Space travel has never been cheaper - or more accessible
The Dacia Logan MCV manages to be both outstandingly cheap and spacious. But is it any good? William Scholes investigates
CONDITIONED by swanning around in £100k Range Rovers, Maserati soft-tops and cutting-edge German tech-fests, you might imagine that a bargain basement estate car designed for Romanian farmers would be the last thing I would want to drive.
But you would be wrong, at least if the Romanian car in question is a Dacia.
That's not to say that, given the choice, I wouldn't prefer a car which distils the essence of 21st century Audi, BMW, Jaguar or whatever, but simply that a Dacia has considerable merit and should not be dismissed out of hand.
We've driven Dacia's Sandero and Duster models in the past and this time a contraption rejoicing in the name 'Logan MCV' is under the microscope.
It's an estate car with an incredibly low price for the amount of space it offers for passengers and their stuff. When I say "incredibly low" I mean you can get into a Logan for less than £7,000; most press cars are fitted with options costing more than that...
A bottom-of-the-heap Logan is likely to be a shockingly basic car, but even the top-of-the-range Lauréate trim of the test car, plus a few options such as metallic paint, doesn't threaten the £12,000 barrier (see panel).
For the space on offer, it's amazing; as the accompanying panel shows, this makes the Logan an unbeatable pound-per-litre value when its price and boot volume are considered.
One shouldn't be overly distracted by a low sticker price, however, if the car it is attached to is completely hopeless.
So, ignoring price, what is the Logan MCV like?
First, it's not what you would call an oil painting. Essentially an estate version of the Sandero hatch, the Logan has a very long and ungainly rear overhang which skews its proportions. All the better to accommodate the big boot, but an aesthetic disaster nonetheless.
Other than that it is inoffensive looking, but you need only look at the latest models from, say, the Volkswagen Group with their millimetric panel gaps and near-razor sharp body pressings to realise that the Logan is not an ultra-modern offering.
Open the door - the handle feels insubstantial, the door light - and the first impression is a bit like that of getting into the Austin Maestro that my father owned 30 years ago. The plastics, the switchgear, the dials... it all appears venerable rather than up-to-date.
It is robust and solid-feeling though and you soon find yourself forgetting about the rather dated environment. Everything works as it should and when you do find yourself wondering why some of the switches have been placed where they have, you remind yourself of how little the car costs and quickly forgive it.
The test car had an optional £300 touchscreen system to control its satnav, radio and Bluetooth phone; it's better than quite a few found on cars costing many times its price more expensive cars.
Other reasons to opt for Lauréate trim include the more-or-less essential air conditioning, height-adjustable driver's seat, remote central locking, electric windows all-round, cruise control, an adjustable steering wheel and a basic trip computer.
All versions come with ABS, electronic stability control and four airbags as well as a sturdy set of entirely appropriate roof bars.
The seats are not going to give the ergonomists at Volvo sleepless nights, but they are also comfortable enough to mean you and your passengers won't be having them either.
There is plenty of room for passengers, with genuine space for three children across the back seat, but if you've bought one of these cars at all, it will be because you wanted a car with a big boot.
The Logan MCV delivers in spades, with a volume of 573 litres with the rear seats in place and 1,518 litres when they are folded. MCV, in case you were wondering, stands for 'Maximum Capacity Vehicle'; it's hard to disagree.
Everywhere you look, there is evidence of where money has been saved. In the cabin, for example, lots of painted metal has been left on show in places where other manufacturers have long it hid from view with plastic mouldings and the like.
Without its dampening effect, this general lack of decorative trim probably contributes to the Logan being noisier - though not unpleasantly so, it should be said - than a more expensive car. Nor are the rubber door seals as effective at keeping out wind and road noise.
Fire up the Dacia - accomplished by a good old fashioned twist of the key, none of your newfangled start button carry on here - and it bursts into life with a characterful throb. Engine noise at idle is perhaps less well suppressed than in posher rivals but, again, it's not particularly raucous.
You can have your Logan MCV with one of three engines: a 900cc three-cylinder petrol turbo with 89bhp; a 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol with 74bhp; and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo with 89bhp.
The diesel is a cracking unit, already familiar from the Clio and Captur sold by Dacia's Renault parent, and must be the pick of the bunch. It scores 99g/km, meaning it isn't liable for road tax, plus it is genuinely economical in the real world.
It is also a nice engine to operate and it copes more than adequately with the burden of the Logan's capacious body; perfectly happy sitting at motorway speeds, it is also lusty enough to haul the car with enthusiastic vigour on back roads.
Perhaps because coping with the rougher roads of Romania, Russia and elsewhere in eastern Europe is part of Dacia's DNA, the Logan shrugs off even the worst imperfections of Northern Ireland's highways.
Softly sprung suspension is key to this, and while this generally benefits comfort the Logan can very occasionally get a bit bouncy under certain conditions. The body can lean quite a bit, too, and the steering is on the slow side.
If that all sounds like a recipe for a dynamic pudding, you would be wrong. By no means is the Logan a precision driving tool like a Mazda or BMW but there is still a great deal of fun and satisfaction to be extracted from driving with vigour an admittedly slow car which is forgiving, willing and predictable-handling.
An eye-catching price and unrivalled space-per-pound are undoubtedly strong hooks, but there is more than that to the Dacia Logan MCV's appeal.
It is well built, inexpensive to run and as decently equipped and fun to drive as you could reasonably expect.
Sure, it lacks the polish of a similarly capacious car from Volkswagen, Peugeot, Mazda and any number of other companies, but when the package offers so much value for money, you can forgive it a lot.
Perhaps the surprising thing, then, is that you don't need to make as many excuses for the Logan as you might at first have imagined. It comes with the Drive recommendation.