By on March 28, 2011

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 As there were: poor fuel economy, cramped interior space, poor crash worthiness and way outdated looks.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.

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27 Comments on “Review: The Iran Khodro Samand (Venezuelan Spec.) No, You Can’t Have It...”

  • avatar

    I guess it shows how good the Peugeot 405 was, as well.  Any chance for a Samand Mi16 and an AWD T16?

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      No. However, there’s enough space to fit a 2.0 16V XU10 engine there. With 150HP this would be a very fun car.

      The AWD 405 was a rally special IIRC. Expensive, heavy, complicated, not very suited to mass car duties.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    No interior shots?

  • avatar

    My guess if this is a state owned enterprise, it will be a long time before production reaches the tens of thousands units per year. The model shown behind Hugo has a BMW’ish grille. Hopefully, the speech was short.
    Given a choice between the Samand and the Aveo parked nearby,  I’ll take that has a Peugeot heritage with the 1.6, please.

  • avatar

    Is that the real money price, or are these heavily subsidized?

  • avatar

    It has a hood strut.  Nice.  My 2010 Accord doesn’t even have that.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    What, no diesel?
    What’s the point of a practical car without a diesel?

  • avatar

    Who would miss a Ford or a Chevy anywhere, anyway?

  • avatar

    The question I have is, just how much underneath is it a Peugeot 405? Seems pointless to design a “national car” when the Peugeot 405  is / was produced by Iran Khodro as well. Just how expensive is it to make the Peugeot under license (I am assuming not very given that the French have moved on to the three generations to the 508 by now).

    The original national car (the Paykan – which was a CKD  kit of the Hillman Hunter) served it’s purpose well as a domestic car, without undergoing re-skinning to distance itself from it’s origins as a Hillman. Overtime, production of parts was shifted to Iran itself. I don’t see why the Peugeot 405 could not have served the same purpose. Remember, the Peugeot 405 was made as a CKD in Iran starting 1993.

    Addendum; this crash test seems odd – did they crash it in a shed against an aluminium wall? How fast was the thing going?? Suspect I think.
    Bottom line, in my view, this car serves as a propaganda for the independence of Iran from the West. Suits Hugo fine I think.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      They produce 2 or 3 versions of 405. The proper 405, a face lifted one called Pars and ROA.
      Iran has a very interesting auto industry development strategy. Sticking only with CKD kits and licenced model is not part of that. Remember they are blocked.
      The Peykan still lives as a pickup. But IIRC they bought the tooling and started somehow making the cars. It was facelifted several times, engine changed, EFI fitted, a long list of upgrades.

      About the crash test. The cars are very safe, I have seen some of them badly crashed, and people survived with minor scars and little injuries. Always wear your seat belt.

  • avatar

    Ahh, Chavez… friend to Ahmedinejad and Qadaffi, anti-semite extraordinaire, and a wannabe Robert Mugabe without the gravitas. If i lived in Venezuela, I’d be more concerned with getting my money switched to dollars (and getting the hell out of dodge) than with the provenance of my transit.

    PS: anyone else having horrible issues with webkit based browsers? Can’t type in caps sometimes, keys do crazy things, accidental backing up…?

    The post-edit works great, but the ajax thing is a trainwreck on my Torch, with no apparent way to turn it off…

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      If i lived in Venezuela, I’d be more concerned with getting my money switched to dollars (and getting the hell out of dodge) than with the provenance of my transit.
      Switching your money to dollars or euros can become expensive, and may require some… ingenuity. There’s a very strict currency control, for normal people and companies.
      About getting the… all I can say is that in comparison, local news are a kid’s play.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I have a very soft spot for the 405. The neighborhood junkyard had three of them, virtually untouched since being deposited for a bad tranny, side swipe, and well… a complete burn.
    Always wanted to get a T16. Everyone at that time thought the Peugeots were conservative and rolling headaches on wheels. They were half right. Other than natives of the Middle-East and the sole Peugeot dealer Atlanta, I never knew anyone who could keep it on the road.
    It’s a shame. Such great seats. Such great handling. Such great potential.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a number of 505s and a couple of 504s. Other than rust they were bulletproof. But they certainly suffered most from a lack of information in the pre-Internet era. The French certainly have thier own idea how things should work, and Billy-Bob at the gas station is NOT going to be able to fix a Peugeot that is having any sort of issue. He probably won’t even be able to drain the oil out. Not an issue post ’96 or so, the Internet makes owning unusual cars easy, if you have any DIY ability at all.

      405s though, were pretty much junk. Lots of endemic issues. But hopefully all these years of production means the Iranian versions are at least OK.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      The Iranian thing is unbreakable. Don’t ask how I know. It is also fairly reliable.
      Steven, the 405 is a very ample and comfortable car inside, the 80’s dash is even beautiful, but I was told by people who drove both cars that the Samand handles better and feels better on the road than the P405.

  • avatar

    Had a friend with a 405 AWD T16 model in Beirut, the police towed it by lifting the front axle and damaged the AWD system, and then they claimed it’s a Peugeot it can’t be awd…that’s how far fetched an AWD system on a Peugeot is…. the system was too expensive to fix or even find the parts for it so my friend resorted to making it Fwd for the rest of its life.  big shame as it was a limited production model and will be probably worth a lot in the future. he sold it off, possibly a plumber is using it now as his trade car…that is what happens to old Peugeot’s here…

    • 0 avatar

      I won’t have been a T16 – the T16 was a mid-engined rally raid machine, based on the 205 T16 but with a 405-look-a-like coupé body.
      It will most likely have been an Mi16x4, with the non-turbocharged 16v 150bhp engine (the other awd option was the GLx4, with near-base trim and a carb-fed 1.9 8v engine).

  • avatar

    Very nice write-up. Tanks. I’ve always wondered about tis car. If tey could ramp up production and make an asociation with PSA, there, you have the cheap brand Peugeot is looking for. Anyway, it could make it to Brazil as such.

    About oil for Brazil would gladly take some of these if you add some free or subsidized oil. Til we get to that pre-salt oil, Brazil is still dreaming of becoming petrol-import free.

    New Prsidenta doesn’t seem to have as much patience with rougues of the world the last President (sadly) showed such affinity for, thank God. That could hinder negotiations.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      Hi Marcelo
      Thanks for the compliments.
      Actually, IIRC, IKCo developed the model you know as 206 sedan, or 207-whatever after the facelift, the one with the boot, haven’t checked Peugeot Brazil site in a while. Is my educated guess that Peugeot sources engineering from different places, one friend told me once that the 307 sedan was a China invention.
      So I wouldn’t discard PSA using a IKCo sourced car in other markets. My vote would be for the Soren, that looks considerably better.

    • 0 avatar

      307 sedan indeed Chinese. As is new 408 sedan to substitute both 307 line and 407. You are correc too. The 207 Passion (sedan) and horrid-looking is Iranian design. Maybe they just need some Korean design to hit it!

  • avatar

    Surely anything’s better than a ‘peekan,’ Hillman Hunter. it was awful in its day.

  • avatar

    Looks like a 90’s Asian car.

  • avatar

    Soon there will be Iranian diesel engines (not to mention the Hybrid concept version) and there is a Samand Pick-Up  too!
    There is an another Peugeot copy  in the making, the RUNNA, essentially a rebadged 206 sedan will be exported to Venezuela next year.

  • avatar

    Any one know what kinf of hybrid approach is being considered?

    Or has already been approved?

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