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Where are Dacia cutting costs?

Dacia Logan MCV 1.5 dCi Arctic (2014)

15/04/2014 06:26 |  Comments: 

Editor

As typical of a long-serving automotive journalist he worked at nearly all of the major printed automotive magazines in Hungary before ending up on the internet. More of the new cartester type, he’s also an automotive engineer by profession. Although he’s the editor in chief
of the mother magazine, totalcar.hu, he loves doubling as a photographer – we sometimes
think he made a mistake when choosing titles. Has a wife and a small daughter.

Ladies and Gentlemen, come and see the freak show. A car that’s as big as a covered wagon but consumes only 5 litres, a car that’s noisier at 80 than at 130 kph. A car that used to have seven seats but not any more… It resonated with me but not quite the way I was expecting it.

I would love to disassemble this car, tear it down to its last bits just to find out how and why Dacia can sell it for €10,700. I mean, sure, that's a lot of money, but still... And you can get the same car for just over €7,000 with the 75 PS petrol engine, provided you actually want that feeble engine with your 1.5-ton car. Maybe if you like your station wagons empty for whatever sick reason, or live on a plain with no elevation whatsoever, you could grow to like that engine.

So, how the heck can they make it so cheap when you have to fork out about €16.000 for a Renault Mégane Grandtour with a similar 1.5 dCi engine? And the Dacia has all the bells and whistles, and is more spacious too.

Did they save that €6K on the bog standard door seals? Or the mechanical height adjustment for the headlamp? Perhaps it's the headlamp itself, throwing no further than 18 metres at best? Or was it the hard plastic covers? The clear, untinted windows? The horn button located at the tip of the indicator stalk? The window switches located on the centre console? Or is it the tailgate with bare metal surfaces?

Obviously not. You can save a few tenners by going cheap on these details but certainly not six thousand Euros?! Here's what I think happened when Dacia was conceived. All suppliers must have got a letter and it went something like this.

Dear suppliers, our friends over at Valeo, Faurecia and so forth,

Can you recall the tooling you used for the Clio Mk.2.? The ones you used making the stalk switches, the steering wheel, the seat frames, the radio satellite controllers, and so on? You must still have these piled up somewhere in the back of your factory yard.

Satellite control and burr from the past We have a great proposition for you. We would buy these stalk switches again (steering wheel, seat frames, radio satellite controllers, whatever), from you for a fraction of the original price if you are willing to go adventurous. If you don’t like the sound of that, fine, have them recycled somewhere, that will give you instant justification…

…but if you are interested, chuck the entire heap on an old tractor trailer (you don’t want to use new ones, you will be driving some pretty rough roads), build a factory near Pitesti (that’s in Romania in case you are wondering), and hire some local workforce. You won’t be making a lot of money on those stalk switches (steering wheel, seat frames, radio satellite controllers, etc) per unit but we are going to buy a lot of them. More than we ever have, for longer than you can imagine.

If you fancy this, drop me an e-mail for the details

Best regards, et cetera

Louis Bossey, Renault

PS: we are not looking into a new Renault model but it will be a lot of fun I promise you

This is the kind of offer you cannot refuse. Neither at the start, nor now, with the second generation Logan being manufactured using more or less the same components. Of course it needed a nicer design and that took a while, especially in the front and the back. The rest of the body is a bit sketchy but who's looking?

However, brace yourself for some serious disappointment if you consider this car a direct heir to the original MCV: while it is 4 cm longer it has managed to lose two seats in the process. Which means if you need your Dacia with seven seats, move over to the Lodgy – but we'll get back to that.

So anyway, the MCV has turned into a regular five-seater station wagon with pretty good rear legroom and a pretty spacious boot, officially sized at 573 litres. I did a quick measurement and it's at least as big, possibly larger. A few more decilitres could have been claimed by moving the jack to the spare wheel well. Talking about the spare wheel well, it's not included in boot capacity – add that and you might reach 600. The spare wheel itself is optional, but do yourself a favour and order it for €50. The boot is large enough without the extra stash space, reaching 1500 litres with the seats down.

If you are not a man of numbers, I'll just put it this way: the new Dacia Logan MCV is more spacious and has a larger boot than the Opel Insignia Wagon which costs more like 25, even 35 thousand Euros.

So where's the catch?

