Some mean people take Dacia’s ruthless you-know-what on the basis that it’s a bargain maker that only makes cheap old bangers for the unwashed big ones.
Nothing could be further from the truth as the Romanian brand – which as we all know is owned by Renault – has struck widespread chord with the buying public and the large customer base it has reached is nothing short of extraordinary.
The Irish market is a good example – in microcosm – of what Dacia has achieved over the last ten years where, from a standing start, it has now reached the lofty heights of 13th position in the Irish sales charts – ironically just behind Renault.
It has become an ‘everyone’ brand that appeals to all audiences – women, men, families, singles, rich and poor. Indeed, in many ways its development as a brand mirrors what Skoda has achieved since going from being a hammer and sickle tutelage to being owned by VW and enjoying surprising success in all Europe.
Renault had a long-standing relationship with Dacia when it belonged to the Romanian government led by Ceausescu at a time when the dictator was trying to create an indigenous automotive industry.
That Dacia really only sold to Romanians at the time mattered little, as the brand provided wheels to the masses and jobs to some of them as well.
When everything changed on Christmas Day 1989, after the tyrannical Ceausescu and his wife were pushed against a wall and shot by firing squad. It seemed then that Dacia was going to follow the same path as so many other Eastern European automakers – Wartburg, ZAZ, Yugo et al – into oblivion.
But Renault saw an opportunity and with inspired input, including from its vast parts bin, economical engineering and tight cost control, it turned a business that was going nowhere into something very worthwhile.
Ok so they never set out to build top quality cars and never wanted them to be anything remotely fancy but they built an entity that holds its own in all the major markets in Europe .
It is perhaps important to point out that the Duster model, by far Dacia’s best-seller, is the one that they really liked. This is a car that truly has ‘everyone’ credentials and that is demonstrated by the wide range of people who buy it.
Everyone from airline pilots to turnip thieves see the car’s appeal, despite its somewhat silly name.
Indeed, silly names are part of the Franco/Romanian game plan. Aside from the Duster, Dacia makes – or has made – the Stepway (uh, sorry, Stepway of what?), the Logan MCD (looks like an 80s meth-rocker outfit), the Duster (a housekeeper, obviously) and now the Jogger (should we run next to it?).
Dubious nomenclature aside, the Duster in particular has resonated with people other than Dacia buyers who won’t pay more than £12, 10s and a halfpenny for a car. Today, Dacia is keen to renew the experience with the new seven-seater Jogger.
He describes the Jogger as having the practicality of a station wagon, the space of an MPV and the style of an SUV so, in the opinion of the manufacturer, it covers many bases and, therefore, its appeal should be wide. No doubt it will be.
In this regard there is a bit of a priest’s egg going on here as Dacia tries to please everyone but as we know it is a fool’s race as you won’t keep them all happy, everyone time.
Nevertheless. The somewhat clunky appearance – the side view is distinctly unattractive and the rear section looks like an afterthought – is secondary here, not least because people buying it won’t look at it much, although the 16 alloys inches and the roof rails on the tester add a touch of rare class.
What they will be looking at is the available interior space – which is first class – and the space available for occupants of the third row of seats, which is in fact more than anything we have come across apart from , perhaps, of a Land Rover Discovery.
Sure, if you’re the long-legged type and stand taller than six feet, it’s not going to be a boost, but anything shorter than that and you’ll actually fit in.
You might not want to stay there for a two or three hour trip, admittedly, but for shorter trips the Jogger offers far more comfort than the normal seven-seater and certainly more than the regular offering where you would have hard to get an elf in there.
You might complain that the sixth and seventh seats have to be removed completely if you need cargo space, but they’re easily removed and weigh less than 10 pounds, not that heavy either. But then, where do you put them? It’s a bit of a puzzle. That said, access to those rearmost seats is good, mostly thanks to the large rear doors.
The rear seats fold down – but not flat – and they’re not particularly easily configurable in a variety of positions; everything is bent or nothing. So you see Dacia scores in one area and then drop in another.
Otherwise the decor is less crack house than what we saw in the Duster, with its cheap plastic and upholstery, but it’s still very utilitarian and maybe good for him, especially since he’ll be a family workaholic regardless of the financial well-being of the aisle it ends up in.
The kit levels are good and while some of them might be familiar because you saw it in a Renault about a generation ago, everything runs and works pretty well. The infotainment system looks like it was designed by a ten-year-old, but it does the job well. Indeed, all the controls are conveniently located and easy to use and understand.
On the road, power comes from a well-known Renault one-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with a decent 110bhp on offer. But, given that the car is bulkier, there is a lot of metal to pull through and if you have the full capacity of people on board, it will be hard work.
The 0-100 km/h of 11.2 seconds illustrates the limits of the engines, even if the top speed of 183 km/h is not too bad. But you’ll have to work hard with that six-speed manual if you want to progress with six passengers.
As a front driver, too, the Jogger exhibits breed-typical tendencies, though it certainly understeers a lot more if there was more grunt to offer. As it is, it’s pretty solid and the ride and handling are good, if not far from best in class.
Although a single litre, the tax will still cost €210 and it’s also worth noting – with fuel prices soaring – that with a reasonably light right foot you should be registering around 5.7l/100km (49.1mpg).
The Jogger is therefore one more step on the way to Dacia’s world domination, which the Ceausescu family no doubt dreamed of before being offered the headbands and a last cigarette. In truth, even the deranged Nicolae wouldn’t have expected the company to reach the heights it has.