When I graduated as an engineer, little did I know that I would be going to end up working inside a car (or truck) assembly site, even less so in one controlled by a rogue government that has a big bull’s-eye painted on it on a map in Langley, Virginia.
But life is what it is, and usually it tends to bring people to interesting situations and places. Still not convinced? Go and read one chapter of Niedermeyer Sr biography, Herr Schmitt’s autobiography, or any of Baruth’s racey adventures.
So in one of the hair needle turns of my life, I ended up spending some time around Iran’s national car. It wasn’t in Iran, but under Hugo Chavez. Venezuela became a friend of Iran, Libya and other shining examples of governance. Libya wasn’t known for its car production. Venezuela doesn’t need oil, so at some point. Iranian cars were going to get to Venezuela. They sure did. Starting in 2006, the Samand was assembled in Venezuela, and this is how we met, intimately.
Enough chachara (or in English, bovine cow butt secretions). Let’s review Iran Khodro’s Samand.
DISCLAIMER: This is not an offer to buy one. If you do, you might get arrested, in the U.S.A. at least, for aiding and abetting the enemy. If you are in another country, you risk having your cash confiscated, and don’t even think of traveling to the United States. You have been warned. This is indeed a car for the chosen few. While it is at least conceivable that you might some day own a Veyron, you will never own a Samand. Unless you move to Iran, Venezuela, Tajikistan or a few likewise desirable destinations.
The Samand is Iran’s current national car and a successor of the Peykan, the car that started Iran’s, well, modern automotive industry despite being mostly an updated Hillman Hunter.
Somehow, Iran Khodro had come into the production lines (probably one of these oil for something deals.) Starting with old machinery and tooling, they had to figure out how to manufacture cars, not that they had much choice either.
As a new national car, the Samand was designed from the get go to solve the shortcomings of its predecessor. As there were: poor fuel economy, cramped interior space, poor crash worthiness and way outdated looks. To that end, and to make the story short, they designed a car based on a heavily revised Peugeot 405 platform, giving it a modern looking if bland exterior, and interior, and safety. Speaking of safety ..
The Samand comes in 3 flavors: There is the bare bone EL, the plain vanilla STD (not a typo, aren’t you glad you can’t have a Samand STD?). Then there is the upscale LX. All with different engines depending on market and transmission.
In Standard form it comes surprisingly equipped: A/C with rear outlets, MP3 player, soft touch trim, power windows/locks/mirrors/antenna, smart alarm system, fog lamps, adjustable steering column, aluminum wheels (LX) and ABS (LX). The driver gets height adjustment in its seat, both front passengers can adjust lumbar support and in the LX, the back can be adjusted electrically. Not bad for a car that lists at around US$ 12K in Tehran, or around US$ 16K in Venezuela.
Of course not everything is perfect. The car can be equipped with a range of engines, 2 of them are Peugeot sourced, the third is indigenous Iranian. One is a tractor smooth 1.8lt with 100HP, next comes a sweet and high revving 1.6lts with 110HP, no it’s not a typo, and lastly an Iranian developed 1.7lts with 130 HP. The 1.6 is offered with a slushbox in Iran and other Middle East markets.
Venezuela received the 1.6 for a short period, and then the 1.8.
I have driven both of them, and by far preferred the 1.6. It moves the car nicely, has good overtaking power (with the A/C on, loaded with luggage, in one of those pilgrimages aptly described by Marcelo), and can achieve consistently a cruise of 100 mph. With a clear road, you can reach 120 mph without problems. It also returns between 12-14 km/lt, depending on how hard you smash the go pedal. To paraphrase the KFC ads, so good.
Inside, there’s plenty of space. Rear leg room is very good even, if Michael Jordan would be driving. The trunk is Tony Soprano rated, locally measured by how many beer cases can be stored for going to the beach. I only will say that you can bring enough beer to give all occupants alc0hol poisoning 4 or 6 times in a row. Very good for the car’s footprint and excellent for families with small kids. The trunk, I mean.
Handling wise, the Samand is very predictable. Suspension is a bit on the hard side, yet compliant, so no complaints from me. The car is stable and planted on sinuous roads and won’t get blown off the highway by passing trucks. The Samand is very stable at high speed, even after its ride height was adjusted for 3rd world conditions, which is jacked up. It will understeer predictably when pushed very hard on corners, but is mostly vice free. The Iranians didn’t mess much, save for final calibration, with Peugeot’s arrangement of front L arms and McPhersons in front and a semi-independent rear with 3 torsion bars, so compact it’s beautiful to see.
The brakes are powerful and easily modulable, even without ABS, and you get a good sense of what is going on with the wheels. On ABS equipped cars, the pedal feel is the same, and the system kicks in when needed, stopping the car safely and without drama.
The interior is well appointed and finished in most places. Nice looking plastics can be seen in the pillar covers, dash and seats. The dashboard is soft touch and has generous amounts of fake wood applied to it. Not everything is perfect, the place where the A pillar and dashboard meet usually has a gap and could be better. The design of the dash and the door panels looks dated compared with the competition (it was designed in 2000), but that has been addressed in the new Soren model.
For a car that serves as national car in its country of origin, they did quite a good job. Right sized, good fuel economy, relatively modern style. In Venezuela, this thing is hands down a steal. Nothing in the market has this level of comfort or equipment. If the factory eventually ramps up its production to interesting levels, Venezuela’s market ranking might suffer drastic changes in a period as short as a year.
Bottom line: If there is one area where the embargo on the Iran doesn’t bite, it’s with cars. At $12,000 for a nicely appointed car, nobody misses a Ford or a Chevy in Teheran.