I love European "people's" cars. The Renault R4, the Fiat Uno and Punto, Peugeots 205 to 207, the early Golfs– they were all affordable and fun to drive with more character than Marcello Mastroianni. By the same token, I hate what Lee Iacocca called PODS. Lido was referring to Chryslers, but plenty of manufacturers have built cars for Poor Old Dumb Shits. PODS-mobiles are often Russian; Lada leading the pack. More recently, they hail from Korea or Malaysia. They're cheap to buy, miserable to operate and not at all economical to own (as CityRover owners found out). When considering Europe's cheapest car– the Romanian-built Dacia Logan– you have to wonder if the penalty box tradition continues.
Bottom line first. Eurozone consumers can buy a Renault-Nissan developed Dacia Logan for €7500. Back in 2003, that price equated to about $5500 or about twice as much as Tata Motors' theoretical Nano. Today, thanks to a weak Yankee greenback, the base Logan translates to $11,650. But keep in mind that the Logan is a world car, built in Mioveni, Romania; São José dos Pinhais, Brazil; Medellin, Colombia; Moscow, Russia; Casablanca, Morocco; Nasik, India and, yes, Tehran, Iran. Your currency may vary.
From the outside, you wouldn't know the [Euro] Logan's a bargain basement whip. Note the even panel gaps, high-quality paint and almost-acceptable proportions. The Logan looks utilitarian, solid. Ground clearance is third-world- sorry, developing nation compatible. Also to that end, the Logan's enormous hold (24.7 cubic feet) is considerably more capacious than a Mercedes C-class wagon. And with an optional rear row, the Logan seats seven or more (police and safety be damned). Basically, the Logan is station wagon as mini-van.
Unfortunately, the Logan pretends to have a car's interior. Anybody who says that space is the ultimate luxury has never sat in a Dacia. Although the Logan's cabin's been assembled properly, the interior makes an outhouse seem like a penthouse. The materials are hard, scratchy and odd-smelling. Colors are various shades of tombstone gray, ailing mouse, funeral black and deep-pit coal. The single-piece, injection molded dash is as ugly as it is durable. Everything you see and touch is unnecessarily dire.
Luckily, this ain't no living room. The Logan's [optional] diesel powerplant is a pleasant surprise: a bang-up-to-date 1.5-liter common-rail oil burner. The mini-mill may only stable 86 horses, but it delivers strongish torque from 1200 to 4000 rpm in a perfectly linear fashion, and does so less noisily than VW's TDI engines. Even better, the Logan only weighs around 2800lbs. So the car rockets from 0 to 60mph in… wait for it… almost there… 15 seconds. Your problem being?
At autobahn speeds of around 90 mph the Dacia feels almost as unhappy as a moped. Still, in the interests of TTAC's Best and Brightest, I recorded an average of 38mpg. But when in Rome, you do as the Romanians do. When I backed off to around 75, the fuel efficiency rose well into the forties.
The Dacia's handling offers another pleasant surprise. The Logan is softly sprung for pot-holed eastern European roads; it's both comfortable and quiet. Thanks to sufficient damping, the Logan feels well-controlled through the inevitable bumps- a sea change from bouncy and harsh Dacias of old (also based on Renaults). The Logan doesn't hop or skip over rough roads or expander joints; neither does it lose its cool over load-change issues.
The Logan's steering is exact and proportional, giving sublime tactical feedback through twisty European back roads. The transmission is slick and smooth. Combined with the straightforward engine, the Logan is a package you can actually, gulp, hustle. I found myself having unexpected fun, and I didn't have to drive at racetrack speeds (as if) to enjoy myself.
It's not too much of a stretch to call the Logan an intriguing modern-day interpretation of the Volvo 240. The Logan's cheap, robust and easy-to-repair; ideal for struggling economies and rugged roads. Stay away from any and all options– the diesel (a 1.4-liter petrol engine comes standard), air conditioning, electric windows– and the Logan's priced well below the competition. For a young, hard-working family with a few kids and a dog, there is no better deal. It's not for nothing the Dacia Logan leaped to the top of the Euro sales charts. And yet…
It's also not for nothing the Logan crash test is so popular on YouTube. Clearly, dramatically, the Logan is no Volvo. While it has front airbags in Euro-spec, many national versions of the car do not. In a German slalom test, the Logan rolled over at 65 km/h- albeit on worn tires (like that'll ever happen). And, again, the Logan's hideous interior would test the will of a Spartan. As Auto, Motor und Sport put it, "this is a car for those who have little financial power, but plenty of mental fortitude."