The catch is that the Dacia feels like a utility vehicle. Both the interior in general and the seats in particular. This is useful when you want to gauge just how much you have saved. On the other hand, this Arctic specification is not all that bad. It gives you chrome rings around the vents and coloured door handles which should keep you from feeling suicidal. It's a bit harder to keep yourself out of depression if you buy lower-spec'd versions because instead of leaving the colour off the handle they just omit the entire handle. And the chrome. And basically everything else, except – and that is highly commendable – power steering, ESP, ABS, four airbags and Isofix; these are standard across the entire range. Well done!

This Dacia makes a decent station wagon and build quality is now slightly above acceptable, but that's not all: it also has a great engine. Alas the 1.5 dCi is only available with this top-spec Arctic model but it comes in two power versions, 75 PS and this one, the slightly (around €300) more expensive 90 PS version.

There is plenty of power here, with the engine coming alive around 1200 rpm. It can even tolerate the slightly tallish five-speed gearbox. It will happily rev up to 5000 rpm which looks modest on the tachometer gauged for petrols but in fact you don't expect a diesel to rev so lightly and willingly. It is no surprise then that acceleration figures are good; the MCV can reach 100 kph in 12 seconds which may not be better than average but the engine is far more flexible than a corresponding petrol powerplant. There's little to say about the chassis, it is tuned for the pothole-ridden roads of Eastern Europe and performs well there, with a slight tendency of bucking up front. Needless to say there is body roll in corners and the steering is synthetic but in a car like this, these are not disadvantages, simply facts.

I was expecting the good engine and the huge boot to yield the best station wagon in the world but it was not going to be. Apparently Dacia has forgotten to assign the MCV project some NHV research time. At around 1100-1500 rpm the entire body resonates like it was a huge steel drum. The deep noise is really unbearable on the long run. I chose to shift down, keeping the rpm over 1500, meaning you are best off using the first three gears in town although the engine could take more. It's just that the passengers can't.

Driving in fifth gear the hideous deep throb vanishes at around 85 kph. I took a sound level meter along and checked the car from 70 kph on. Noise was loudest at 85 kph at around 73 dB, and then suddenly dropped some 5 decibels (that's a lot) and came back to around 71 dB as measured at 130 kph. Here's the punchline: I exchanged the MCV test car for a Kangoo white van, with uncovered metal sheets, absolutely no noise insulation and a larger compartment in the back – and there was no vibration.

If you tend to drive your car in the 90-130 kph range this will not be much of an issue. But driving the MCV in town or on country roads with lots of lorries around, this will make your life miserable. To maintain sanity, it's better not to ride the torque of the engine but keep the revs up instead. Which is really sad, considering the noisy range is also where the engine runs most economically. I gave it a shot and with a good flow of traffic the Dacia can trundle along in the city at barely over 4 l/100km. I also tried it at higher revs, avoiding the dreaded vibrations, and it came out at six litres, which is not bad either. On the average you can safely claim 5 l/100km, factoring in some country runs, without using the aircon.

You could also avoid the booming noises by opting for a petrol version but the options are less than ideal. Apart from the 1.2-litre engine mentioned above you could get the 0.9-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine but it is far from economical. In the Captur it returned 8 l/100km and even if the MPV is no worse, the diesel version makes up for its extra initial costs within 33.000 km (based on above calculations) which is astonishingly fast.

It is a real shame about the diesel engine. It is a real shame about the third seat row, a mere €500 option on the previous MCV. Instead, now you have to buy the Lodgy which starts at around €2000 higher, then fork out another €500 for the third row seats. Customers of the previous 7-seater MCV are SOL, the Lodgy is out of their price range and the MCV is no longer relevant.

So who is going to buy the MCV? I have no idea. For a family car you'll do fine with a standard Logan sedan, perhaps even a Sandero, despite its smaller boot. These are cheaper to begin with, and light enough to specify a petrol engine. Also, you won't have the vibration issue simply because the interior is not large enough. Or you could pick up the attractive Duster, starting around €11.400 with a diesel engine – albeit with FWD. Or you could forget all of these and opt for the Renault Fluence, a proper car compared to the Dacias, and available with a petrol engine for as much as the dCi MCV – or you could wait one or two years and pick up a second hand diesel for the same price.

Having considered this I think any of these options are more attractive and/or cheaper than the MCV. The Dacia, then, is a good option if you are looking for a combination of a family and work car. It'll do great in that role, even with the diesel engine. The MCV is not the best car in the world but it is a highly rational and functional tool with a single flaw. For around €10.700 it is absolutely worth it if that's exactly what you need; otherwise there are plenty of great options in the market.

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