It took me a few moments to realize, as I was on a large square in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, that I had no idea what this car was. Like most of you I’m sure, running into a completely unknown saloon is not something that happens everyday. No manufacturer’s name, just this “Samand LX”… It didn’t look Russian. Nor did it sound Chinese or feel Eastern European. Could it be Indian? It was a mystery inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma. But then I thought: “Hmm… Iranian!”
I had no ready access to the internet to confirm this hunch, but it seemed solid. Georgia mast have some economic relations with Iran, which isn’t too far away, I reasoned. You only have to cross Armenia to get there. And developing economies like the former Soviet states are usually a good clientele for cheap cars made in other developing economies. And that horse’s head logo definitely felt Middle-Eastern.
So that evening, I got online and got more info on the Iran Khodro Samand. Turns out these are a home-grown design but use a Peugeot 405 floorpan and suspension. There are several engines available, but the Samands slated for export all get Peugeot’s TU5 engine, a gasoline 1.6 litre 4-cyl. providing 104 hp mated to a manual 5-speed gearbox also found on several cars (Peugeot 207, 301 and Citroën C4, amongst others). Domestic clients could also opt for an Iranian-designed 1.7 litre plant developing 113 hp.
The Samand took over from the legendary Paykan as Iran’s “national car” in 2003, though some say the design was already finalized about three years prior. I’m not sure of the model year, but I understand exports to Georgia slowed to a virtual standstill after the 2008 conflict with Russia and that the LX was introduced in 2006, so I’m guessing 2007 might not be far off the mark.
The current Samand has had a mild facelift in the intervening years and it seems a Samand coupé is (was?) being mooted, though it’s not listed on Iran Khodro’s website. Export markets are pretty numerous – countries Africa, Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East have imported or are now importing Iranian cars. As is Russia of course, if nothing else than for geopolitical reasons.
So is it any good? Well, if it’s basically a Peugeot 405, yes, it ought to do just fine. A 2011 model was tested back in the day on a website that purports to assert the verity regarding automobiles. Yes, that one. And they seemed pretty impressed by the results. The Samand LX we have here was, at the time, the top-of-the-line model, complete with A/C, alloy wheels, mp3 player, Bluetooth connectivity and various other kit as standard. Retail price would have been in the US$ 10-12K region about ten years ago. Not bad for the money.
In terms of styling, this car is really about as bland as a bread sandwich. It looks like a ‘90s Škoda met a Daewoo it fancied and had this bundle of blah delivered in a Teheran nursery. Perhaps Irv Rybicki did some covert consulting work in the late ‘90s we haven’t heard about. If there’s anything that one could hold against it, it’s that Iran’s “national car” is not a good reflection of the country’s “national character”. Although it does appear that a stretch limo version, the Sarir, is available – so there is hope.