IF I was to buy a toaster, I’d instinctively look to buy the cheapest model on the market. I’d walk past the expensive versions with digital displays and beautifully-milled alloy dials that play Greensleeves when your breakfast’s ready.
I want my toaster to grill some bread until it’s brown and then spit it out when it’s finished. It doesn’t need to do any more than that.
And there are people that apply this way of thinking to buying a car. They don’t need adaptive cruise control, massaging seats and a Bang and Olufsen sound system. For some people, all they want is a car that goes from A to B. They want my toaster, but with four wheels, seats and an engine.
The automotive market hasn’t exactly been devoid of cars that will do little more than ferry a few people and their luggage around but only recently have we seen a vehicle that will do it for a price that genuinely reflects its refreshing, back-to-basics approach.
Newcomers Dacia, which is essentially Renault’s imported budget-brand plucked from Eastern Europe that’s been slotted comfortably into a growing void in the budget car sector, has brought the option of cheap, no-thrills cars to a new level of affordability.
If you’ve got somewhere between £7,000 and £8,000 to spend on a brand new car you’re fine these days. There’s plenty of choice from some of the world’s biggest brands.
But what if you’ve only got £6,000 and you still need some change to buy you and your wife a spot of lunch on the way home from the dealers?
Well, great news. Dacia’s Sandero supermini costs £5,995 and that not only means Mr and Mrs six grand budget will be able to afford a car and a Cornish pasty, but there’s now a new holder of the title of ‘Britain’s Cheapest Car’.
Yes, it’s possible to buy a car for less than six grand. And, amazingly, it’s actually quite good. But what’s it like to live with?
Dacia’s Sandero range begins with the Access model and the Access model, without any boxes ticked, represents the very origin of a car. Think of it as a pizza base without any topping. It’s perfectly edible and will satisfy your hunger but it’s a bit dull.
Put this into a motoring context and your four-wheeled, £6,000 pizza base, lacks toppings such as electric windows and central locking. Pepperoni slices satellite navigation and a stereo are optional extras and you can forget tomatoes like a spare wheel or air conditioning because they won’t be added as standard, either.
If you like anchovies on your pizza, or additions to your car such as leather seats and a punchy diesel engine then a £6,000 car really isn’t for you.
But that’s not the point of the Sandero. The Sandero is for people who can live without ham and pineapple and actually just fancy something to see them through lunch to teatime, spending as little money as possible.
And it’s not as if it’s been served up without the odd bit of seasoning, either. There’s airbags for example; power steering is standard and it even has traction control and a braking assistance system.
It might only have steel wheels and a lack of body-coloured bumpers but you have to remind yourself, this is a £6,000 car.
Despite the cost-cutting, which has largely been carried out quite sensibly across the car, it’s perfectly easy to live with the Sandero. It drives better than you’d think, the 1.2 litre petrol engine has an adequate 75bhp with which to lug around the light body and it’s even fairly comfortable.
There’s room for five adults (at a push) and the boot is among the largest in its class. Materials feel cheap but not to the point of being flimsy or unpleasant and, despite it only having five gears, it copes well with motorway runs.
It’s economical too. Visibility is good, it’s not unattractive despite the black plastic bumpers and the ride, on the whole, is very soft. You’ll only find the suspension a bit over-worked on big bumps such as unexpected speed humps and potholes.
It’s not all great news. While the Sandero could almost be described as ‘close to entertaining’ when pushed hard, there’s a slightly wayward feeling to the steering and handling under normal driving conditions.
There are some notable omissions from what we’ve come to consider the normal, basic, set of additions to a cabin. There’s no grab handles above the windows, for example. That’s no great disaster, and they’re probably left out in pursuit of saving a fiver along the line but there’s also no mirrors under the sun visors. Surely they needn’t cost a great deal to design in.
The driving position won’t suit everyone, especially if you’re short, and there’s no way to adjust the height of the steering wheel. There’s also no rear headrests at this price.
But in some ways these minor criticisms are missing the point. It’s been designed from the ground up as a £6,000 car and, if you want to buy a car for £6,000 you must be prepared to accept a few compromises.
A lack of central locking, incidentally, is the biggest compromise you’ll find yourself making. Wind-up windows are easier to miss but central locking is the most useful gadget the motoring industry has ever created, it transpires.
Of course, it doesn’t need a huge amount spent on extras to fill gaps such as central locking or a stereo but that does see the price of a Sandero steer quite close to the entry price of some of its rivals.
But perhaps I’m being unfair. The simple fact is that it is possible to buy a car for £6,000. Whether you can live with it or not is up to you.
Fundamentally, it’s built well, it’s comfortable, should depreciate very slowly and will always get you from A to B. For some people - the sort of people with the same toaster as me - this will be all they want a car to do.
The Sandero drives, stops and steers as well as it should and it’s still Britain’s cheapest new car.
And for that reason, it’s also one of Britain’s best.