No central screen? No problem, Dacia says

Dacia lives and dies by the motto “value for money,” and Renault’s budget brand has employed a number of creative strategies to keep costs to the bare minimum while still giving buyers exactly what they need – and not one bit more.

Now it has come up with another solution, this time to avoid forcing buyers to pay for a large central infotainment screen. Instead, the dashboard of the new Sandero, Sandero Stepway and Logan models has a built-in, pop-up holder for smartphones where a screen would normally be.

Drivers clip in their phone using flexible rubberized supports, and connect to the car’s infotainment system via Bluetooth or an adjacent USB plug.

The heart of the system, which Dacia calls Media Control, is a free app that offers a basic interface for radio, music sources, calls, messages, GPS navigation and voice recognition such as Apple’s Siri. It also shows vehicle functions such as fuel consumption.

Drivers can also control many of these functions through buttons on the steering wheel or a wand, to avoid having to reach over and tap a screen. Radio settings are also displayed on the center of the instrument panel.

Hardware consists of the vehicle’s built-in head unit, a Bluetooth connection and two speakers.

Offering what would appear to be bare-bones system is certainly a financial decision, but Dacia executives also portray it as a philosophical one, in respecting customers who may not be able to afford a more expensive car or even trim level.

“Regardless of the level of equipment they choose, we want every customer to enjoy themselves,” said Sandero program director Michel Bensoussan. “They will never feel that they are missing out; they won’t feel frustrated.”

Dacia engineers say Media Control is essentially the opposite of the MirrorLink connectivity standard, in which smartphone apps appear on dashboard displays. Instead, the car’s infotainment system is displayed on the user’s smartphone. The Dacia app allows users to set certain of their own apps as favorites, such as Spotify, and it contains a shortcut to the popular Waze navigation app.

There’s also a “don’t forget your phone” warning when the ignition is turned off.

A few other automakers have tried something similar, including the Volkswagen Up minicar and sibling models from Seat and Skoda, although those offer a standard five-inch music display screen with a traditional radio faceplate, and come standard with six speakers. The Citroen Ami electric quadricycle uses the driver’s smartphone as the sole display screen for navigation and music.

Of course, Dacia is also happy to accommodate buyers willing to pay a little more for features that are standard in more-expensive competitors. Sandero options include an eight-inch central screen with access to Apple Car Play and Android Auto with four speakers, which the brand calls Media Display, and a top-line package called Media Nav that includes onboard navigation and six speakers.

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