero

Road test of Renault Sandero. It may come from a French company but it is not as Chic as you would think.

The Renault Sandero would make a good first car. Ravindrathan K / The National
The Renault Sandero would make a good first car. Ravindrathan K / The National

One of my favourite soapbox topics is that newly licensed, young drivers of any nationality should not be put behind the wheel of extremely powerful cars as soon as they have passed their test. The fact that a UAE licence gives you the right to drive anything from a Yaris to a Gallardo is disturbing, especially in a land where, unlike most places, many a driver's first car is something slick, brand new and with at least six cylinders.

Which brings me around to the Renault Sandero, a car that is not especially slick and only has four cylinders. Those cylinders are in a 1.6L engine with 105hp and 148Nm of torque, all coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission. It's not going to cause lurid auto fantasies in the minds of young drivers, but life isn't necessarily fair and one's first car is not really meant to be your dream car.

A first car that has been scrimped and saved for is a rite of passage for many a newly licensed driver. When you take possession of your car, the usual overwhelming emotion is joy at the sense of freedom offered by your first set of wheels and as such, you overlook the lack of style, prestige or power. This is the best use of the Renault Sandero. It is a classic first car. As I drove around town, part of me was pining for the V6 power of my Pajero, but another part of me - the sensible part that enjoys getting up on a soapbox and pontificating - realised that if I was 18 again, I'd be thrilled to drive this baby around.

"Come for a ride in my car. It's chic and French!" would be how my 18-year-old self would have sold the idea to my friends. And I would have believed my own baloney. But this car is not particularly chic, it's made in Romania and it is basically a rebadged Dacia Sandero. On first glance, it is an inoffensive hatchback. This one is in black, which is helpful - it means that at first you don't notice the coarse plastic stuck around the windows on each B-pillar.

Once you step inside the Sandero, it becomes even clearer as to why this is priced at just Dh39,500 for the bare-bones model. It's pretty sparse, although there is a pleasingly capacious boot. The cloth seats are a little too firm, the dashboard is a festival of rock-hard plastic and there is only one airbag in the base model. Then there are the kooky quirks. The electric windows (hey, at least it has electric windows) are controlled by buttons on the centre console for the front and by buttons behind the handbrake for the back. Weirdly located underneath the handbrake is the button to adjust the wing mirrors. Also weird is the fact that when you put the indicator on, both the left and right arrow flash on the dashboard, the same as if you have put the hazard lights on. Could Renault not afford two separate little fuses for two separate arrow lights?

But weirdest of all is the horn. Instead of the expected location in the middle of the steering wheel, it is activated by smacking the end of the indicator stalk - just like my mother's old 1969 Mini Clubman. But that car also had the battery in a wooden box behind the driver's seat and the high beam switch on the floor behind the gearstick. Even though I was told where the horn was before I drove the car off, force of habit kicked in when a pickup ran a stop sign and I whacked the middle of the steering wheel. The errant pickup went un-honked and I nearly broke my wrist.

Driving the Sandero to Abu Dhabi was an effort but, with the struggle to get up to 120kph, there was no risk of being booked for speeding as I tootled along next to the trucks. Its 0-100kph sprint is more of a stagger at 11.9 seconds. At high(ish) speeds, it's a noisy ride and it revs pretty high. Around 1,500rpm-2,500rpm is the optimum rev count for good fuel economy, but the Sandero prefers to hover around 3,000. The combined fuel economy is 8.3L/100km - not in the same league as, say, a Hummer but not exactly Prius-baiting either.

It's nobody's dream car, but at around the same price as a Chevy Spark, you get more power, more room and pretend French flair, albeit via Romania.