Okay, so I’ve spent the first few paragraphs of this story offering by way of gentle spoof my fond homage to the way that supercar drive stories used to be written by the people who first sparked my interest in cars many decades ago. And while it was fun to do, I did it for a reason, and exactly the same reason that I really did get up early and drive a 0.9-litre Dacia Sandero across one of the most challenging roads Wales has to offer. If you took not some low-slung slice of unaffordable automotive exotica but, instead, Britain’s cheapest new car, could you still have fun? How much of the enjoyment was down purely to the sense of freedom and simple joy of being on a world-class road whatever you’re in? I didn’t have a clue.
There was a time when the answer would have been far clearer. Back when our Mr Cropley was plying his trade on another title, he took a group of four of Britain’s cheapest cars and did a not dissimilar thing. And although I’ve not seen the story in at least 30 years, I do recall some reference to drawing lots to see who would have the misfortune of driving the Reliant Robin over the Severn Bridge in a stiff side wind.
We have come so far. True, the Sandero supplied was not the absolute poverty-spec model but it still costs just £8800 in this midrange TCe Essential trim, despite having Bluetooth, a DAB radio, electric windows, remote central locking, twin USB ports and air-con. Sufficiently quiet and comfortable, with a rather eager little motor and enough interior space, it’d make a very poor butt for any cheap-car-related jokes. Because it’s entirely adequate for any routine task and, for the money, something closer to brilliant.
But could you actually contrive a set of circumstances in which it could be genuinely good fun to drive? That was a different question.
At first, I thought not. On more normal roads, it just seemed too slow and soft. That little three-pot motor was willing enough but saddled with unfortunately tall gearing. The gearchange was sufficiently accurate but lacking any mechanical feel: you’d never swap a cog just for the hell of it. Overtaking was difficult, and if you got baulked, recovering that lost speed took time.