GOOD NEWS! We officially have a 4th partner! Meet Alex Waller (and say hi)!
I live in Nottingham, UK. I met Brian over a thread on Reddit, where he was asking what issues are facing young car drivers. I am 22 and on my fifth car, all of which have had tiny engines by American standards. I had my fun with them regardless because there’s petrol in my veins, and when I needed a new car on finance for practical reasons, the GOOD NEWS is there’s a pretty solid gearhead case for it.
I bought a brand new Dacia Sandero, in the lowest trim that also comes with an all-new turbocharged engine. It is from Romania’s Renault-owned car company Dacia, which has been popular on the continent for years but has only just set up shop here in Britain.
In some ways the Sandero is a reincarnated Citroen 2CV: four wheels, brakes, steering, an engine, gearbox, and seats. The twist is that apart from the wheels, all of those things now have electronics in them, and modern tolerances mean it is properly put together. The suspension too is intended for unforgiving road surfaces, so it can be driven on its door handles, while roadhumps and pot holes of all sizes are no obstacle. It’s functional, no-frills motoring done very well, and only if you’re being picky will you notice where the cheapness is. They deserve to sell very well.
The door edges are cold but water-tight. The heating will cook your phone on the bottom centre console, however the stereo has a bluetooth handsfree for it. There is no boot handle, no cover for the vanity mirror, no seat or wheel height adjustment and manual rear windows. No pollen filter, and no recirculate setting. But I did 300 miles on half a tank of petrol, and that is more important than all of those things.
That said, I am not exactly a fan of new cars in general.
A couple of years ago I ran an old skool Mini (sometimes billowing smoke down the motorway), and it was pure character. It had a booming exhaust, a snarling SU carburettor and a whining gear soundtrack at all times: the engine on a Mini was designed to fit back to front, so there is a straight cut idler gear. Loud, low and with those diminutive lines, it was effortlessly cool, even with the hazard tape I applied after I binned it. It seemed to always smell of petrol inside, which always made smoking in London traffic a bit sketchy. Yes, old cars are better than new cars in subtle but profound ways.
I don’t think a modern MINI could ever look as good as an original – except maybe the occupants after an accident. I don’t mind the fruits of NCAP testing so much for what they do, but they are still design criteria that only have usefulness for a potential event. Crumple zones constrain the ever-present aesthetics of some of the latest cars, especially the ones with transverse engines, so they tend to end up with slightly bulbous noses. The Sandero is a case in point, although like the Duster, it is hidden slightly with smart chunkiness.
An old Mini can fold in on itself like lethal origami, but the steering is telepathically direct, so you have half a chance of avoiding an accident in the first place. After fitting a solid front subframe mount, I could feel presence of grip through my fingertips as well as through my buttocks.
These days I have only my buttocks because the steering on the Dacia is slightly numb, over assisted and non-linear. Just the other day I read Infiniti have recently launched a car without direct mechanical steering, though there is still a clutched fail-safe. The future is now.
Pretty soon the clutch pedal will be eliminated from all new road cars, followed not too long after by the drivers themselves. Probably the best use for driverless cars that I can see is being taken home from the pub after having a skinful. What will be less good is the death of everyday driving, which I suspect we will all bitterly resist.
But for now, the Dacia Sandero is a great benchmark for the current Zeitgeist of car technology. Compared to 10 years ago, many formerly optional features are now required by EU regulations. On what is still a budget car, there is still EBD, TCS and ESP. None of them can be turned off.
What can be switched is the engine map thanks to an ‘Eco’ button, turned on for slightly more economy or off for slightly more torque. I’m not sure if it’s purely the novelty of technology that appeals, maybe I just find it satisfying to push a button that changes the engine behaviour slightly.
Despite the modern perks, it is still a traditional three-pedal manual and provides simple, genuinely likeable motoring for up to five full-size occupants. At low revs the Sandero sounds a bit like a spaceship with a 900cc three pot turbo, but it does 0-60 in about 11 seconds. Compared to a BMW M3 that’s 7 or 8 seconds longer I can hold the throttle flat on a public road. Not as impressive, but surely the most fun to drive as a daily out of the two.
This is because daily driving is poorly suited for exploring a car’s capabilities, and the fastest cars are not road legal anyway. A couple of years down the line I want to have built something fast, fun and interesting that’s light enough for the Sandero to tow to track days. I wonder how fast a Mini on slicks would be…
In the meantime (between my day job in the construction industry), I hope to bring GBXM some events coverage, technical articles, road trips, interesting people, cars, and any other valuable stories for gearheads everywhere. Somewhere in the latest issue I start with my workaholic friend Craig Sanderson, whose Skyline is looked after with all the fervent dedication you rarely see outside a Japanese tuning house.
We’ll be sharing a sneak preview of Alex’s interview with Craig very soon, but if you’d like to keep up with all the good stuff Alex shares with us, consider a digital subscription. You’ll be helping us help Alex dedicate more of his time to serving the gearheads of the world. Details here.