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Image of article titled Dacia Sandero's brightest feature is something every cheap car should steal

Picture: Dacia

Remember when a touchscreen in a car was the height of luxury? It might be hard to remember today, but high-resolution color touchscreens weren’t always as cheap to produce and as common as they are now. It’s even standard equipment in a brand new, $ 15,000 Nissan Versa.

But should it be? Dacia made me reconsider its new Sandero. In its Access trim, the Sandero is the most basic of the base cars, being offered only in white paint with matte black plastic bumpers and selling for £ 7,995, or around $ 11,005. Upgrade to £ 8,995 Sandero Essential and instead of a full touchscreen, you get a folding compartment with a built-in smartphone holder.

Image of article titled Dacia Sandero's brightest feature is something every cheap car should steal

Picture: Dacia

As someone who drives a Ford Fiesta on a daily basis, I know from experience that infotainment displays in really cheap cars don’t make sense. The screens themselves tend to be small – not much larger than those on modern smartphones – and they’re only used to mirror your phone’s display anyway, via software like CarPlay or Android Auto.

It’s redundant. The manufacturer and the customer could ideally save money by ditching the crappy built-in screen altogether and just letting your phone do the heavy lifting. This is exactly what Dacia did with this Sandero.

Now Dacia is not the first to try this; Volkswagen actually offers something similar in the Up city car. However, VW’s support feels more like an afterthought, as if the company has wholesale ordered a bunch of third-party suction arm gadgets from Amazon and stuck them on top of every Up dashboard. Sandero’s rendering is cleaner and disappears when not needed, leaving the center console much less cluttered.

The Volkswagen Up has a built-in stand, much like the Sandero's, although it also has a built-in display below the climate controls.

The Volkswagen Up has a built-in stand, much like the Sandero’s, although it also has a built-in display below the climate controls.
Picture: Volkswagen

Along with the integrated support, Dacia has also developed a Media Control application which offers quick shortcuts to the music and navigation services of your choice as well as a good old-fashioned radio. This app is available for iPhones and Android devices judging by a video Dacia released. It appears to communicate with the Sandero via Bluetooth, since there is no visible socket connecting the handset to the vehicle. Steering wheel controls let you play and pause media without moving your hands, just like you could when routing phone audio and calls over Bluetooth in the days leading up to mirroring.

The lack of an outlet to bother with is a good convenience, although plugging in never bothered me in vehicles I’ve owned. In most cars, CarPlay and Android Auto still require cables anyway, and they’re well worth the quick hit considering how much nicer they are to use than some automakers’ own interfaces.

Battery life would be a concern for me, however. Bluetooth can decimate a phone’s longevity on a charge – especially on long journeys – which is why a built-in cable and / or wireless Qi charging built into the docking station would come in handy. Fortunately, there is a USB port located immediately to the left of the phone, providing a way to keep your device charged.

The other issue I foresee with Dacia’s solution is one that would likely prevent the Sandero Essential from being sold as is in the US – and that relates to the rear view camera. One of the main reasons every car has a color display today is that drivers need a way to see the flow when they are in reverse, and these cameras are of course legally mandated by the National. Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Remove this screen and the system will not work.

Notice the lack of screens built into the Sandero's dashboard - you don't even have one for the air conditioning.  There is, however, a monochrome display in the instrument cluster.

Notice the lack of screens built into the Sandero’s dashboard – you don’t even have one for the air conditioning. There is, however, a monochrome display in the instrument cluster.
Picture: Dacia

Maybe an automaker could develop a workaround that sends the feed from the rear view camera to a connected phone display, but make sure it works reliably and seamlessly with every make and model of handset. is a difficult task. And if there is lag, or if the camera images are choppy, it certainly won’t be enough.

All of this would likely prevent an automaker from trying Dacia’s solution in a car sold in the United States. And that’s a shame. It turns out that aftermarket automotive audio companies like Pioneer sell replacement main units with built-in phone mounts. Main units with touch screens are still quite expensive, so using your phone again as an external display cuts costs while still providing many of the same features, even if your car only has room for a single DIN stereo.

Building a somewhat convincing car despite an extremely low price takes ingenuity. That’s what separates vehicles like the Sandero from your average econobox – and this phone holder idea is a perfect example of smart design in action.

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