By Ronan Glon
Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 @ 11:45 am
 
As part of an ambitious product offensive, Renault's low-cost Dacia brand has just introduced its seventh model, a minivan called Lodgy. The brand's first entry into the minivan segment, it aims to undercut the competition by betting that certain buyers are willing to sacrifice creature comforts in order to pay less.

To design the Lodgy, engineers in France and Romania started with the same platform that underpins the Logan sedan, the first Dacia launched under full Renault ownership. There are no aesthetic signs of the two cars' common roots; Lodgy's styling is less angular and it is expected to influence the design of upcoming Dacia models, including the recently-unveiled Dokker van.

Lodgy's door handles and mirrors were both pulled out of the Duster SUV's parts bin. Thanks to these and other cost-cutting measures the minivan carries a base price of €9,900, or approximately $12,600, making it the cheapest offering in its class. As buyers move through the trim levels there is something for just about every budget and the range tops out at €16,500 (about $21,000).

Specification sheet
Like all current members of the Dacia lineup, the Lodgy is exclusively equipped with Renault-sourced four-cylinder engines. Dacia estimates that the one that most buyers in Europe will opt for is a 1.5-liter dCi turbodiesel that is available, in typical Euro-market style, with either 90 or 110 horsepower. In a mixed European cycle the former is rated 56 mpg while the latter returns 53 mpg, although those figures are tough to compare to the EPA's cycle in the U.S.

Those adverse to oil-burners can pick an anemic and thirsty 1.6-liter four-banger that has an output of 85 horsepower. It is worth noting that the 1.6 will be replaced by a more efficient 1.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder before the end of the year, which makes its brief inclusion something of a head-scratcher.

The 90 horsepower dCi and the 1.6-liter gasoline engine both come bolted to a five-speed manual transmission. The dCi with 20 extra ponies benefits from an extra forward gear. An automatic gearbox is not offered.

The Lodgy measures 177 inches long, 66 inches high and 78 inches wide, which makes it about as long as an Opel Zafira and as wide as a Volkswagen Touran, two heavyweights in the European minivan segment. The heaviest version tips the scale at 2,782 lbs.

With all three rows of seats occupied the Lodgy has 7.3 cubic feet of trunk space, which is roughly the same as the pint-sized Renault Twingo. 29.2 cubic feet are available with the last row of seats removed entirely and a cavernous 92.4 cubic inches can be obtained by folding the middle row out of the way.

Life aboard
Dacia bills the Lodgy as a seven-seater minivan, though that is a little misleading because buyers who want the third row of seats have to shell out an extra €490 ($623) for it.

That being said, those who absolutely need to transport seven people will not be disappointed. Dacia told us that two adults that measure 6'2" can comfortably fit in the third row. We were a little surprised by this claim and tested it out for ourselves. Low and behold, two 6'2" adults can indeed fit in the back with room to spare at the knees and at the head.

Where the Lodgy differs greatly from the competition is in its equipment level. Bearing in mind that it was designed to be as affordable as possible it is not available with a lot of the features that are found in more expensive offerings like the Renault Scénic. Sunroof? Nope. Folding trays for the kids? Not here. DVD player? Forget about it.

The exception to the "bare minimum" rule is an optional infotainment system. This marks the first time that a Dacia is available with such an option, but it certainly will not be the last.

The system is called Media Nav and it was designed by LG. Featuring a seven-inch touch screen that is fairly straightforward to navigate for even the most inexperienced users, it serves as a GPS, a MP3-compatible stereo and it can connect with Bluetooth-equipped phones.

At the wheel
The Lodgy we sampled was equipped with the range-topping 1.5-liter dCi engine that is rated at 110 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque. As odd as this may sound, it is roughly the same engine that will power the recently-unveiled Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

The Lodgy is noticeably quieter than any Dacia has ever been in the past. It rides smoothly thanks to a suspension that was designed for rough roads and despite its rather large footprint it does not feel bulky to drive.

The steering is nicely weighted and precise at low speeds but it gets a little vague on the freeway. Speaking of freeway driving, the sixth gear comes in handy when used as an overdrive but even the slightest increase in velocity will require a downshift.

Leftlane's bottom line
Lodgy is not the ideal minivan for every family in Europe, but it was not designed to be. Buyers whose kids are used to flip-down DVD players and airliner-like trays will inevitably shop elsewhere; those who want a robust minivan that can take the entire family from point A to point B will see it as an almost-unbeatable value.

With the Lodgy and the Duster Dacia is losing its status of a niche automaker and is slowly entering the mainstream market in Europe. Can other global markets be far behind? Probably not.

Words and photos by Ronan Glon.